Sometimes, our kids have evening athletic events or school events in other communities. Sometimes, we want to see other attractions throughout Central Illinois such as children’s museums or zoos. Sometimes, it’s a super crowded weekend in Champaign-Urbana — think Mom’s Weekend, Graduation, Dad’s Weekend, Ebertfest or the like.
No offense to our local besties — sometimes, as the airline says, we just wanna get away (or at least, pretend).
The following list includes our team’s favorite “destination” restaurants in communities generally within 90 minutes of Champaign-Urbana. These are some of the best restaurants we enjoy traveling to, without packing more than a diaper or activity bag. Sometimes we’ve gone kidless, however, all of these places are kid approved (editor’s note: we aren’t responsible if your kiddo doesn’t have a range of tastebuds).
Locations: Effingham, Springfield, Bloomington, Danville area, Arthur
Let’s get started:
This place is special, there’s no bones about it. This is some of the most exquisite food served in all of Illinois, so expect that a premium product is not inexpensive. This is a TREAT.
We find that Firefly Grill has something that suits everyone in our family. Our kids love its unique dining experience from beautifully kept grounds to the large koi fish behind the restaurant (fish food provided, don’t miss this experience). They love the child-friendly bottled beverages, appetizers, pizzas, and salads.
For dinner, there are options from high-quality steaks to fish, cheese boards, unique tacos, gourmet pizza and more. If you’re a brunch person, head over for delicious chicken and waffles, or maybe you prefer eggs Benedict. The bloody Mary is bloody delicious. While the adults enjoy the handcrafted cocktails fresh with local fruits and syrups, kids love the variety of appetizers and mouthwatering desserts. Firefly rotates its menus on a seasonal basis, so you will typically find the opportunity to try something new.
We have visited Firefly after intense day-long swim meets in athletic apparel. We have also headed there for more grownup birthday and anniversary dinners. All of our experiences have been quite wonderful. The patio is dog-friendly, which makes this convenient as a stop during road trips.
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: 78 miles
This unique restaurant concept was created by the same people who developed Biaggi’s. Located just across the street from the Central Illinois Regional Airport, this is a convenient spot for many reasons — it’s set apart from the chaotic Veterans Parkway area and on the way back to Champaign. The atmosphere of Ancho and Agave is very fun and unique. It’s like you are walking into a West Elm catalog. We love to sit outside when the weather is warm enough because its outdoor space is very inviting. The entire operation doesn’t take itself seriously, but it does take hospitality and taste seriously.
From flavor-fusion tacos to delicious guacamole options to its handcrafted margaritas, Ancho and Agave will leave you wanting to drive to Bloomington just for the food alone. We’ve tried everything from the Kung Pao tacos to the sweet potato tacos, and don’t get us started on the Mexican Street Corn. Don’t have an adventurous eater in your family? It has plenty of simpler, more traditional Mexican options to suit a range of tastebuds. We have brought Ancho back to Champaign; its to-go dinner and margarita kits are almost as good as eating in the restaurant.
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: about 49 miles
Many people in Champaign-Urbana are familiar with Beef House rolls and jam, a popular school and athletic team fundraiser. But not everyone realizes the Beef House is an iconic restaurant that sits off Interstate 74 just across the Illinois-Indiana border, where the hills start to roll.
Walk in and find a carved wooden steer head, and see the large glass cooler display of fresh beef cuts. The vast dining room (actually a series of multiple rooms) feature cushy captain’s chairs on wheels and large windows looking out to woods and pasture. Don’t miss the Illini and Purdue basketball and football memorabilia.
Oh wait, we’re supposed to be talking about the food … if you love beef, you’ll love the Beef House, where you can get prime cuts from filet to ribeye to prime rib. There’s also plenty of other options including fish, pork chops, chicken dishes and pasta (I’m partial to the salmon myself). Once known for a fabulous salad bar, that was to be a Covid casualty. Still, there’s plenty to eat; most entrees come with soup, salad, rolls, and a side. Some traditional items such as frog legs and chicken livers can be found. A best-kept secret is the sauteed mushrooms; yum! Note that the Beef House is on Eastern Time. Dress is everything from super casual to Sunday best.
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: about 49 miles
Engrained is a farm-to-table restaurant featuring local foods from the area. Try the pony shoe (or horse shoe if you are really hungry). Choose your protein, add some toast, warm cheese sauce, fries, and an egg for good measure. What is there not to love? It has an on-site microbrewery and also features many hand crafted cocktails for the adults in your party.
If you are still hungry after all of the food, Engrained offers a very tempting dessert menu. You will more than likely have to split it amongst your entire table, but it is worth every bite.
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: about 90 miles
We have an entire story about Pinky’s, so I won’t go overboard here – check out our review here. All that is to say, this is a fun place to a) have a waterfront dining experience in Central Illinois b) there is sand play for kids and c) live music often. Pinky’s is more known for the fun than for the food, but it’s still a satisfying meal.
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: 84 miles
Yoder’s has a stellar reputation in the heart of Amish country. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner six days a week (closed Sunday), Yoder’s offers menu service but what attracts everyone is the buffet. And when we say everyone, we mean everyone: If you show up on a weekday around noon, be prepared to wait for a few minutes for a seat.
The buffet includes a dandy salad bar with a strong variety of offerings. But the buffet’s star is the broasted chicken. If you’re not familiar with broasted chicken, it is prepared in a pressure cooker and, when done right, really locks in the juices. Combine that chicken with some homemade sides like mashed potatoes and corn and … sorry, we’ll be right back. Headed to Arthur for a minute.
Do you know of a destination restaurant we should add? Let us know. Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org