My favorite restaurants in Champaign-Urbana

Where are the best places to eat near the University of Illinois?

Payton Jarzyna at the Business Instructional Facility, UIUCPayton Jarzyna is a senior pursuing a dual degree in creative writing and advertising. During the school year she works as a marketing intern for the College of LAS and as a waitress. In her free time you can find her reading thrillers, watching Succession, or shopping for cool necklaces.

When I began my freshman year at the University of Illinois, one of the things that surprised me most was the vibrant food scene. Walking down Green St., I could get any food I wanted, from ramen, to burgers, to falafel, to poke bowls, to chicken tikka masala. The food options were just as diverse as a street in Chicago or New York City!

But, I’ve discovered that some of the best restaurants are slightly farther from Green St. and offer just as much variety and flavor. Here are some of my favorite places to eat in the Champaign-Urbana area.

The Bread Company

706 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana
3-minute walk from the Main Quad

Walking into Bread Co feels like walking into a bustling European bistro. Paintings line the walls and a tile floor leads into an open atrium of tables. There’s even a second floor balcony to eat on that faces the rest of the restaurant. Bread Co offers two different menus, one at lunch, which is mainly sandwiches and salad, and one at dinner, which is mainly pastas and pizzas.

The lunch menu is my favorite. I like to order a grilled chicken sandwich and a pear salad. The chicken sandwich comes out hot with melting gruyere cheese and a bacon-chipotle garlic aioli that is bursting with flavor. On the side, the pear salad strikes the perfect balance between sweet and savory, between the salty blue cheese, and the sweet slices of pear. I like to eat it on the second floor so that I can pretend I’m on a European vacation, instead of eating lunch between classes!

A sandwich at and the interior of Bread Company
Left: The grilled chicken sandwich and a pear salad at the Bread Company. Right: Part of the interior of the Bread Company.

Cowboy Monkey 

6 Taylor St., Champaign
15-minute bus ride from the Main Quad

Cowboy Monkey is warm and welcoming with colorful string lights dangling from the ceiling. The vibrant neon signs and exposed brick walls makes it feel like a swanky city spot. They also have a beer garden to dine in, if you prefer eating outside. But, more importantly, they have some of the best tacos I’ve ever had.

My favorite order is the steak tacos. The crispy tortilla complements the melty cheese, and the steak is seasoned just right to give it a savory flavor. The sauce is creamy, but has a slight kick to it, if you like some spice. It comes with a side of tangy purple cabbage to sprinkle on your taco, and a lime to squeeze, for a little extra flavor. Every Tuesday they offer half price tacos, so 3 tacos only costs around $5. Cowboy Monkey also offers completely vegetarian options for people with dietary restrictions.

Tacos at Cowboy Monkey in Champaign
Tacos at Cowboy Monkey in Champaign.


Eating at Kofushion
Enjoying sushi at the campus Kofusion!

Campus location: 701 S. Gregory St., Urbana
7-minute walk from the Main Quad

Downtown Champaign location: 30 E. Main St., Champaign
15-minute bus ride from the Main Quad

Kofusion has two different locations, a fancier location on Main St. in downtown Champaign, and a campus location in Urbana. Both offer a diverse array of starters, kitchen entrees, and sushi.

The downtown Kofusion location is modern and sleek with marble walls and leather booths. One of my favorite appetizers are the cheese curds (which are way better than Culver’s, in my opinion) with crispy fried breading, jalapenos, and onions. They come with a spicy sauce on the side that deliciously complements the creaminess of the cheese. The list of entrees and sushi items is just as tasty. My favorite entrée is the Dol Sot Bi Bim Bop. Once you mix the crispy rice, steamed vegetables, and the smooth sauce all together, it's the perfect combination of textures and flavors. As an extra bonus, it’s super healthy because it’s packed with vegetables. Plus, where else can you get cheese curds and sushi at the same restaurant?

The campus location has a more casual atmosphere, but the food is just as good. The best thing about this location is their $1 sushi deal. You can get individual pieces of sushi (California rolls, spicy crab, creamy fried shrimp, or coconut shrimp and mango) for just $1. That way, you have an array of sushi to try, instead of just one type. The California roll is a classic because it is both light and filling; it keeps you full without making you feel stuffed.

One of the amazing benefits of going to school in Champaign-Urbana is getting to try all the delicious food it has to offer. From pear salads, to steak tacos, to California rolls, you can find something you’ll like. So, if you’re looking for a place to grab dinner with your friends, wanting to try something new, or just needing a break from studying, check out one of these restaurants!

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Payton Jarzyna