Champaign-Urbana is fortunate to have a diverse culinary spectrum; this is in no doubt related to its diverse population. Ten years ago, Campustown was awash with bar after bar serving burgers, wings, and beer…not all bad. But now a stroll down Green Street can take you around the world. Sushi wasn’t exactly popular in this Midwestern town; in fact I can only remember it being served at one or two places. Now you can find more than a dozen, and Sushi Rock doesn’t disappoint.
I was excited to go to Sushi Rock because I love sushi and because summer is a perfect time to explore campus without all the traffic. I even had Twisted Sister playing in my head, strange I know. I brought my wife because she too loves sushi, and I never pass up a chance to bank brownie points. When we arrived, we didn’t find your typical sushi bar, or at least what I was anticipating. The interior wasn’t over decorated or cliché. Sushi to me makes me think of Japan: Bento boxes, don buri bowls, tempura fried veggies, etc. What we found was far more diverse. The had giant poke bowls (Hawaiian) and bul go gi (Korean) as well as the previously mentioned expectations.
We were all geared up for a sushi feast, and now the poke/bul go gi curveball hits us. My wife has a penchant for salmon and seeing the poke menu, made her decision. I am a huge sucker for bul go gi…I could eat it every day. This all makes me wonder why a place like Sushi Rock has a wide array of food. Is it because of demand from the local population? Will a standalone sushi place not be financially viable? I even start to wonder if the Japanese/Korean fusion is like our Tex-Mex, and food is more regional in nature?
We sampled the gyoza ($4), miso soup ($1.99), and karaage ($6), a deep-fried squid that was marinated in a spicy ginger-garlic-soy — think calamari without the breading or batter. I think the karaage would have been great but ours was overcooked. The dumpling and miso were as expected. The salmon poke bowl ($13) arrived and it was pretty much over for my wife. She has found her last meal — her words. I hope she doesn’t figure out they have delivery apps for this sort of thing.
We also tried the Skytree ($12), a layered dish comprised of sushi rice, avocado, crab salad, spicy tuna, masago, and spicy mayo. It was quite delicious. My bul go gi bento box ($10.50) arrived along with a spicy tuna roll ($6.99), but by this point I was about at my limit. The bul go gi would become tomorrow’s lunch with a side of kimchi ($0.99). At this point I had had enough to know the fish was fresh and properly handled, but not enough to espouse the virtue of Sushi Rock…another trip would be required.
Returning a few days later, wife in tow, we attempted to sample a wider variety of sushi. We started with another poke bowl, of course, and a combo: 6 pieces of sashimi and a signature roll ($25.99). It really was a terrific value, as the Phoenix roll ($17.99) and 6 pieces of sashimi ($12) exceeds the combo price by 18%. We also had another spicy tuna roll and the Red Dragon ($15.99). The Red Dragon was my favorite, spicy but with the cream cheese to cool down your mouth. I was tempted to get another bul go gi bento for lunch the next day, but I was too full to think about food after the selection of rolls and sashimi.
Sushi Rock impressed me with their menu, service, quality, and price. I can guarantee we will return from time to time, just probably during student break. If you are a student living within walking distance give it a try, I think you will enjoy something on the menu, even if sushi isn’t your thing.
621 E Green
M-F 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
M-Sa 5 – 9 p.m.
Photos by Rob Schaffer