On a sweltering day, I fought back the heat on my way to Top Food Restaurant, a new Asian restaurant in Champaign with a focus on seafood. In a building formerly occupied by Monical’s Pizza and next door to Jarling’s Custard Cup, Top Food is not easy to miss. Since the name doesn’t give a clear indication of what they serve, I thought reviewing it a good idea to help others in the community learn more about this restaurant.
Arriving at Top Food, a member of the staff greeted me as I walked up a flight of stairs. Quickly seated, I was given a small bottle of water, a first for me at a restaurant. As an aside, Top Food only serves water in these small water bottles, so keep asking for more as you’ll get thirsty later. Informed of the daily seafood specials, I then looked over the extensive menu. After placing my order, I took time to look around the restaurant. Top Food is well lit and that is further helped by the windows on most walls. Although the first floor area wasn’t open when I arrived, the tables on the second floor all fit two to four people with plenty of space to walk between, which is good for a more crowded time of day.
First to arrive was my volcano shrimp ($4.95) appetizer. As soon as the fried scent hit my nose, I started in on this dish that seemed surprisingly large at first. Although I discovered the wonton strips and lettuce composed most of the dish with small shrimp sandwiched between the two, I still appreciated this appetizer. The shrimp came coated in a thin, sweet sauce with just enough heat to add flavor without overwhelming my mouth. The crispy lettuce leaves proved refreshing between mouthfuls of juicy shrimp and crunchy wonton. A solid appetizer overall.
Shortly after I ate the final shrimp, the gyoza ($5.95) I ordered were ready. Top Food fills their wontons with cabbage and pork and come served with a salty sauce on the side. Biting into the gyoza surprised me, as their mostly soft exterior did in fact have a few crunchy areas, greatly enhancing their texture. Furthermore, with six well-filled gyoza per order, this appetizer is perfect for sharing.
For something a bit different, I ordered BBQ Chinese buns ($1.50 per order) with extra spice. Contrary to what I expected, these are buns — no sauce or meat, just grilled buns with ample spices, including the extra hot spice I asked for. Covered in a variety of seeds, powders and other flavorful ingredients, the BBQ Chinese buns were a surprise hit for me. Crispy on the bottom, soft on top and wonderfully complex all over, I only had one serving of buns, but felt as if I’d eaten many more. Anyone looking for something light, yet full of flavor should order multiple BBQ Chinese buns for their table.
Chicken with spicy salt ($10.95) capped off my order at Top Food. This meal came with piles of chicken and pepper with green peppers, onions, and white rice as an accompaniment. To be clear, this dish was served with more than just a little pepper. So much pepper, in fact, that I had trouble smelling anything else once it hit my table. Thankfully, I very much enjoy pepper, so I was pleased. Between bites of chicken, I was thankful for the green peppers, as their juiciness made up for the lack of sauce that would’ve otherwise made for a dry dish.
Stuffed, I finished my last bite of chicken only to be met with another surprise. The staff came out with more bottled water for me and a small container of complimentary cherry yogurt. I can’t say I’ve ever received Activia at a restaurant, but I appreciated the sweet treat after several rounds of salty food. Although I didn’t try any of the seafood specials, they seem positioned for larger groups to share, so take a trip over to Top Food Restaurant sometime and see what they have. Don’t forget to place a few orders of BBQ Chinese buns, too.
Top Food Restaurant
103 W Kirby Ave
M-Th 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.
F 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Sa noon to 2 a.m.
Su noon to 1 a.m.
Photos by Matthew Macomber