My 7 favorite restaurants in Champagne

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Champaign / Urbana is a college town, home to the University of Illinois Fighting Illini. Along with the international mix of students, the city offers an eclectic mix of dining options as well as those with a distinctive Midwestern flavor. Overall, Champaign County offers excellent dining opportunities. Over the past year and a half, I have traveled this direction for a few events and to see the art and gardens in the area. Over the years, I have enjoyed the variety of dishes, which are champagne-only dining options, and the ones I only tried in Champaign.

I discovered the restaurants through friends and, in a few cases, through Terri Reifsteck’s suggestions from Visit Champagne. Champaign is located in east-central Illinois and offers fun finds with distinctive flavors!

Public art in Champaign (Photo credit: Cindy Ladage)

1. Black Dog Smoke & Ale

This restaurant is a fun stopover with a great history. I visited the Black Dog Smoke & Ale during a lively visit last summer. Visit Champaign invited me to try dinner at this wonderful stop. The restaurant is lovely. Black Dog Smoke & Ale is a former train depot where my friend Annie Jansen and I had dinner with Terri Reifsteck from Visit Champaign. Terri said he was known for his barbecue, so I had barbecue chicken and enjoyed the restaurant’s wonderful cornbread.

During its renovation, a porch was added, which expanded the dining options offering outdoor seating. The Black Dog Smoke & Ale has been open since 2015! Best of all, its location is close to the city center.

Pro tip: When you dine at Black Dog Smoke & Ale, you might want to take a stroll through downtown Champaign and enjoy over 200 pieces of public art in the city of Champaign. Also, when it comes to downtown parking, make sure you have enough change for the parking meters.

Prairie Farms Fruits & Creamery Goat's Milk Gelato
Prairie Farms Fruits & Creamery Goat’s Milk Gelato (Photo credit: Cindy Ladage)

2. Prairie Farms Fruits & Creamery

The same day that Annie and I had dinner at Black Dog Smoke & Ale, we took a tour of Prairie Farms Fruit & Dairy earlier today. Lisa Wells, the talented marketer, explained that Prairie Farms Fruits & Creamery makes their own cheese and ice cream from goat’s milk.

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

Since I have diabetes, I couldn’t try the ice cream, but Annie assured me it was wonderful! We loved the cheese and our visit to the goat herd. The farm also offers private dinners, and you can also take a tour. Annie and I are planning to return for this cheese and meat platter! Prairie Farms Fruits & Creamery also sells its cheeses in several local stores and in Chicago, and you can purchase them from the farm store as well. We loved the creamy taste. This is a seasonal stop, so make sure it’s open before you go!

Pro tip: If you like animals and traveling farms, in nearby Rantoul, Hardy reindeer ranch is a great diversion!

Original Pancake House Signature Apple Pancake
Signature Apple Pancake at Original Pancake House (Photo credit: Cindy Ladage)

3. Original pancake house

It was a new restaurant for me, but it’s a stand-by for many. My friend Kelli Dozier’s son Clint went to college in Champaign and said he and his girlfriend loved him. This is how I discovered this fun food option when looking for a place for breakfast. My mom Lori Disc and Annie Jansen and I went to Champaign for a fun day out, and the Original Pancake House was on our list.

This chain was founded in Portland, Oregon, in 1953 by Les Highets and Erma Hueneke. Today it is a 2nd and 3rd generation company with several different locations. He has a range of items using sourdough starter recipes in his kitchen. The apple pancake is one of the signature items so we had to order one. We ordered this with a pork starter in a blanket, a sausage wrapped in a pancake, and a serving of scrambled eggs with pecan pancakes.

We ordered regular syrup and syrup without sugar. What I liked the most was the fact that the company reheated the syrup without sugar, which never happens in most restaurants! Our favorite breakfast item by far was the pigs in a blanket. Great service and great food!

Tomato Bruschetta at Seven Saints
Tomato Bruschetta at Seven Saints (Photo credit: Cindy Ladage)

4. The bar of the seven saints

After eating a hearty breakfast, mom, Annie and I did some shopping at Books by Jane Addams and Ten thousand villages. The bookstore has a wide 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 weren’t hungry enough for a full-fledged lunch. We received advice for a good place for good appetizers, and the name Seven Saints has come. In the heart of downtown Champaign among art and flowers, it was the perfect place to enjoy some aperitifs to end the afternoon.

The architectural aspects of the bar and grill were quite captivating. At Ten Thousand Villages, the young man waiting for us recommended the cheese curds, so we tried them with a tomato bruschetta and their amazing Basil Diced Tomato Spread served with toast tips. Yum!

The cheese curds were good, and although they were a heavier version than any I’ve had before, they were good, just different. The bruschetta was wonderful and the house spread delicious. I had already stopped here on my way to Champaign for a concert. The food in the evening was as good as the appetizers and the beer we had then was cold and chilled too!

Pro tip: After a stop at the Seven Saints, take some time to take a photo sitting next to the Humpty Dumpty sculpture!

5. The Courrier Café

My husband, I and my friends enjoyed this fun dining experience on a previous stay in Champaign! With this group of friends, we always try to find eclectic places with great food, as well as a cool environment. The Courier Café offered both! Terri Reifsteck of Visit Champaign also recommended it as one of the best places for breakfast in Champaign.

The building is the former home of the Mail newspaper closed in 1979. The interior of the building is filled with authentic antiques. This made the dining experience a neat decor offering a fresh interior. The food was good; I chose an excellent omelet!

A location of Portillo's Hot Dogs in Chicago, Illinois
A location of Portillo’s Hot Dogs in Chicago, Illinois (LukeandKarla.Travel / Shutterstock.com)

6. Portillo’s hot dogs

While by Portillo is without a doubt known as a famous foodie spot in Chicago, it was in Champaign that I tried this hot dog feast. Not only is Portillo’s in Champaign very good, it’s less crowded than its Windy City counterpart and has the same great food! We met old tractor and farm toy friends here, and they took us on this fun discovery.

7. Dos Reales Mexican restaurant

The same friends who took us to Portillos introduced us to Dos Reales, which appeared to be an authentic Mexican restaurant. I enjoyed the beef burrito and the colorful decor. Mexican cuisine 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 I have been too. As you can guess, there are plenty of other restaurant names that I hadn’t been to that came up in conversation with friends and family that should probably be mentioned, which means I have 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 city which is full of sculpture and architecture. The city is also full of museums. While I went to Champaign County History Museum it has since been updated. I also want to visit the Spurlock Museum and the Krannert Art Museum on my return to try some new restaurants!

Food choices abound in and around nearby Chicago:


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