The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Review | Watson’s Shack and Rail serves up massive, tasty sandwiches and more

Watson’s Shack & Rail at N. Neil Street on June 14. The restaurant serves massive sandwiches and more.

Rating: 9/10

Nestled in the heart of downtown Champaign, Watson’s Shack & Rail is a casual chicken restaurant and bar known for its specialty fried and rotisserie-style bird dishes.

Watson’s offers a vibrant atmosphere and a menu sure to delight both comfort food lovers and fried chicken enthusiasts. Upon entering, guests are greeted by warm lighting and unique chicken-themed decorations, setting the stage for an excellent dining experience.


Ambiance and service

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The restaurant’s decor is charming and playful, with chicken motifs adorning the walls. The bathroom is clean and well-decorated, making the first impression even better. 

The service was commendable; the service staff was attentive. Though they didn’t write down orders, they managed to flawlessly remember everything and ensured drinks were frequently filled. When it came to beverages, the peach sweet tea was refreshing, and the ice water was crisp.

The view of Watson’s upon entering


Massive sandwiches 

Watson’s has a large selection of sandwiches. The hot chicken sandwich features a massive fried chicken thigh drenched in Watson’s hot dip, sitting on a soft brioche bun and topped with coleslaw, pickles and their signature comeback sauce.

The sandwich was packed with flavor, and it was very crunchy on the outside while juicy on the inside. The brioche bun was substantial enough to withstand the moisture from the chicken and sauces without falling apart. 

The coleslaw and pickles added a delightful crunch and creaminess, and the sauce provided an additional layer of flavor. In terms of heat level, the extra hot level was enjoyable but not as spicy advertising seemed to imply.

Other members of the table sampled a variety of sandwiches, all of which were generously sized. The regular chicken sandwich and the chicken bacon Swiss were both hits. The tofu po’boy, featuring battered and fried tofu slices, was praised for its texture and flavor, providing a satisfying option for vegetarians, though the menu features no other vegetarian entrees or sandwiches.

The Watson’s hot chicken sandwich with cheddar cheese and mashed potatoes with gravy on the side

Tasty sides

For the side, the mashed potatoes, which were soft, pillowy, buttery and well-seasoned with a slight kick. The chicken gravy complemented the potatoes perfectly, mirroring the seasoning of the chicken and served piping hot.

The potato wedges  were well-salted with a slightly crispy exterior and a soft interior, though they could have used more crunch. The mac and cheese was also tasty; it was creamy and cheesy with slight spiciness.


Sweet treat

For dessert, “waffles are my jam,” a Belgian waffle topped with vanilla ice cream, Dutch chocolate drizzle, house-made strawberry bourbon jam, powdered sugar and strawberries was served to the table.

The waffle was soft with a slight crunch, and the combination of ice cream and chocolate was delightful. The jam and strawberries added a unique twist and elevated the dessert further.

The “waffles are my jam” dessert

Final thoughts

Overall, Watson’s Shack & Rail offers a delightful dining experience. The service is excellent, the atmosphere is both fun and welcoming, and the food is top-notch, making Watson’s a must-try spot in Champaign. Special thanks to The Daily Illini’s very own Helen Maurer for recommending this spot.


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