Campus Restaurant Gems You Must Try

By Madison Gillespie


In addition to fluffy squirrels and ill-timed gusts of wind, the University of Illinois is home to a plethora of restaurants. Between the offerings at residence halls and popular chain restaurants, it becomes easy to fall into the routine of eating at the same places each week. However, there are so many local restaurants that are equally, if not more, delicious for comparable prices. If you need to plan out your upcoming meals, consider adding the following places to your list! Once you get a taste of these restaurants, chances are you won’t be frequenting Chipotle or Panera multiple times a week again.



Caffe Paradiso


All images are from Caffe Paradiso’s Instagram account. Follow them at @caffe.paradiso!
Address: 801 S Lincoln Ave, Urbana, IL 61801
Price Range: $


While Espresso Royale is an excellent local alternative to chain coffee shops like Starbucks or Dunkin, many forget about Caffe Paradiso, an Urbana favorite. Located on South Lincoln Avenue near Jimmy John’s, this café features an eclectic mix of wooden tables and chairs, walls dashed with gold, burgundy and turquoise paint, and plenty of live greenery. The rest of the decor is very rustic and Italian inspired, making this a great place to relax, study, or catch up with friends. In terms of its menu, Caffe Paradiso offers coffee and tea from Intelligenista, a Chicago-based coffee roasting company. They also serve other classic beverages such as hot chocolate and their famous lemonade, made in house from freshly squeezed lemons. If you ever need to grab some coffee and food to go, you should also consider trying one of their homemade pastries or a gooey, hot-off-the-press panini.



Hammerhead Coffee


All images are from Hammerhead’s Instagram account. Follow them at @hammerheadcoffeeco!
Address: 608 E University Ave, Champaign, IL 61820
Price Range: $$


This café is attached to the ground floor of the Latitude apartment complex, but it has become a popular destination for students across campus. Hammerhead boasts a minimalist layout that combines industrial furniture and light fixtures with elements of pop art for a truly unique beverage-drinking experience. You can always count on music from local artists to be playing across the loudspeakers, and for your coffee, tea, or hot chocolate to arrive in an oversized teal mug. Locally made baked goods and soups, as well as smaller, healthy grab-and-go snacks like granola bars, are also available for purchase.




J Gumbo’s


Credit: Yelp, Groupon
Address: 700 S Gregory St D, Urbana, IL 61801
Price Range: $


If you’re in the mood for something warm and hearty, J Gumbo’s is the perfect place. Its authentic Cajun-Creole food offerings, which include gumbo and jambalaya, are packed with flavor and thoroughly satisfying, especially for those who love spicy food. Any dish can be further customized with toppings, including green onions, sour cream and shredded cheese, and every order comes with a large slice of buttered bread. The affordable prices and quick preparation make J Gumbo’s a great spot for lunch, but the large and filling portions also make it equally delicious for dinner.



Burrito King


Store image is from Facebook. Food images were photographed by the author.
Address: 408 E Green St, Champaign, IL 61820
Price Range: $


While its fast service and late-night hours make Burrito King the ideal place to eat after going out on the weekends, this restaurant is often unfairly overlooked during the week. With its massive portions – their medium-sized “Burrito Prince” is more like a large – and homemade tortilla chips and salsa that come with every order, Burrito King seems like a clear choice for lunch or dinner. On days when you have late classes, lots of meetings, or an especially long shift at work and haven’t had much time to eat, consider visiting Burrito King. Chances are, you will finish your meal feeling full and content.



BBQ Premium Chicken



Images were photographed by the author.
Address: 700 S Gregory St, Urbana, IL 61801
Price: $$


This small but charming restaurant offers a combination of fried chicken and authentic Korean dishes. Don’t let the name fool you into thinking it’s only a barbecue place! “BBQ” actually stands for “Best of the Best Quality,” which reflects the restaurant’s practice of frying their chicken with olive oil for healthier dishes. The breading on their chicken tenders is much lighter and crispier as a result, containing far less grease than the equivalent from KFC. The red metal-plated walls, hanging Edison bulbs, rooster artwork and farmwood tables also give BBQ Premium Chicken an inviting, barn-inspired feel.



Kung Fu Tea


Kung Fu Store

Images were photographed by the author.


Address: 707 S 6th St Suite 107, Champaign, IL 61820
Price Range: $$


Ever since Kung Fu Tea opened last fall, it has become a go-to place on campus for traditional, milk, bubble and yogurt teas. However, what isn’t apparent from the advertisements pasted on the door as you pass by is that Kung Fu Tea also serves food! Stop in for a poke bowl (a raw fish salad that is essentially deconstructed sushi) or a sushi burrito wrap, both of which come with a cup of miso soup on the side. Ingredient checklists allow you to customize your meal to your liking, and the funky, color-changing lights throughout the restaurant entice you to sit back, sip your tea, and just enjoy the atmosphere.




Paris Super


Images were photographed by the author.


Address: 601 S 6th St suite 106, Champaign, IL 61820
Price Range: $$


This eclectic dessert shop specializing in rolled Thai ice cream, thick milkshakes, huge buttery crepes, and colorful “lightbulb drinks” is the perfect place to grab something sweet after a date, or when out with friends. The color-changing lights across the ceiling, painted mural of the Parisian skyline, and quilted chairs and stools give off a cute yet sophisticated feel. There is also a shelf with board games for guests to play, which is another nice touch.



Merry Ann’s Diner


Images were photographed by the author.
Address: 701 S. Gregory St, Urbana, IL 61801
Price Range: $


Merry Ann’s is already known for its diner-style breakfast and lunch specials, always served 24 hours a day. But no article discussing campus desserts would be complete without mentioning Merry Ann’s amazing milkshakes. Decadent vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or Oreo ice cream blended to perfection and served overflowing with whipped cream – what more could you want from a shake? There is just something about the first bite of milkshake and cream that no other dessert on campus can match, regardless of where you go. It’s nothing extravagant, but that’s part of what makes it so special.



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