PYGMALION 2018 is officially underway. The entire festival takes place in Urbana this year, making it very convenient for you to get affordable and appetizing food quickly, as there are more than a dozen restaurants located in a one-block radius.
This part of Urbana is practically on campus without being on campus, like a sibling who sits really close and exclaims, “I’m not touching you!” There are eateries at all price points and levels of service, from a slice of pizza to go, to let’s order a bottle of wine and talk about our future. (I know people who met at PYGMALION and are now married, so it's a thing.)
I’ve included places that are literally within the festival perimeter or just outside of it, as well as restaurants that are within a short walking distance. Finally, I’ve included a few that will require transportation away from the festival. If you’re in town for PYGMALION, addresses are included below for your cab/ride share.
Disclaimer: this is not an exhaustive list of all of the eating possibilities in Champaign-Urbana. Check out the rest of Smile Politely’s Food & Drink section (restaurant and bar reviews, specifically) for a fuller picture of your options while you’re in town.
IN + NEAR THE FESTIVAL
The Bread Company
The Bread Company serves European food; you’ll find fondues and raclette ($13 and up) as well as lamb leg medallions and beef tenderloin on the menu. And while those things are all well and good, my favorite items at The Bread Company are the roasted garlic pizza ($12.50) with the lemon garlic greens (small, $5; large $7.50). I put the greens on top of the pizza. It’s the best. The pizza and small greens are more than enough to feed two people, and it’s an affordable dinner. This is an easy place to visit with diners with differing needs, as there are several vegetarian and a few vegan options (roasted veggies pictured above). Daytime is much more casual, with sandwiches, soups, and salads all under $10.
Note: The Bread Company will be closed for dinner service on Friday, September 28th.
706 S Goodwin Ave
Urbana | 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Th 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.-(ish)
Sat 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
This will be your go-to spot for coffee and a pastry, especially if you’re getting them before perusing the festival area. All of the choices are the right choices, so don't worry about what to order.
1117 W Oregon
7 a.m. to midnight daily
Maize serves some of the best tacos I’ve ever had. Do not skip this food truck. Order anything, I promise it will be good.
Photo by Sarah Meilike
Betsy’s Bistro serves up a menu of sandwiches and burgers, with vegetarian options to boot. It’s exactly what you want to get from a food truck. Read our recent review here.
The Pop Stop will have gourmet popsicles, and they are the best. Really.
Gregory Place Eateries
Gregory Place features eight different eateries on one very small block — it’s incredibly convenient and wonderful. You’ll find a wide variety of flavor: J. Gumbo serves Creole food; Basil Thai is the place for fast-casual Thai food; Bab+, Caffe Bene, and Premium BBQ Chicken all serve Korean food in some capacity. Caffe Bene also serves bubble tea, which is quite delicious. If you’re in the mood for sushi, try KoFusion. Rosati’s has pizza and other Italian delights in a dine-in setting (but carry-out is also available). You can dine in at any of these spots, but you might have more fun getting it to go and sitting outside while enjoying the sounds from the outdoor stage. Or, you could get a little something from all the places and have the best picnic ever, right across the street on the lawn of the Spurlock Museum.
Intermezzo is an unassuming café within the space of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The food is good and affordable. You’ll be able to get your meal for under $7, and based on my experience, you’ll be satisfied.
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
500 S Goodwin Ave
Th + F 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
When you’re in need of something quick, Manolo’s is your spot. You can grab a slice of pizza or a couple of empanadas (about $5, don't sleep on the dessert empanadas). It’s basically a walk-up spot, with only five or so stools inside, so eating on the go is pretty much your only option. Just walk across the street to the massive outdoor staircase at Krannert Center, and you’ll be all set.
If you can, get slices of a couple of the specialty pizzas — I’m partial to BBQ Meats and Spotted Goat, though the Apple Butter Bacon is quite seasonally appropriate, too.
1115 W Oregon St
11 a.m. to midnight
Merry Ann’s Diner
Merry Ann’s is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s diner food at diner prices, which is likely the exact thing you need after drinking and dancing and otherwise enjoying yourself. This is also the spot for breakfast or brunch.
701 S Gregory St
The Red Herring
The Red Herring is a vegan restaurant on the campus of the University of Illinois, just around the corner from Goodwin and Oregon. Enter through the basement to a very relaxed and welcoming space. Menu standards include salads and wraps, stews and soups, plus weekly specials. It’s a beloved lunch spot for many campus people; check Facebook for specials. It’s only open until 2:30 p.m., though, so plan accordingly.
1209 W Oregon St
Th + F 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Photo by Bobbie Bonebrake
This classy, old school Italian joint serves up house-made pastas, pizza, and all sorts of meat entrées. Lunch is a good option to keep your budget in check and to avoid feeling stuffed to sleepiness. If the burger is on special at lunch, do yourself a favor and try it out. If not, pizza is a wise decision. If you’re really feeling frisky, treat yourself to a nice dinner and a bottle of wine. It's a fantastic date spot.
710 S Goodwin Ave
Th+ F 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Th 5-9 p.m.
F + Sa 5 to 10 p.m.
TAKE A WALK
Campustown eateries, clustered on and adjacent to East Green Street in Champaign, are just under a mile walk from the festival area. It's bound to be crowded with students, so if that is an experience you’re craving, by all means, head that way. You’ll find a whole lot of cheap options, and a wide variety of Asian restaurants (Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indian). Try Cracked for breakfast foods at all hours (pictured above), and Sakanaya for sushi and ramen. There really is a bunch of stuff over there, including bars, so you’re sure to find something for everyone in your group.
GRAB A RIDE
Black Dog arguably serves the best barbecue in C-U. This is not the best spot for vegetarians or vegans, though there are some options available for them. I’m a fan of the hot Georgia peach sauce, but the meat is good enough to order sans sauce. I also really enjoy the Texas caviar as an appetizer. You can easily get a sandwich meal for about $10, but if you’re a hungry person, order the multi-meat platter.
201 N Broadway
Th 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Photo by Matthew Macomber
Serving some of the best food in C-U, Caribbean Grill is worth the trek across town. The restaurant is a fast-casual set up; it’s clean and bright and service is fast. Saturday’s special is jerk ribs, which are going to be absolutely delicious. Follow on Facebook for more details.
2135 S Neil St
11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Common Ground Food Co-op
Common Ground is a cooperatively owned grocery store. You’ll find a variety of organic produce, as well as tasty snacks and individual bottles of beverages. I suggest picking up a baguette, some local cheese (Prairie Fruits Farm goat cheese or Ludwig Farmstead Creamery), and maybe some cured meat or fresh fruit and have yourself a little picnic in the outdoor seating area. If that’s not your thing, there are soups and sandwiches (made to order), pizzas ($7 for half, $14 for whole) as well as premade bites and baked goods. Hot beverages are available, too. This is an excellent choice for healthy eats, as well as vegan and vegetarian options.
Lincoln Square Mall [east side]
300 S Broadway Ave
7 a.m. to 10 p.m. [deli until 7 p.m., salad bar until 8 p.m.], daily
Courier Café is a low-key spot that serves everything from burgers, sandwiches, lasagna, and fish tacos; there’s something for everyone. Until 4 p.m. you can take advantage of the salad bar — you pay for this separately (.32 per ounce). The dinner menu starts at 5 p.m. Figure on spending $10 - $15 per person, depending on what you order. Burgers are $5-$7, and the 10 ounce rib eye dinner is $15. Start with the Skinny Dippers ($6.25) because they are delicious. And do save room for dessert: the brownie special ($4.50) and the milkshakes ($4 or so) are not to be missed. There are plenty of vegetation options, and there’s a gluten-free menu (just ask for it). Courier Café staff are always happy to accommodate.
If you’re up early, go for breakfast (this is one of my favorite breakfast spots). Get there early (you’ll likely have to wait on the weekends). Order the buckwheat pancakes.
411 N Race Street
Th 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
F + Sa 7 a.m. to midnight
We recently published our top eight burgers in Champaign-Urbana, and Farren’s took the top spot. This is pub food done well. The burgers are delicious (check out the green chile burger). Sub the house made chips or fries for the standard tricolor tortilla chips. With beer on tap and TVs behind the bar, it’s loud, and a little crazy, but the food is excellent. You’re likely to have to wait for a table, so if you can go early or on seemingly off hours, you’ll wait a little less.
309 N Randolph St
Th 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
This downtown Champaign restaurant serves Neapolitan wood-fired pizza (about $15 per pizza), and it’s absolutely delicious. I’m partial to the Diavola. The restaurant also serves gelato, including flavors from local favorite Prairie Fruits Farm (which is made with goat’s milk). If you’re hungry, order your own pizza. If you’re just nibbling on a snack, share one.
10 E Chester St
Th 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 5 to 9 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Urbana’s Market at the Square
We have a pretty great farmers' market every Saturday morning. There are a bunch of food trucks as well as produce vendors. There are craft vendors, too, though you’ll find quirkier stuff at MADE FEST.
Corner of Illinois + Vine
Saturday, 7 a.m. to noon
Photos by Jessica Hammie, except where noted