We're in Fourth (Fifth?) Winter now, but that won't stop me from trying one of the newest food trucks to park on the U of I campus. I found TK's Cheesteaks parked at Springfield and Mathews, a short walk from anywhere on the North Quad, although a bit of a trek for those coming from the Main Quad or South Quad. It's also good to keep in mind the lack of outdoor seating in the immediate area, so have a plan for where you will take your food, especially if it is cold outside. As one expects from the name, TK's Cheesesteaks mainly serves Philly cheesesteaks, although they also dabble in burgers, hot dogs, Italian beef, and fries. I ordered a variety of dishes to experience the depth of the menu. TK's has storefront location in Rantoul, so my findings described below may not apply to the restaurant.
Knowing the downsides of sauce covered fries, I immediately started with an order of Philly Fries ($4.99) before they became too soggy. Drenched in nacho cheese with a hearty helping of onions, sirloin beef and green peppers, I was very excited to fend off the cool temperatures with these cheesy fries. The cheese and onions were quite strong, nearly over powering the meat and the fries, which wasn't altogether a problem for what I wanted out of my Philly fries. However, despite me eating this dish first, only a few of the crinkle cut fries retained their crispness from the frying process, which was a shame. As much as I enjoyed the meat and cheese, the general mushiness of the fries rubbed me the wrong way as I finished the rest of them. I like my fries seasoned and crispy, but these were neither. Unless I missed them entirely, I'm fairly certain my Philly fries did not come with mushrooms as indicated on the menu.
A bit let down from the Philly fries, I dove on the signature Philly cheesesteak ($5.99) with a vengeance. In fact, I was so hasty I nearly forgot to take a picture of the sandwich at all. However, you must forgive me, as this sandwich was quite the experience. Loaded with sirloin beef, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, mayo, lettuce and tomato, the Philly cheesesteak was much better than the Philly fries led me to expect. Although I normally do without mayonnaise, the combination of beef juice and mayo soaking into the bread truly enriched the experience. Covered up by the nacho cheese on the fries, I found the sirloin beef was actually well-seasoned, something I came to enjoy as I worked my way through the cheesesteak. The cool, crisp vegetables were a refreshing addition to the sandwich, helping balance the richness of the bread, mayo, and beef.
Rapidly finishing the cheesesteak, I went for a change of pace by eating a Chicago hot dog ($2.89) next. Quite traditional, the hot dog comes with mustard, tomato, relish, sport peppers, onions, celery salt, and a pickle. Greeted by the sharp tangy smell of the relish and pickle, I quickly discovered the hot dog was also just a bit crispy. This was a welcome surprise, as hot dogs usually disappoint me as they lack complexity in texture. Not only was the hot dog crispy and vibrantly decorated, but the variety of ingredients was great. Chicago hot dogs are each a little adventure, packed with so many contrasting ingredients as can fit into a small bun. In addition, the sharp taste of the relish, pickles, and mustard contrasted nicely with the savory meat and sweet tomato.
Curious to discover how it compared to the Chicago hot dog, I finished with a Chicago Polish ($3.79). Greeted by the wonderfully sweet smell of the sautéed onions, I started out hopeful for the Polish, but unfortunately ended up sad and disappointed. While the onions and mustard complimented one another, the polish left much to be desired. I expected more flavor, but the polish was less flavorful than the hot dog I just finished, which I didn't expect. Quite unlike me, I left half of the Chicago Polish uneaten, such was my disinterest in the flavor.
Regardless of how my meal with TK's Cheesesteaks ended, my overall opinion is quite positive. The Chicago hot dog and especially the Philly cheesesteak stood head and shoulders above the other two dishes I tried. The Philly cheesesteak is a must-try at TK's Cheesesteaks, for sure. I do plan to go back to TK's one day and try their burgers.
Springfield and Mathews
M-F 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Or find the truck here
112 E Congress Ave
T-F 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Photos by Matthew Macomber