My 7 Favorite Restaurants To Try In Champaign, Illinois (2024)

Champaign/Urbana is a college town, home to the University of Illinois’s Fighting Illini. With the international mix of students, the town offers an eclectic mix of dining options as well as those with a distinctive Midwestern flavor. All in all, Champaign County has some great dining opportunities. In the past year and a half, I have traveled this direction for a couple of events and to see the art and gardens in the area. Over the years, I have enjoyed the variety of food, that are Champaign-only dining options, and those that I have only tried in Champaign.

I have found out about the restaurants through friends, and in a few instances from suggestions from Terri Reifsteck of Visit Champaign. Champaign is located in east-central Illinois, and has some fun finds with distinctive flavors!

My 7 Favorite Restaurants To Try In Champaign, Illinois (1)

1. Black Dog Smoke & Ale

This restaurant is a fun stop with great history. I visited the Black Dog Smoke & Ale on a hosted visit this past summer. Visit Champaign invited me to try dining at this wonderful stop. The restaurant is charming. The Black Dog Smoke & Ale is a former train depot where my friend Annie Jansen and I dined with Visit Champaign’s Terri Reifsteck. Terri said it’s known for its barbecue, so I had barbecue chicken and enjoyed the restaurant’s wonderful cornbread.

During its renovation, a porch was added, and this expanded the dining options offering outside seating. The Black Dog Smoke & Ale has been open since 2015! Best of all, its location is near downtown.

Pro Tip: When dining at the Black Dog Smoke & Ale you may want to walk around downtown Champaign and enjoy some of the over 200 pieces of public art in the city of Champaign. Also, where downtown parking is concerned, make sure you have plenty of change for parking meters.

My 7 Favorite Restaurants To Try In Champaign, Illinois (2)

2. Prairie Farms Fruits & Creamery

The same day that Annie and I dined at the Black Dog Smoke & Ale, we had taken a tour of Prairie Farms Fruits & Creamery earlier that day. Lisa Wells, the marketing talent shared that Prairie Farms Fruits & Creamery make its own cheese and gelato out of goat’s milk.

Leslie Cooperband and her husband Wesley Jarrell own Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery. Leslie is the head cheesemaker. We got to see where she makes the cheese and sample some of their wonderful cheeses! “We make gelato, cheeses and have local meats and beer. You can build your own cheese platter when you visit,” Leslie said.

Since I am diabetic, I couldn’t try the gelato, but Annie assured me it was marvelous! We loved the cheese and our tour of the goat herd. The farm also offers private dinners, and you can also take a tour. Annie and I plan to come back for that cheese and meat tray! Prairie Farms Fruits & Creamery also sells its cheeses in several local shops and Chicago locations as well, and you can buy them in the shop at the farm, too. We loved the creamy taste. This is a seasonal stop, so be sure it’s open before heading out!

Pro Tip: If you love animals and touring farms, in nearby Rantoul, Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch is a great diversion!

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3. Original Pancake House

This was a new restaurant for me, but it is a standby for many. My friend Kelli Dozier’s son Clint went to college in Champaign and said that he and his girlfriend loved it. That was how I first learned about this fun dining option when looking for a breakfast spot. My mom Lori Disque and Annie Jansen and I headed to Champaign for a fun day, and the Original Pancake House was on our list.

This chain was founded in Portland, Oregon, in 1953 by Les Highet and Erma Hueneke. Today it is a 2nd and 3rd-generation business with several different locations. It offers an array of items using recipes from sourdough starters in its kitchen. The apple pancake is one of the signature items, so we had to order one. We ordered that along with an entrée of pigs in a blanket, a sausage wrapped in a pancake, and a serving of scrambled eggs that came with pecan pancakes.

We ordered regular syrup and sugar-free syrup. What pleased me the most was the fact that the business heated the sugar-free syrup, which never happens at most restaurants! Our hands-down favorite breakfast item was the pigs in a blanket. Great service and good food!

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4. Seven Saints Bar

After eating a big breakfast, Mom, Annie, and I did a bit of shopping at Jane Addams Books and Ten Thousand Villages. The bookstore had an extensive selection of used books, and Ten Thousand Villages is a retailer selling fair trade crafts and housewares.

We wanted a bite to eat, but we were not hungry enough for a full-blown lunch. We received advice for a great place for good appetizers, and the name Seven Saints came up. In the heart of downtown Champaign among the art and flowers, this was the perfect spot to enjoy a few appetizers to round out the afternoon.

The architectural aspects of the bar and grill were quite captivating. At Ten Thousand Villages, the young man that waited on us had recommended the cheese curds, so we tried them along with tomato bruschetta and their amazing diced tomato basil spread served with toast points. Yum!

Cheese curds were good, and although they were a heavier version than the ones I have had before, they were good, just different. The bruschetta was wonderful and the homemade spread delectable. I had stopped here before when heading to Champaign for a concert. Evening food was as good as the appetizers and the beer we had then was cold and fresh, too!

Pro Tip: After a stop at the Seven Saints, take time to take a picture sitting next to the Humpty Dumpty sculpture!

5. The Courier Café

My husband and I and friends enjoyed this fun dining experience during an earlier stay in Champaign! Together with this group of friends we always try to seek out eclectic places with good food, plus a cool environment. The Courier Café offered both! Terri Reifsteck of Visit Champaign had also recommended this as one of the top breakfast places in Champaign.

The building is the former home of the Courier newspaper which closed in 1979. The inside of the building is filled with authentic antiques. This made the dining experience a neat décor offering a cool interior. The food was great; I chose a great omelet!

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6. Portillo’s Hot Dogs

While Portillo’s is undoubtedly known as a famed Chicago dining place, it was in Champaign that I tried this hot dog treat. Not only is the Portillo’s in Champaign very good, but it is less crowded than the Windy City counterpart and offers the same good food! We met some antique tractor and farm toy friends here, and they took us to this fun find.

7. Dos Reales Mexican Restaurant

The same friends that took us to Portillos helped us discover Dos Reales, which seemed to be an authentic Mexican restaurant. I enjoyed the beef burrito and colorful décor. Mexican food is always one of my favorites! Champaign is centrally located and a great place to meet friends from all over the state!

These are just a few of the places that I have been too. As you can guess, there are many more dining names I had not been to that came up in conversation with friends and family that probably should be mentioned, meaning that I need to go back!

In addition to good restaurants, Champaign is a town full of beautiful gardens. Annie and I saw the amazing IDEA and Children’s Garden and the Japan House/Arboretum Garden. We loved the beauty of the town that is full of sculpture and architecture. The town is also filled with museums. While I have been to the Champaign County History Museum it has since been updated. I also want to visit the Spurlock Museum and the Krannert Art Museum when I return to try out some new restaurants!

Food choices abound in and around nearby Chicago:

  • 13 Unique Black-Owned Restaurants To Try In Chicago
  • Beyond Deep Dish: 11 Pizza Places Chicagoans Love
  • Our 8 All-Time Favorite Bakeries In Illinois
My 7 Favorite Restaurants To Try In Champaign, Illinois (2024)


My 7 Favorite Restaurants To Try In Champaign, Illinois? ›

1. David Ayer. David Ayer is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. David Ayer was born in Champaign, Illinois and grew up in Bloomington, Minnesota, and Bethesda, Maryland, where he was kicked out of his house by his parents as a teenager.

What famous person is from Champaign Illinois? ›

1. David Ayer. David Ayer is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. David Ayer was born in Champaign, Illinois and grew up in Bloomington, Minnesota, and Bethesda, Maryland, where he was kicked out of his house by his parents as a teenager.

What are some interesting facts about Champaign Illinois? ›

Cattle Bank building, constructed in 1858, is the oldest extant building in Champaign. Champaign was founded in 1855, when the Illinois Central Railroad laid its rail track two miles (3 km) west of downtown Urbana. Originally called "West Urbana", it was renamed Champaign when it acquired a city charter in 1860.

Which city is close to Champaign, Illinois? ›

Cities near Champaign, Illinois:
  • Urbana, IL.
  • Rantoul, IL.
  • Danville, IL.
  • Decatur, IL.
  • Charleston, IL.
  • Mattoon, IL.
  • Bloomington, IL.
  • Normal, IL.

Is Champaign in Cook County? ›

Champaign (/ˌʃæmˈpeɪn/ sham-PAYN) is a city in Champaign County, Illinois, United States.

What are 3 famous people in Illinois? ›

5 famous people from Illinois
  • Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
  • Walt Disney (1901-1966)
  • Betty White (1922-present)
  • Jacqueline "Jackie" Joyner-Kersee (1962-present)
  • Jennifer Hudson (1981-present)
Apr 15, 2020

What is the nickname for Champaign? ›

That's “Chambana” To You

The much larger Champaign gets lumped in with Urbana by locals with the hybrid name Chambana for short.

What is Illinois Champaign known for? ›

Widely known as home to the University of Illinois, the City of Champaign hosts a number of other outstanding educational resources.

Why is it called Champaign IL? ›

Champaign was founded in 1855, when the Illinois Central Railroad placed its tracks two miles west of downtown Urbana. Originally called “West Urbana”, it was renamed “Champaign” when it acquired a city charter in 1860. Both the city and county name were derived from Champaign County, Ohio.

Is Champaign Illinois a nice place to live? ›

editorial. Champaign is a town in Illinois with a population of 88,628. Champaign is in Champaign County and is one of the best places to live in Illinois. Living in Champaign offers residents an urban suburban mix feel and most residents rent their homes.

Is Champaign IL a good place to retire? ›

Overall, survey respondents were pleased with the CU area as a place to live and retire, although a slightly lower number saw it as a good or excellent place to retire.

What is the twin city of Champaign Illinois? ›

Urbana (/ɜːrˈbænə/ ur-BAN-ə) is a city in and the county seat of Champaign County, Illinois, United States. As of the 2020 census, Urbana had a population of 38,336. It is a principal city of the Champaign–Urbana metropolitan area, which had 236,000 residents in 2020.

How long is the Amtrak from Champaign to Chicago? ›

Information on this train trip
Daily Trains2
Minimum Trip Duration2h36m
Average Train Trip Duration2h37m
Distance126 miles (202 km)
Train Companies on This RouteAmtrak
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Is Champaign IL urban or rural? ›

UIUC is located in the twin towns of Urbana-Champaign. However, the surrounding area is largely rural (by US standards). The administration at UIUC maintains that it is located in an urban area although the Illinois state mentions the area as rural.

Is Champaign IL a suburb of Chicago? ›

Champaign, city, Champaign county, east-central Illinois, U.S. Lying about 135 miles (220 km) southwest of Chicago, it adjoins Urbana (east), with which it shares the main campus of the University of Illinois.

What is Champaign County known for? ›

Home to the University of Illinois, Parkland College, and two major regional hospitals (Carle Foundation Hospital and OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center), Champaign County is a leader in education, health care, government, high technology, light industry and agriculture.

What rappers are from Champaign, Illinois? ›

Ludacris was born Christopher Brian Bridges in Champaign, Illinois, where he was raised, the son of Roberta Shields and Wayne Brian Bridges. At nine years old, he started rapping.

Do any celebrities live in Illinois? ›

Vince Vaughn grew up in the Chicago suburbs and he still owns a town home in the Windy City. Jennifer Hudson was born and raised in Chicago. She currently owns a mansion in the Chicago suburb of Burr Ridge.

What famous person went to the University of Illinois? ›

Marc AndreessenENG, BS 1994Inventor of the modern web browser
Susan AveryENG, MS 1974; LAS, PHD 1978President of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
William BakerENG, MS 1980Structural engineer of Burj Khalifa
Arnold BeckmanLAS, BS 1922; ENG, MS 1923; HON 1982Founder of Beckman Instruments
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