Champaign is consistently ranked in the top ten of all college towns in the nation, year after year. This ranking shows that this is a great place to live, but just a number on a list might leave you wondering why. The city of Champaign has so many fun things to do, great sporting events to watch, plus a fantastic college which you’ve probably heard of before if you’re on this page. Another reason I think Champaign gets ranked so highly is due to the great local eats we have all over town.
Here are 5 of my favorite places to eat in town. In this list, I excluded chain restaurants. I love to grab some Panda Express or a sandwich from Jimmy John’s on occasion, but for this post, I’m only focusing on my favorite local businesses. If you live here or are just making a visit, here are some of the places not to miss.
5 – Papa Del’s
Papa Del’s is definitely my favorite pizza in town. If you’re from the Chicago area like me, you will probably miss the deep-dish pizza that you can get almost anywhere in Chicago. Papa Del’s definitely scratches that itch with a delicious deep dish, and great thin crust pizza as well. They also have great salads and wings to complement the pizza, a necessary addition for any top-tier pizza joint. Papa Del’s also has a great sit-down area in their restaurant and occasionally host’s fun events like a podcast with Illini Basketball coach Brad Underwood once a week during the season.
4 – Bangkok Thai Restaurant and Pho 911
Bangkok Thai is a delicious place to grab a bite of a wide variety of different kinds of foods. Boasting a massive and consistently good menu, Bangkok Thai is always busy. My favorite thing to get from here is the multitude of different fried rice options that they have. My favorite thing about Bangkok is that you can choose the spice level of your meal ranging from one to six. If you’re a spice lover, this place is for you, and if you’re not, there’s still plenty of delicious options for you to enjoy. Located right on Green Street, it should be accessible to you no matter where you are on campus.
3 – Maize Mexican Grill
My favorite Mexican food on campus, Maize perfects almost every different kind of Mexican cuisine. From basic things like burritos and tacos to more complex dishes like birria tacos, no matter what you get, it will be fantastic. Maize also has two different experiences for diners as well. There is a quick take-out version of the restaurant on Green Street, and a sit-down version of it located in Downtown Champaign. The food options are pretty much the same and no matter which one you go to you will get a side of great chips and two different kinds of salsa. If Mexican food is your favorite, Maize is a must-visit.
2 – Mia Za’s
Another Green Street eatery, Mia Za’s is pretty much right next to the quad. Mia Za’s focus is Italian Food, and they specialize in making pasta, pizza, and paninis. The great thing about Mia Za’s is the customization options you are afforded when choosing a meal. The exact statistic that is posted in the restaurant is lost on me, but it basically states that you can eat at Mia Za’s hundreds of thousands of times and never get exactly the same thing. There are so many ways you can change up your meal and it never really misses. My favorite here is either the spaghetti carbonara or the mac and cheese pizza; you definitely can’t go wrong with either. Mia Za’s is also an extremely economical option, with the larger size plates of pasta and pizzas coming in around 8 dollars.
1 – Black Dog Smoke and Ale House
Black Dog was actually the first place that I ever ate at in Champaign. I got it after my college orientation when I picked my first classes freshman year. Ever since then, it has been one of my favorite places to eat in town, and one of my favorite barbeque places I’ve ever had hands-down.
I’ve tried almost all of the items on the menu here ranging from the barbeque place classic pulled port to the delectable rip tips. All of the meat here is top-notch, and when complemented with the wide range of different barbeque sauces that they offer, it only makes it better. They also have a great selection of unique sides to go along with your food. Black Dog is the crown jewel of Champaign dining and a must-see.