Graduate school can be very stressful at times and one of the best ways to calm yourself before, after, or during these stressful times is food. Food is one of the best ways to calm down the nerves and relax, but its important that its GOOD food! During my 4 years here at the university, I was able to dine-in at many restaurants, and I want to share what I consider to be some of the gems, revealed and hidden, at the university, but before I do let me explain the criteria that I have:
“Just Can’t Get Enough”
Some restaurants are great the first time, but it’s only good for a one time show because of a lack of variety or their best dish is only good once. Some of these restaurants I’ve listed below are restaurants I’ve went to several times in a month because of the great food. Each time I’ve left these restaurants I always leave wanting to go back, looking forward to the next time I visit.
Portions and Prices:
If there is one thing I learned at the university, it’s getting the most food out of one dollar, so leaving satisfied is important to me when I eat at a restaurant. Without a doubt, the restaurants I’ve listed will leave your stomach full and happy, knowing each dollar that was put into the meal was worth it.
When someone shares about a great restaurant, it’s because the restaurant is too good, and good things are meant to be shared. All of these restaurants were revealed to me by a friend who loved that restaurant and took me there to eat with them. After eating at these restaurants, I fell in love with the food there, and that has made me want to share about these great restaurants as well.
This Chinese restaurant is disputed as the best in town because it is the total package. There is a wall covered with well over 300 menu items (it is all written in chinese, but there is a folder with all the menu items as well), so there is always something new to try with each visit. I learned from a friend who knows the owners that the chef travels to China once a year just to hone his skills, so they are very committed to making the food as authentic as possible. I would recommend bringing several friends together and eating the food family style so that you can try a wide variety of food here. Also, having a chinese friend to come with you is a good idea so you can know what you’re ordering as well.
This is one of the hidden gems of Champaign. The restaurant looks like a little shack, but inside is a treasure trove of great food. Thai food is the way to go here. The variety of noodle, soup, and curry dishes they serve here taste great, and if you love spicy food, you can ask them to turn up the heat. As for food recommendations, many people order the pad thai for a noodle dish, but I’ve come to love the pad se-ew because of the thicker noodle and sweet sauce that comes with it. Prices here are great and the portions they give can feed enough for 2 people! Even though this restaurant seems small, just remember that looks can be deceiving.
This is one of the best mexican restaurants I’ve been to in my life. Although the space is very limited, the food here is amazing. I’ve compared a Chipotle burrito to the ones they make here and Maize wins. They make all of their food fresh, even the chips (which are included with every order!). Also, the speed that they make their food is incredible. Even though the line for food can run out the door, they finish the order within 5 minutes of purchase. If you come here, make sure its with only a friend or two, but ordering food to go is definitely a way to go as well.
Pizza is the staple food of any college student, but when I want some quality pizza, this is the place to get it in Champaign. Their super-stuffed pizza is the way to go. They load the pizza up with mozzarella and toppings, covering it with a rich amount of tomato sauce. Being a big eater, I’ve been able to eat a whole pizza by myself in one sitting (with room to spare), but I can get full off two slices of their deep-dish pizza. I also recommend that you order half an hour in advance! If you order when you’re there, be ready to wait a long time as it takes about an hour to prepare. This is a must go to place at least once!
JJ’s Chicken & Fish
When I want fried chicken, many people say to go to KFC or Pop-eyes, but I say JJ’s would be my top pick. The fried food here is fresh and made to order, so every bite is warm and juicy. I’ve only eaten the fried chicken and fries here, but that food alone has driven me to want to come back for more. One thing I will say is that the location is not ideal for sitting-in, so I recommend to take out the food.
Original Pancake House
If I ever wanted great breakfast food, this is the best place by far. OHOP provides a wide range of pancakes and provides great ol’ American breakfast items. What's great about OHOP is that when you order from some of the menu items, pancakes come on the side, which makes a very large breakfast (after all large breakfasts are very healthy). Also, if you want to have a specialty pancake like the chocolate chip or my personal favorite Georgia Pecan, you can substitute it for a low cost! Definitely a great place to go before a long day of work.
Again, I just want to remind the reader that these are only a few of the great places here in Champaign! There are many great eat out places on Green street and around the city, but I found that these will be the places I would want to go to whenever I need a great meal. So whether its a last meal before the big exam or a meal to celebrate a great year, try one of these great places only found at the University of Illinois!
Photography: Max Falkowitz