Smile Politely

Sitara: Your new go-to for Indian in C-U

Dear C-U Diners,

We’ve known each other for six years now. We can be honest with each other, right? I’ve seen fantastic restaurants like Holy Land, and the various iterations of Carmon’s, close. I’ve seen other places continue on in their Rasputin-like reign of mediocrity and inexplicable popularity. Just don’t break my heart again. For some reason, good Indian restaurants can’t seem to stay open in this town. Basmati is no more and Mirsung no longer has their delicious counter service restaurant. At one point for a very brief period of time, we had a variety of both Northern Indian and Southern Indian food to choose from. Until recently, we went an inordinate period of time without passable Indian food. This must come to an end. And I am glad to say that for now, it has.

C-U diners, meet Sitara.

I first went to Sitara with a bunch of my coworkers. I saw a number of items that I have never even heard of that sounded interesting, but we opted to go for the classics. We got chicken tikka masala, shrimp korma, and the Sitara mix biryani. Some naan, too, of course. They were all good. I especially loved the biryani. Biryani is one of those dishes that looks sloppy and unappealing, but is delicious when done right. The fact that this was the only dish we ordered that doesn’t come with a sauce made it stick out even more. To me, the biryani was the highlight of the meal. This version came with lamb, shrimp, and chicken. When I then read that it was made with the chef’s special biryani masala, I knew that I was going to get this. The meat was perfectly cooked and the seasoning was spot on.

The chicken tikka masala was everything you’d expect. Sure, it’s probably the most ubiquitous Indian dish out there, but it’s dependable and good. And this one lived up to that. Not mind blowing—just good. Well, maybe considering what has passed for Indian food in this town, a decent chicken tikka masala is something to celebrate. There seemed to be just the right amount of the tender and tasty chunks of chicken swimming in the spicy orange-colored masala sauce.

I actually enjoyed the shrimp korma more than the others with me. They were a little weirded out by sourness from the yogurt in it, but it tasted exactly like it’s supposed to. I enjoyed that interplay between the curry and the yogurt.

I went back for dinner with my fiancé within the week. We started with an order of samosa chat. A samosa is a savory turnover that is filled with yummy goodness. It was fantastic. If you take a samosa, break it up onto a plate and pour sauces over them, you get a samosa chat. For some reason, most Indian places I’ve been to make bland and boring samosas. This one was flavorful and the outside was crunchier than non-chat versions that I’ve tried. I would not have been opposed to ordering several orders of these and made a meal of it.

For entrees, we ordered dal makhani and lamb vendaloo. I was surprised that the lamb was a bit overcooked considering how perfect the lamb in my Sitara mix biryani was from the other day. Everything was very good, with the dal being the highlight of the meal. We love lentils so we will be coming back in order to try all the dal dishes. Instead of getting dessert, we got an order of the Kasmiri naan, which is a naan filled with “sweet mixed fruit” and nuts. I would highly recommend this as a nice middle ground dessert for someone with a sweet tooth who is with someone with a savory tooth.

In terms of service, it has the hallmarks of a new family restaurant. There are people in the kitchen who care about the food they make and know what they are doing. During lunch, our food came out at odd times. The servers were all extremely attentive and knowledgeable but at times we wouldn’t see them for a bit. They are still working out the kinks. I got the sense that all the diners were being very understanding and accommodating. When we came back for dinner, I noticed a marked improvement. They also had a lot more people working. Things on this front will only get better.

Normally, I don’t give a shit about décor. In this case, I sure got a kick out of the interior. It still looks like a bar. They did clean it up and brighten up the space from what it looked like when the absolutely unfortunate Black Rock occupied this space.

Sitara seems to have the qualities in order to succeed in Champaign-Urbana. It is a locally owned and run restaurant with quite good food. Also, considering that Sitara opened right when a number of food-centric businesses are about to open only a block away, it may help establish downtown Urbana as an even stronger destination for good eats in the area.

We live in a community of diners that are increasingly demanding more variety and higher quality. They serve food from one of the most venerable cuisines in the world. Moreover, Sitara has a wide variety ofvegetarian options – something that will be very much appreciated by many in this town. I really hope that Sitara does well. In fact, on both occasions, when we were leaving, we saw long lines at the door so it seems that people have gotten wind of how good this place is. For those who haven’t been, I implore you, diners of Champaign and Urbana, please support this restaurant.


Sitara is located at 114 South Race Street in Urbana. They are open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 12 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. 

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