Spring is in the air, and with the change of seasons comes new restaurants. With that, I decided to try Signature Grill, a new fast-food/fast-casual option that blends Indian, Mexican, and Mediterranean ingredients together in an ordering style similar to Chipotle. Opening in early March, Signature Grill is located on Green Street in Campus Town between Urban Outfitters and Cold Stone Creamery. For those familiar with the area, this is the same location as the recently departed Azzip Pizza and Jersey Mike’s Subs. Walking inside, I immediately noticed how bright everything was inside of Signature Grill. I’m sure the rows of glass windows at the front of the restaurant and the undecorated neon green walls contributed to the strong lighting. With my second glance around the interior, I noticed the “order aisle” concept from earlier restaurant incarnations at this location remained. This is helpful, as the short wall keeps the ordering line fairly well-organized and away from the seating area.

After placing my order and working out an overcharge mishap that the staff handled well, I sat down with my food and, for a change of pace, started with my dessert, Rasamalai ($2.99). Rasamalai is a creamy dessert composed of chhana balls, a type of cheese, and malai, clotted milk cream. Surprisingly, I found the smell fairly nondescript with only the faintest hint of milk. Biting into the balls of chhana, I was surprised at their texture, which was somewhere between cottage cheese and a dense cake. Interestingly, the sweet sauce so soaked the chhana that I didn’t really get a cheesy taste, more a general creamy sweetness with a hint of nuts. Comparatively, the white cream sauce was very smooth and much richer than the channa balls. The combination of milk, cheese, and a cool temperature makes Rasamalai an ideal way to cool down after a spicy meal, something I wish I’d known before eating the next dish.

Samosas ($2.99 for two) are fried treats that typically contain more savory foods, such as meat or potatoes. To the best of my knowledge, my samosas were vegetarian, although I encourage concerned readers to ask the staff for further clarification on all the ingredients. Picking up the deeply-browned samosa, I was already salivating from the distinctly fried smell before I noticed something else. A hint of spice, perhaps? Ignoring my instincts, I took a nice sized bite to start off. Like the best pie crust, the samosa exterior was wonderfully flaky and crunchy in equal measure. Inside, I was met with a dense gathering of potatoes, fennel, peas, and other vegetables I couldn’t name. Thrilled at the wonderful combination of rich, fried exterior and savory interior, I quickly finished off the first samosa and moved onto the second. However, as my nose began to run, I soon regretted my earlier decision to start with dessert first, as the samosa spice is slow, but sure. The growing burn in my mouth was well worth it for the crispy, flaky goodness of the Samosas.

Moving onto something a bit lighter, I decided to try an interesting fusion, the Signature Taco ($2.49 for one, or $6.99 for three) with mint paneer. Another type of cheese, paneer is similar in texture to cheese curds and Muenster cheese, with a flavor similar to the latter. I cannot speak to the smell of the cheese, as the warm corn tortilla dominated my nose as bit into the taco. Although the brown corn tortilla spotted with white paneer and flecks of mint in a mild korma sauce was very simple, my burning mouth thanked me. The earthy korma sauce and subtle hints of mint cleansed my palette, helping prepare me for my final dish, which also happened to be the largest.

Recommended to me by the staff, the Pilaf Rice Bowl ($6.99) was sizeable. The rice bowl is where the most obvious comparison to Chipotle is drawn, as the options here are wide and varied. Multiple types of chicken, beef, shrimp, and paneer serve as the base of the bowl with various sauces and extras included for no added cost. I chose tikka chicken, tikka sauce, spicy red chili sauce, broccoli, squash, and chopped cucumber for my bowl. Sour cream, cheese, tomatoes, and other sauces are only some of the other choices. The rice bowl is really what the restaurant goer makes of it and I quite enjoyed mine. My choice of colorful vegetables, spices, tikka chicken and sauce made for quite the display with the crisp vegetables blending well with the spicy tikka sauce and chicken. Overall I quite enjoyed the ingredients I picked, although next time I will pass on the onions since they were a bit strong.

Stuffed with wonderful spices and hearty food, I walked out of Signature Grill content. However, I wasn’t too full to think about what I’d order on my next visit. Maybe a beef burrito with sour cream, or a refreshing salad with spicy additions? Regardless, I will definitely order more delicious samosas on my return visit to Signature Grill.

Signature Grill
505 E Green St
Champaign
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Photos by Matthew Macomber