Food & Drink

Champaign-Urbana has it all: a rich history, academic institutions, and great food and drinks. Restaurants dot the landscape, participating in the culture of the surrounding area. Local restaurants have great success here. Some owners are from here, some moved for school and decided to stay, while others left after school and came back because they love the community so much. Everyone has a story to tell.

Buildings hold many stories passed down from generations of workers, inhabitants, and townspeople. The building’s original purpose often does not translate to the current usage of the space. We form attachments to certain spaces, and buildings are part of our living history.

There are unique aspects to every city. For example, the streets of Champaign lay on a grid, except for those of downtown Champaign. These streets run parallel to the train tracks because downtown Champaign began as a railway stopover. Urbana, too, has its quirks; Urbana municipal code requires alleys to be paved and to function as one-way streets, so every alleyway in Urbana is named.

Each business has its own unique community ties and cultural significance in the Champaign-Urbana area. There is a deep history surrounding restaurants in Champaign-Urbana both in the physical space as well as from the owners’ experiences. Not all of these restaurateurs set out to own their own businesses, but all have found belonging in the community and in restaurant ownership. They all have one thing in common: they love Champaign-Urbana, and they love serving this community. What follows are personal stories from these local restaurant owners.

Black Dog Smoke & Ale House

A train runs by, blaring the horn to let pedestrians know to keep clear of the tracks. Inside Black Dog Smoke & Ale House in Champaign, the atmosphere remains the same. Dozens of diners enjoy barbeque, sip midday cocktails, and have a good time…

The Bread Company on Goodwin

“I have a lot of pride in this place.” – Lindsay Aikman, daughter-in-law to Ruth Aikman, founder of The Bread Company. The Bread Company started in Ruth Aikman's kitchen back when she made bread at home for her family. Originally from…

Café Kopi

Situated near the bisection of Walnut and Neil is Café Kopi, nestled near several mainstays of downtown Champaign. It resides in one of the oldest buildings downtown, built around 1908-1910. Café Kopi’s residence has a lengthy history, beginning…

Courier Café

Tucked away in a corner of downtown Urbana, the Courier Café is one of the oldest restaurants in the area, and according to their website it is the oldest building in downtown Urbana. Alvin T. Burrows bought the land on which Courier stands today in…

Crane Alley

The city of Urbana was incorporated about 200 years ago. From the beginning, Urbana had a thriving, bustling downtown scene, with new buildings added all the time. Now the structures are old, respected and protected. Historical landmarks dot the…

Esquire Lounge

Downtown Champaign is home to many old buildings, built so long ago their construction history is nearly lost. On the corner of Walnut and Chester, Esquire Lounge stands as one of the oldest bars in town. Old pictures and antique maps of Champaign…

Jarling's Custard Cup

Jarling’s Custard Cup got its start in 1949 in Danville, Illinois. They began as a small town ice cream parlor, selling the custard recipe that George Potter, the original owner, created. In 1983, Doug and Christy Jarling opened the Champaign…

Papa Del's Pizza Factory

Upon entering this nearly 100-year-old building, you take in the sights and smells of Papa Del’s Pizza Factory. The walls are painted a cheesy-yellow mixed with deep tomato red, creating the perfect mixture of color. The metal fireplace holding…

Radio Maria

If you have ever visited downtown Champaign, you probably noticed that most shops are packed tightly together, some with no spaces between them, while others have the smallest of alleyways. Radio Maria sits snugly on the corner of Walnut and Taylor.…

The Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant

Walking near the heart of campus puts visitors, students, faculty and staff alike near plenty of great places to eat, hang out, and have a good time. Tucked away on the corner of Oregon and St. Mathews sits Red Herring, a restaurant that has a long…

The Ribeye

Out on South Neil Street sits The Ribeye, “The Great One Steak Place” as it is known to those who dine there, opened their doors in February 1979. They made their home in the relatively young building (built in 1970) that used to be…

Silvercreek

Drive or catch the bus to downtown Urbana for another local staple. Silvercreek, owned by Courier Café’s Allen Strong, is in their 27th year of business. Located just a short walk away from downtown, the Silvercreek building sits above the winding…