Smile Politely

A sampling of salads in C-U

Salads: people either love them or they hate them. I used to be one of those salad haters until I broadened my horizons and discovered that salad can be more than just iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing. In fact, salads have become a delicious and satisfying way for me to fill up on essential nutrients without sacrificing any taste.

The requirements for any decent salad include: a hearty base, an array of veggies, a protein source, a flavorful dressing and a crunchy topping. With that in mind, I went in search of the best salad that C-U has to offer. I stuck to places that serve specialty salads, as opposed to places that offer a make-your-own salad or salad bar. Therefore, the Courier Cafe is noticeably absent from this list, despite the fact that it arguably has the best and most expansive salad bar in town. The salads on this list are the pure creation of these local joints.

All the salads I tasted were extremely nutrient dense, with stellar ingredients and exceptional flavors. Champaign-Urbana offers many delicious salads, and this list is just a start. If you’re looking for a convenient, healthy lunch (or dinner) that tastes great, get out there and try some of these unique offerings!

Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant

First up was Red Herring in Urbana, well known for being one of the best vegetarian options around. This seemed like a good place to come for a salad, not just because it is vegetarian, but also because they use local, organic, and homegrown ingredients.

I absolutely could not decide between the sweet potato black bean salad ($9) and the equally delicious sounding falafel salad ($9), so I ordered both for a take-out lunch in the same week. This ended up being a great decision, as they were both extremely hearty, filling and delicious.

The sweet potato black bean salad consisted of a homemade burger made of sweet potato, black beans, millet, cilantro, onion, oats and spices, served with seasonal greens, cherry tomatoes, roasted corn, avocado, tortilla chips and a southwest ranch dressing. I was immediately struck by the sizable patties, which made this salad extra filling. It had a nice grainy texture from the oats, and was soft enough to chop up and mix into the salad. It tasted strongly of black beans, with a good hint of sweet potato and spices. The lettuce was crisp, but lacking in variety. I really enjoyed the addition of corn, avocado and tortilla chips, which gave this salad a fun, Tex-Mex flare. The tortilla chips were warm, and tasted like they were freshly baked, adding a delicious and salty crunch. The ranch dressing was subtle, but had a nice little kick. Overall, the flavors in this salad worked really well together, and I enjoyed the unique combination of ingredients.

Despite being a huge sweet potato fan, I was really impressed with the flavor of the falafel salad. The burger had a similar texture to the sweet potato one, and was served on a bed of lettuce with tomato, onion, cucumber, and a scoop of garlic hummus. I wasn’t particularly fond of the garlic hummus, finding it to be a bit too strong, but everything else in this salad was spot on for me. The creamy cucumber dressing was especially creamy and delicious.

The Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant is located at 1209 West Oregon Street, Urbana, and is open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The Bread Company

Next up was a pear salad ($6.05) from The Bread Company. This salad was a mixture of lettuce, chopped pears, walnuts and bleu cheese, with a side of raspberry vinaigrette. The size was reasonable, and the presentation was elegant. Something about this salad just didn’t hit the mark for me, however. I found the vinaigrette to be too tangy and overpowering, especially when mixed with the already fruity pear. I was skeptical about the bleu cheese to begin with, but it ended up tasting alright when mixed with the pears and walnuts. That being said, I would definitely have preferred feta — just a personal choice. There were a lot of different flavors going on, yet something was missing. With a more subtle dressing, this salad might have ranked higher, but if I were to go again I would probably order the Capri salad. I’m still glad I gave this one a go, as it was unlike the salads I usually eat.

The Bread Company is located at 706 South Goodwin Avenue, Urbana, and is open Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Café Kopi

I thought Café Kopi’s curried egg salad ($8.28) would be a fun addition to the list. I ordered their original egg salad on a pita, which came with cucumbers and greens, and was topped with a currant-almond trail mix. The pita was warm, soft and fresh: a perfect vehicle for enjoying the incredible egg salad. It had a slight curry flavor, creamy mayonnaise, crunchy almonds and sweet, chewy currants. I loved the balance of salty and sweet, and the blend of textures also worked in its favor. I enjoyed the contrast of the chilled egg salad with the warm bread, and each bite of this salad was perfectly balanced — not a single ingredient overpowering another. It was a very filling mixture, and the nutritional boost was equally appealing, with iron-rich spinach, a hearty dose of protein, fiber and healthy fats. The lovely presentation of this salad didn’t hurt either.

Café Kopi is located at 109 North Walnut Street, Champaign, and is open 7 a.m. to midnight daily. 

Seven Saints

The last salad on my list was the summer salmon salad from Seven Saints ($12.90). It turned out that I saved the best for last, because this salad was a home-run for me. While it was a bit pricier than the other salads on this list, it had many premium ingredients and was large enough to have leftovers. It consisted of marinated salmon, romaine hearts, cucumber, red onion, tomato, sliced avocado, and tortilla strips, dressed with a house-made honey-poblano salsa vinaigrette. There was an abundance of flavorful salmon, and every bite was jam packed with a mixture of ingredients. The greens were crisp, the tomatoes were juicy and the tortilla strips added a fun crunch. I especially loved the fresh avocado; the creaminess was a nice addition to the salty salmon. I was also a huge fan of the dressing. It had a sweet, honey flavor, but also a bit of a tang. The entire dish just worked really well together, and I would definitely order this again and again, especially given the health benefits from the omega-3 packed fish, fiber-rich avocado and vitamin filled veggies.

Seven Saints is located at 32 East Chester Street Champaign, and is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to midnight. 

All photos by Carly Prais. 

Related Articles