Champaign-Urbana-- my home for nine months, now. It may seem a little like it's in the middle of corn fields [well, it kind of is...] but the food on and off the UIUC campus is pretty amazing. Just thought I would share my picks for the best of the best!
Best Dorm Food: Field of Greens Stir Fry
I literally planned my Wednesday schedule for next semester around stir fry. That's how much I love it. Every Wednesday, LAR's Field of Greens offers make-your-own vegetarian stir fry. PAR offers stir fry with meat every day, but I prefer this. The guy that cooks your stir fry makes his own "Chef Illini" sauce, and it's always something to look forward to.
Best Coffee: Cafe Paradiso
I might be a little on the biased side for this one; my friend's family owns the joint. Espresso Royale has a monopoly on most of the campus, but it's more expensive than even Starbucks, so I don't really go there. I am trying not to get addicted to coffee so I don't drink many fancy beverages in general, but I find Paradiso to be much more charming and off-the-beaten path.
Best Pizza: Papa Del's
Hailing from the Chicagoland area, you come to expect great deep dish pizza everywhere in the world. Unfortunately, good deep dish is hard to come by in central Illinois. However, Papa Del's does meet my standards, and it's a great place to eat. It's pretty reasonably priced, too, if you buy it by the slice.
Best Breakfast: Courier Cafe
This place has been open a long time, since my parents came to school here. The restaurant is tucked in Urbana among other renovated buildings that have been around for almost 100 years. A great place to go when parents come to visit or you have a car.
Best Italian: The Bread Company
According to my friend who comes from a very Italian family, this is the most authentic Italian on campus. Everything that comes out of the kitchen looks, smells, and tastes delicious. Try sandwiches at lunch and absolutely everything at dinner is great. Tres chic.
Best Chinese: Chopstix
Every Chinese place here is pretty much the same (ie crappily decent by college student standards), but this one delivers until 3am. And that's why it's the best.
Best Mexican: Dos Reales
I went here twice in one weekend. You get so much food for the price! And it is so good. I'm not an expert on Mexican cuisine, so I don't know if it's authentic. Try the fried ice cream!
Best Splurge Dinner (TIE): Ko Fusion and Cafe Luna
Ko Fusion has the best fusion food I've ever had. Sundays are dollar sushi night, and you can try one of everything. The menu is constantly changing so you'll never get the same exact thing twice. Every kind of their sushi is different, delicious, and unique from anything you've ever had. And Cafe Luna is different and delicious in a different way. We could only afford to split some tapas [appetizer sized portions] but their menu is beyond swanky. French fries with truffle oil, breaded goat cheese, everything is so riche.
Best Late-Night: D.P. Dough, Runner Up: Fat Sandwich
This is my personal favorite, but there are a lot of places to choose from on campus. D.P. Dough is one of my favorites, though, because they make a killer calzone. I always order their "Chicken Buffer" which has buffalo chicken and ranch. Always good. Always hot. Nomnomnom. If you are inebriated, Fat Sandwich is very popular. Imagine everything fried and bad for you piled high onto a piece of bread and you get a Fat Sandwich. Jalepeno poppers, fries, philly cheeseteak, macaroni and cheese, literally everything but the kitchen sink. Very popular on the weekends at about 2am.
Best Dessert (TIE): Insomnia Cookies and Cream & Flutter
Anyone can bribe me with Insomnia cookies. They are ooey and gooey and always warm and delicious. So bad for you. So delicious. Everything on their menu is amazing and they're open until the wee hours of the morning. Basically my favorite place ever. Except for Cream & Flutter. That's also my favorite place. It's a little adorable place in downtown Champaign that basically only serves cupcakes. The best cupcakes in the world (my personal favorite is their vanilla bean!). They are the most fantastic treat.