|:: Thara Thai
Thara Thai may be the new kid on the block, but it is already
poised with taste and elegance. With a menu that features
more than seventy items, it sure is a promising addition to
the culinary scene.
We were warmly greeted by one of the owner on a not so busy
late Saturday afternoon. Thai Spring Rolls($3.95) looked
alluring and familiar enough to get started. Fresh soft
rice wrapper stuffed with noodle, bean sprout, cucumber,
bean, lettuce, basil, and mint leaves were accompanied
by some home made peanut sauce. The appetizer menu also featured
Chicken Satay($5.50), Crab Rangoon($3.95) and dumpling filled with
shrimp and crabmeat called "Shumai"($3.95).
The soup and salad section is worth looking into. It has interesting
items such as "Neau Numtok"($6.95), medium charcoal broiled tender
beef mixed with green onions and "Yum Pla Muk"($6.95) which translates
into squid salad. If you are in a fruity mood, try "Som Tum"($5.95),
the spicy papaya salad.
I decided to order the Chicken Panang Curry($6.95) after
poking through the menu. I was enamored by the cocounut milk served
with fresh lime leaves. The perfectly spiced curry arrived promptly and was
served with white rice. My culinary partner ordered Shrimp Pad Thai($5.95)
which was also delicious. The stir fried rice noodle dish was served
with bean sprouts, tofu, egg and green onion.
Well, if you are still not impressed, let's glance over the special
seafood section on the menu. These are the slightly priced(yet reasonable) items.
The Seafood Pad Ped caught my attention.
For $9.95 you are suppose to get mixture of shrimp, calamari, mussel
and crab meat stir fried with roasted chili sauce and lemon grass. If you
are not into meat or seafood, you don't have that much options. However, among
the five purely vegetarian item, the Egg plant with Basil leaves($5.95) looked
From 11-3pm they offer lunch special for $4.75, served with fried rice
and egg roll. The only thing I didn't like was the Thai Iced Tea. It had a
'smokey' sweetened taste. However, I enjoyed rest of
Thara Thai opened its operation at the same spot recently vacated by
Bayou Express(for review see below). I am pretty confident that it won't have the
same fate as its predecsoor. With a killer menu and great service, it
has promise to be the best Thai food place in town.
912 1/2 Bloomington Road 378-1986.
Cash only at the time of the review.
|:: Between the Buns at Farren's
An American epiphany, the Burger, from time immemorial have seduced
mankind with thickness of meat and agitated the vegetarians
with mouth watering flavors. You can also be allured by this
delicious treat here in east central Illinois.
The destination point is Farren's, downtown champaign.
With a barroom atmosphere Farren's menu features salads, sandwiches, and obviously burgers.
I have been there numerous times over the years and never could order anything else.
That is the reason I go there and other items are probably as good as the burgers, but I may
never find out. The menu greets you with names like 'The Motherload'(mushrooms, bleu cheese),
'The Russell'(mushroom, bleu and jalapeno cheese), 'Green Chile Burger' and few other juicy cheeseburgers. For our
harbivore friends they offer the 'Black Bean Burger', which I heard can beat the rear area of
its meaty friends. The service was quick despite
busy Friday evening hours and the food was outstanding. The grilled burger comes with leafy lettuce, a
thick tomato slice and some onions. For an extra dollar you can order some crispy fries.
If you prefer thick, unpressed, non fast food burger, Farren's is the place to be.
The price is reasonable and although it is a pub/eatery the atmosphere is different than
a typical bar.
|:: Upside Down at Milo's
A locally owned 'quaint' establsihment near Lincoln Square Mall, Milo's
Restaurant, offers eclectic American experience. The menu features
wild mushroom ravioli with pecan beurre blanc, shrimp cakes,
apricot stuffed chicken breast and the "Upside Down" Pizza.
Cheese on the bottom, sauce on the top, the crust resembles a pie
and it is served in a somewhat upside down fashion.
A bowl is placed underneath the pizza and after it is served in the table
the bowl is taken out by turning the pizza upside down. Well, I think that does
a horrible job explaining this ordeal. If you are curious, don't waste time
on reading my diatribe, just go there.
I ordered the rosemary, potato and chicken Pizza. It was a
medium sized one for $9. If you are a Pizza aficionado, you will
definitely be pleased. Potato on Pizza? Yes, I had the same thought. The taste
is as unique as the combination. The piney, sweet taste of rosemary along with
strachy potato makes you dream about a mediterranean island. Well,
maybe not, but it a was good pizza. My friend tried a thin sliced one that came with goat cheese,
pesto and something else that I can't recall now. I stole a slice and it was delicious.
Co-owned by twin sisters along with one of theirs significant other, Milo's is a must try
place. The unique menu comes with a nice decor and great service. They like to change the menu seasonally,
so you will always find something new.
|:: Qdoba, Mexican Grill
Qdoba, Mexican Grill, which operates more than
100 stores nationwide, is the newest restaurant in Green St.
Qdoba's featured items are its Signature Burritos ($4.79 to $5.99).
All the Burritos start with with a fairly large flour tortilla
and cilantro lime rice. After that you can choose black or pinto beans, topped
off with your choice of salsa and cheese or sour cream. The first time I went,
I tried the Chicken Mole
Burrito($5.49). The friendly staff at the counter
allowed me to taste the sauce before ordering. Mole sauce
is a dark brown Mexican sauce made from dry chiles, nuts, spices,
vegetables, chocolate and seasoning. If you never had Mole sauce
in a burrito before, I would suggest to try something else.
The burrito was delighful. However the choclaty sweet spicy sauce and
chicken combination is little unique. So if you are feeling adventerous, I would
say go for it.
Couple days later, I tried something different -- a Grilled Chicken Quesadilla.
It was flavorful as the burrito. The portion was more than enough. The price
is reasonable. You don't pay much for a huge burrito, which stuffed me
You order at the cafeteria-style counter, and get your own drink($1.29) refills.
Although they were busy, I didn't had to wait more than 5 minutes in the line. The
meals are assembled in front of you from ingredients that are made in-house.
Qdoba is definitely a casual place with plenty of seatings in both down and upstairs.
I don't usually review chains, however as I enjoyed my gastronimic experience
at this new Mexican joint, I thought I would write few lines about it. You definitely
won't find any 'authentic' Mexican dishes. I even heard people use the term 'Yippe-Tex-Mex'
for this sort of establishments. Regardless of their term, there are plenty
of delicious items to choose from the menu, and the service beats Taco Hell.
|:: Jerusalem, middle eastern cuisine
Jerusalem, located at the heart of campus, is the only purveyor
of middle eastern food in chambana. I haven't been exposed to
that many other middle eastern establishments, so my frame
of reference as a fledgling restaurant critic is pretty narrow in
this area. However, I have heard both negative and positive remarks
about the place. Personally, this is not a place to die for, but
when I am in the mood for something different, Jerusalem is
definitely on my list. |
Today, I tried the excellent beef and lamb shawarma sandwich served
with french fries($5.92 with drink). Sauteed slices of meat
come inside a thick pita in a convenient sandwich form, topped
with tahini(sesame paste) sauce and tomatoes. If you are not
careful, the overloaded pita can commence a messy situation with
dripping sauce all over your hand. Just, handle the thing gently. The meat is
actually prepared in a spit which is located vertically in front of an open flame.
As the meat gets cooked it is turned. Then thin slices of cooked meat is cut and
placed in the pocket of a pita bread.
The Iraqi owned place also serves baba ghanoush, falafel sandwich, dinner platter with rice, kaboobs
and few other traditional dishes. The restaurant has a self-serve format with comfortable seatings
and nonchalant atmosphere. Most of the time they keep their radio tuned to WEFT, which is cool.
|:: Sunshine Grocery
Primarily a grocery store, located near Washington and Race in Urbana, Sunshine Grocery
is also a purveyor of great tasting Asian food. I moved to a neighborhood
close to the store and decided to check out the place. At first it seems like your typical Asian grocery
store: fresh produce, frozen and canned foods, convenience foods, baked goods, candies
and sometime it is bit of a mystery trip through aisles of unfamiliar items. With three dollars in my pocket
(they don't take credit cards), I was about to leave the store. Then suddenly one of my sensory organs alerted me of a product
known to mankind as "Egg Roll". I stopped, went back to counter to ask whether this delightful aroma is actually coming from
the back of the store. And to my surprise, I discovered that not only egg rolls, they also have fried rice, soups and few other items on
their "menu". |
I decided to try two chicken egg rolls for $1 each(tax included!). It was crispy, fresh and overloaded with potatoes, vegetables and small pieces of chicken.
I am yet to try the other items. The only problem is, you have to call ahead if you would like to taste the entrees. And the number is
(217)-384-6668. According to the woman at the counter all I need to do is give her a call and she will make "anything'' I want.
It seemed that everything is made fresh to order. I will post my findings as soon as I call her again in few days. They don't have seating arrangements inside
the store. However, sometime they have tables and chairs outside when the weather is favorable.
|:: Za's Italian Cafe
|Za's Italian Cafe is one of the
busiest place in Campus Town (Green and Wright) featuring great Pizza, Sandwiches
and Pasta at very reasonable price. During lunch it gets little crowded with
the student, faculty and university staff. However, most of the time the service is prompt despite
the crowd. While the patron waits in the line, he/she can fill out a nice little order form.
There's no mistaking going with one of Za's regular or speciality pizza starting
from $3.69. They also feature variety of sandwiches and pasta dishes. The pasta
menu features more than half a dozen items, with choices of sauces. I ordered
the excellent Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo($4.99), rich and creamy with a good flavor of Parmesan.
All the pasta entrees are served with hot garlic bread(probably nonvegan). You can also
order custom pasta with add-ins such as Artichokes, Fresh Garlic, Fresh Basil, Broccoli, Carrots, Mushrooms.
Aside from pasta they also serve fresh roasted coffee and some good Gelato.
If you want to go with Pizza, I recommend the Barbecue Chicken or the Hawaiian
Pizza. As in Pasta, the Pizza menu is also extremely flexible.
Most of the seating is at very comfortable tables/chairs on the
first floor. There are couches and board games on the
Za's Cafe stands apart for its menu and price. It is definitely
a place to frequent.
|:: Bombay Indian Grill
Indian Grill is the new Indian restaurant on Green Street,
between 4th and 5th Streets. It is a fresh new alternative for
Basmati, the only other Indian place in town. Unlike the latter,
Bombay grill has some great dishes in their menu and very reasonably
priced. However, only one major downside -- very poor service.
I already went there twice, once for lunch and then few days later for dinner. I almost had similar
experiences. Both the times they were extremely busy. However the staffs were very slow
and sometimes didn't seem to know what they were doing. I have heard complaints from others that some of the staff were rude. If I go next time
I would try to avoid the busy lunch and dinner hour.
For dinner, I started with some vegetable Pakoras. It was freshly cooked, soft but crisp. The appetizer, drink and the main course almost
arrived at the same time after some 30 minutes of wait. I also ordered some Mango Lassi(Mango+Yogurt drink).
If you want to really taste the Mango Lassi, ask it without ice. It is already chilled, the ice cubes just ruin the taste.
I was served with 3 generous pieces of sizzling Tandoori Chicken($5.99). My
friend ordered some Begun(Eggplant) Bharta which was served
with Basmati rice and was very tasty. The chicken was well
spiced and highly flavored. However, the table was bit small
for all the plates and stuff.
They carry a great variety of vegetarian dishes along with chicken and lamb entrees and couple Biriyani dishes. Lunch specials come with
Pakora, Naan and salad for $4-$6.
I enjoyed my meal despite poor service. If they want to compete with rest of the Green St. and attract non-Indian customers,
they need to get some professional wait person soon.
|:: Pie-Full Delight
Yesterday afternoon while wandering around, I was surprised
to find Pie-Full Delight (located at 40 East Springfield,
for business. I always meant to try that place but never find
After talking to the owner it seemed that they basically focus
on catering, but try to keep the place open for lunch.
I was wholeheartedly greeted by the owner/cook. Although busy
entertaining her grandchildren, she took the time to inform me
The menu consists of sandwiches, soups, salads, stir frys,
quiches and of
course pies. I ordered the Chicken Mandarin Stir Fry with
broccoli($8.25) and was promptly served with a sizzling dish.
There were generous portions of juicy Chicken strips over
rice with light seasoning. It probably didn't had any special
however it had few pieces of peeled and segmented tangerine.
entrees come with soup or salad and served with home made
It would have been very ironic if I didn't try a piece of pie
Pie-Full Delight. Therefore, I ordered the creamy lemon cheese
pie($2.99). I can just stop here and say that was the best
piece of pie I had in my life.
The texture and flavors of the crust with the dense richness
cheese was absolutely a wonderful treat for my taste bud.
I will definitely go back (if I find it open again) to try the
and more pie.
|:: Man Xiang Chinese Buffet
If you are really hungry and looking for variety in your
Chinese menu, Man Xiang in Wright St. might be a good choice.
You can take care of your Chinese urge for $5.99 all you can
eat deal. It is probably one of the finest buffet in town.
Most of the times I've been there, I have found the buffet
staying fresh because people were replacing depleted items
This afternoon, I tried vegetable fried rice, Beef with
potato(curry style), Crab Rangoons, General's Chicken, Beef
with Broccoli, Mixed Vegetable, Garlic Chicken and maybe couple
more items that I don't recall now. Usually they have at least
15 items. I didn't try any soups this time, but I remember
seeing few. Drinks and desserts are included. Desserts include
cakes and fruit salads, nothing fancy.
The food while not premium quality is very enjoyable and
reasonable priced. It is busy during lunch time, might have
some trouble finding a table. And my fortune cookie reads
"You will travel far and wide, both pleasure and business".
|:: Lunch at the Y
|There is a small cozy
eatery at the local YMCA.
As it is near my workplace, I frequent the Y for lunch with
my colleagues or go solo. Solo I was the other day. However
I had the pleasure of some good pad Thai, one of the best in
this town. I know several folks that have regular cravings for
that pad Thai from Y. Too bad they are just open for lunch.
Here, I am talking about a generous serving of pad Thai noodles
with ground Turkey, Shrimp, little lettuce on the top with some
peanuts. A squeeze of lime over it all rounds out the flavors.
They also serve mushroom pad Thai if you are not into Turkey
and Shrimp. It can get bit crowded around lunch hour and they
wrap things up around 3pm. The price is little over $4 and it
was a stomach full for me.
|:: Down in the Bayou
I paid a visit to the Bayou Express, located at 912 Bloomington
Road near North Prospect. There menu says it all -- "It's
a Great Little Place!".
I tried the delicious Shrimp Jambalaya($7.95). It was mild
for me, but there was a good amount of colored peppers with
onions, bay leaves and sweet tomatoes. It was served on steamed
rice, but we were also given buttery sweet dinner rolls that
I just devoured. I thought the overall portion was kind of
small for the price.
They are few other interesting items in the menu such as
Blackened Chicken sandwich, Crab Stuffed Mushrooms and Beer
Battered Frog Legs($6.95)!! They also serve breakfast from
The decor is informal with a homely, rustic feel. I think
the a/c was not functioning this evening, so it was bit muggy.
Other than that, I enjoyed the meal immensely.
|:: Golden Wok
The place formally known as Sing Ma now serves Thai and Chinese
food in the disguise of Golden Wok. They are still getting
their act together, so the service wasn't that good.
I went there with a friend this evening. My friend got Shrimp
with Garlic Sauce($6.75) and I ordered the Almond Chicken($5.80).
The shrimp was done really quick(~3 min) but unfortunately
it wasn't warm enough. We requested to warm it up. Not sure
what they have done with it, but few minutes later it came
back being sizzling hot and I was also informed that they
don't have almonds. I decided to go with cashew. I liked it
a lot. It was loaded with mushroom, carrots, onions but I
wasn't satisfied with the proportion of chicken in it. I tried
the shrimp dish, didn't like it. My friend thought it was
bit dry, not enough garlic sauce.
The menu had typical Chinese and Thai dishes. I was curious
about the almond chicken. They also have some ho fun, pad
Thai and noodle dishes. Yes, the curry chicken is there also.
I will have to try that sometime. The place is bit pricey
than Sing Ma. I guess they need few weeks to settle down.
I would give it another try in a week or so.
|:: The last day of Sing Ma
Today was the last day of Sing Ma -- a Singporean-Malaysian
place. I was a huge fan of their Chicken Curry. It was spicy
dish, cooked with Indian spices, served with steamed rice.
Every time I go there the owner(Mr. Chin), an elderly Singaporean
person, greets me as "Tambi". I believe that is
Tamil for little brother. I mentioned to him in several occasions
that, I am not familiar with that that language. He also had
few other interesting words in his limited Tamil vocabulary
that he often used with me. But he kept greeting me as Tambi.
Even the last day when I went there he did so. Although I
didn't correct him this time. :)
This page will feature reviews of restaurants around Champaign-Urbana Illinois.
I hope you will find it entertaining
and/or useful. I enjoy eating out and trying different places.
Basically in this page I will talk about my experiences in
various food dispensary around Champaign-Urbana or anywhere
else in the world I happened to be.
Send your comments to
mislam at uiuc dot edu