Campustown boasts popular bars, restaurants
August 19, 2020
To the uninitiated, Campustown can seem vast, and becoming familiar with the popular hangouts can be a daunting task. In a family where both parents and both siblings are alumni of the University, I was fortunately privy to this wisdom as an incoming student. Knowing the best local businesses on campus can enhance your college experience, help create noteworthy memories with friends or dates and can alleviate some of the stress as a new Illini. Or, during the time of COVID-19, perhaps this list can double as the top places to avoid on campus if you aren’t willing to be in a crowd.
The hottest local restaurant on campus is undoubtedly Bangkok Thai. Located centrally on Green Street, Bangkok Thai almost always boasts a crowd. It offers a diverse menu of authentic Thai food, each item at a reasonable price for an impressively-sized portion. Bangkok Thai’s only flaw is that it will drain your wallet quickly to feed your obsession with it as you frequent it.
Perhaps after your Bangkok Thai dinner date, if it’s going well, you may want to extend it by getting dessert at the close-by Paris Super Crepes (although their crepes are both sweet and savory, I prefer them sweet). Paris Super Crepes is not directly on Green Street, but just off of it. Not only does the business serve students and locals fantastic crepes, but their inviting atmosphere and selection of board games provide a trendy place for students to gather.
This list would be remiss without mentioning campus bars. The University is known for its lively nightlife. On campus, the Champaign-Urbana area has eight bars, each tailored to a different crowd. For new students who are 19 or more years old, Red Lion and KAM’s are where the party is at. Get there early or face a steeper cover charge and longer lines.
After a successful night out, most crave a late night bite to eat. Long lines can be found at the Green Street Taco Bell and McDonald’s, but for a place that is open late, popular and has great drunk-food, walk the extra block to get to Fat Sandwich and its neighbor, Insomnia Cookies.
For new students practicing veganism, fortunately the University has the most vegan-friendly campus I have ever visited.
Some popular local businesses compliment their ordinary menu with vegan options, such as Cracked (breakfast food!) or DP Dough (calzones!). However, the best vegan meals can be found at the eateries whose niche is vegan-only.
Red Herring’s cafe can be found on campus and features a changing menu that, depending on the week, spotlights a different international cuisine.
The Dancing Dog also serves phenomenal vegan entrees and desserts, its only downside being its location in downtown Urbana, meaning a short ride by car, bus or bike is necessary to get there.
There isn’t nearly enough space to cover all of the great local restaurants, but these businesses deserve an honorable shoutout. Maize serves tasty Mexican food and is located on the western edge of Campustown. Sakanaya is on the pricey end, but its ramen and sushi are worth the splurge on a special occasion. Sushi Ichiban, next to Ragstock and Panda Express, is good for a quick and cheap sushi dining experience.
Although there are seemingly an endless supply of restaurants and bars on Green Street to explore, students do not spend all of their time gorging themselves and drinking shamelessly. When in need of a place to study, Grainger Library, the UGL or the Illini Union are always packed. Not great for social distancing, but great to feed off of the social energy of the crowd. And if the weather is nice, one can expect there will always be people on the Main Quad.
Ultimately, the places you will spend the most time at depends on who you are and which social circles you run in. But even if you feel obligated to spend most of your time hitting the gym or the books, these Campustown classics are well-deserving of at least one visit.
Twenty years ago, Green Street looked completely different — different businesses and more of a rural, small-town vibe — and regardless of whether or not you like the increasing commercialization, you cannot deny we Illini have been graced with so many wonderful spots on campus.