With a senior now at the university, ABC7's Steve Dolinsky asked his daughter to do some research on great spots for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A return to campus for alumni can be filled with nostalgia. Having a child at UIUC brings its own set of demands, not the least of which is, where do we eat while we're in town? Fortunately, Madeline Dolinsky has done her research.
"Over the last four years, I think there's definitely been an improvement and explosion of new restaurants and bakeries," said Madeline Dolinsky. "It's really exciting to see what pops up."
Madeline suggested beginning the day at a 32-year-old stalwart along Walnut Street.
"For breakfast, a campus classic, which is called Sam's Café. They've got your classic French toast, eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, really great," she said.
Omelets are generous and that French toast has just the right amount of eggy-richness, with a jolt of cinnamon and powdered sugar for good measure.
Extra Course: Sun Singer Wine & Spirits
Lunch means hearty sandwiches from Pekara Bakery and Bistro, which now has two locations in town.
"They have fresh bread, fresh-baked goods, lots of great lunch sandwiches as well. Their Springfield location is their larger location, it's more seating," she said.
All of the breads and pastries are delivered each morning from the nearby Central Illinois Bakehouse. They feature prominently in open-faced toasts, or thick, two-fisted pulled pork with provolone, or turkey clubs housed in soft, spongy focaccia.
"We do have lots of pastries that come in everyday - croissants, cinnamon rolls, danishes, scones, lots of different types of cookies," said Manager Gillian Roloff. "At this location we also have the West Coast toast, and then sandwiches, salads and soups as well."
Extra Course: Madeline's favorite Asian restaurants near the university
Dinner is a bit more upscale at the brand new Naya on Green Street.
"Same people as Miga and Sakanaya, and they have a really cool mixture of Italian food with a hint of Asian cuisine as well," said Madeline. "Little more expensive, little fancier, great place; I went there for my birthday dinner."
"The background is Italian - that's kind of the underlying current - but there's also a few splashes of Asian, a little bit of Korean, maybe a touch of Japanese," said Executive Chef Thad Morrow.
So mortadella is shaved into a tower, over toasted brioche, amidst a scattering of parmigiano reggiano and crushed pistachios. Rigatoni is tossed with a slow-cooked bolognese, but on the other hand, a risotto hides embedded bits of Korean-inspired bulgogi beef with mushrooms. Morrow also sears Japanese skewers of chicken or beef, the latter arriving with a yogurt-y dip with lemon and calabrian chiles.
"Part of it was we moved closer towards campus because we see a lot of students who are really into food," said Morrow. "It's easier to get traction now on this kind of food than it would have been 20 years ago. It's also easier for me to access ingredients."
115 N. Walnut St., Champaign
Pekara Bakery & Bistro
116 N. Neil St., Champaign
811 W. Springfield Ave., Champaign
212 E. Green St., Champaign
Sun Singer Wine & Spirits
1115 W. Windsor Rd., Champaign
Lao Sze Chuan
608 E University Ave Suite 105
B Won Korean
2006 S. Neil St.
Dumpling Noodle BBQ
715 S. Neil St.
Kung Fu Tea
707 S 6th St Suite 107
Fresh International Market (congee)
505 S. Neil St.
K-Bowl (kimchi stew)
39 E. Green St.
601 S. 6th St.
617 E. Green St.
611 E Green St Suite A