Review | Mia Za’s Cafe, casual Italian on UI’s campus
May 22, 2023
Green Street is lined with a wide variety of restaurants and bars, but one of the closest restaurants to campus is Mia Za’s Cafe. The shop stands just a 10 second walk from the intersection that divides Urbana and Champaign.
Mia Za’s, a casual Italian restaurant near the intersection of Green and Wright streets, is a popular lunch and dinner spot for students on the University’s campus. With countless customizable options for pizza, salad, sandwiches and baked pasta as well as a la carte options including sides and desserts, the menu at Mia Za’s gives the customer some control over their meal.
Mia Za’s is not the typical restaurant — upon entering the shop, patrons are greeted by small tables with pens and papers. Customers are instructed to choose between several pre-selected classic options or customize their own item and bubble in their choices on a small sheet of paper.
Pear and goat cheese salad, tomato basil soup
Spring mix tossed with craisins, almonds, goat cheese and pears.
On a sweltering summer day in the midwest, there are few things as refreshing as a crisp, cool salad tossed with light dressing and pieces of fruit. At Mia Za’s, this prescription is filled by the pre-curated pear and goat cheese salad.
The salad features creamy goat cheese, finely sliced pears, diced tomatoes, sweet craisins and slivered almonds over a bed of spring mix.
Although the menu listing features an apple dressing, I opted to order three dressing options on the side and sample them one by one. Surprisingly, the apple dressing was the least impressive of the swath — best described as bone chillingly sweet with a Jolly-Rancher-reminiscent apple flavor.
The buffalo ranch dressing — another option on the restaurant’s menu — was delightfully zesty, peppery and creamy, but it didn’t pair well with the salad.
The winner of the afternoon was the barbecue ranch dressing. It was pleasantly sweet, smoky, complex and light — not overtly barbecue-y by any means.
Together, the elements of this dish pair beautifully — the rich and tangy goat cheese complements the bright, fresh pear slices and chewy, sweet craisins. Texturally, the spring mix and almond pieces play well together, especially when coated in my chosen dressing.
The negatives? Quality of produce and price. About a quarter of the leaves on the plate were wilted, the tomatoes were a tad under ripe and all of the greenery was sparse. For an 11 dollar salad, the quality control did not impress.
Alongside the salad, I opted for a cup of tomato basil soup. This add-on costs a little under four dollars — to me, this is a good value. The soup, which can be described as thick, aromatic, velvety and flavorful, is a pleasant addition to any meal at Mia Za’s, providing warmth and heartiness to my light and airy salad.
Mia Za’s is a great restaurant to casually partake in a baked pasta or pizza, but the value of a salad at this joint leaves much to be desired. If you’re in the mood for some fresh veggies and your friends are craving a pizza, there are more value-oriented places on Green Street to get your fix.
‘Let’s meat’ pizza
This restaurant truly has something for everyone, as meals are completely customizable by the customer. A range of pre-designed pastas, pizzas and salads are available for anyone not feeling particularly creative.
With two size options for a pizza, regular and large, Mia Za’s gets creative with their listed pizza offerings, from a chicken fajita flavor to a pizza topped with mac and cheese.
For those like me who are unable to pick just one topping for a pizza, the cleverly named “let’s meat” option is particularly appealing, as it combines two kinds of pepperoni along with sausage with a barbecue sauce drizzle to finish.
To complete your meal, Mia Za’s offers an abundance of fruity lemonades, along with assorted desserts in a glass case next to the front register. With fairly reasonable prices, the homemade desserts and beverages are hard to resist.
The eight inch pizza makes a perfect meal for one, especially when topped with an assortment of meats. Though it may not look large, the personal pizza is sufficiently filling and tasty.
For a thin crust enjoyer, the pizza delivered, being crisp around the edges and softer in the middle. The ratio of toppings to cheese to sauce did not disappoint, though the barbecue drizzle was a little heavier than expected.
For a beverage, my choice of strawberry lemonade was the star of the meal. Refreshing and tasting as bright and colorful as it looked, the drink was well worth a $2.40 charge in both flavor and size.
Perhaps the most unexpected win of the meal was my selected dessert: an impulse-bought brownie out of a tub at the front for a mere dollar and sixty cents.
While many brownies overdo it, the Mia Za’s brownie hits a perfect level of richness, making it easy to finish in one sitting and appropriately priced.
While the pizza may have been slightly more expensive than its value, side dishes and beverages at Mia Za’s are, unlike many food items on campus, appropriately priced.
A refreshing Champaign classic, Mia Za’s is a solid choice, despite its main dishes falling into the Green Street trend of being slightly overpriced.
Meatball sub sandwich
Marinara meat sauce, meatballs and mozzarella on a baked Italian roll.
During my visit to the casual Italian café, I chose to order a large meatball sub sandwich, which cost me about $11 with tax included. The sandwich menu was vast, featuring chipotle chicken, vegetarian and several other classic options to choose from. Customers also have the option to build a custom sandwich from a list of ingredients.
The price was reasonable — considering prices everywhere have gone up — and the serving was quite exceptional. The food was made and done within five minutes of ordering, and the staff was friendly.
The sandwich was savory and had a very slight kick to it, which was enjoyable. The sandwich was not exactly easy to eat neatly, so make sure to have plenty of napkins handy if you choose to order it. The scenery in the restaurant was varied, featuring an industrial-style lobby and a colorful upstairs seating area with plastic vines and fairy lights, making the space feel like a balcony of a nice apartment with good lighting.
Overall, Mia Za’s Cafe has a pleasant ambience and offers a wide variety of menu items. This cafe is worth the trip — as long as customers are willing to pay a little more for their bite.