I rarely use TripAdvisor for advice on my hometown. But I was just looking at restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, and it occurred to me that a lot of chicanery goes on in the crowd-sourcing of restaurant reviews.
This list of "best" Champaign-Urbana restaurants, for example, is hilarious. It's obvious that some restaurant owners have learned to exploit TripAdvisor. I've never even heard of some of these places. Others are mediocre chains.
Yes, some entrants deserve their high ratings. Fiesta Cafe should not be ranked just below Bob Evans, or Hardee's or whatever.
Tip #1: Order something that sounds interesting. The boring menu items are boring, because a lot of American people like boring comfort food.
Tip #2: Ask the servers. The staff is helpful, and knowledgeable. Many of them have been there a long time. Tell them what you like and ask for advice.
I almost always get Puerco Chipotle, with grilled vegetables on the side. The enchiladas are outstanding as well (choice of verde, mole or traditional ranchera sauces). I recommend cheese or chicken with verde, shredded beef with mole, or cheese with ranchera. Their grilled skirt steaks are wonderful. These come in a few choices of preparations. Pollo con verde is another favorite. I like the Chilles Rellenos, too.
Chips & salsa: The chips are fine, standard. The salsa has always been a disappointment (and yet we keep eating it). I agree with one of the "terrible" reviews on this point. It never looks fresh. It contains no cilantro, as far as I can tell. (The guacamole is much better, especially in recent years.)
Margaritas: I like the 1800 and the Island, but the house margaritas are excellent as well. They have a lot of tequila in them, which is the best part of a margarita, in my opinion. They are not super-authentic (i.e. limited to the classic three ingredients of pure lime juice, Cointreau and tequila). They lean more toward authentic than they do toward Chi-Chi's (etc. chain restaurant). bright green sugarfest.
There's an outdoor area, where you can eat while smoking (if that's your thing).
This restaurant is very LGBT friendly, but also serves a hardcore group of devout locals - Illini fans decked out in orange, academics from the university, workin' people. It's an eclectic mix, and I always see fiends there.
The service is exceptionally quick, and their POS system assigns orders by seat (so splitting bills is easy).
I've enjoyed meals in some of the finest (Michelin and Zagat rated) restaurants from Manhattan to Paris to Montreal to San Francisco ,,, to the south China sea. I've eaten in some wonderful, legendary dives and delis and diners, and tiny bistros.
Fiesta Cafe is my favorite restaurant.
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