Part of my love and appreciation for food comes from my grandmother — she loves food and has shared that love of food with me time and again. When she came to visit last weekend, she asked if we could go to a food truck. On a cloudy, crisp Saturday morning, Grandma joined my family for a trip to Urbana's Market at the Square to sample some Thai cuisine.
The Thai-Lao Cuisine food truck is a recent addition to the scene. Currently they only take the truck out on the weekends, but when they’re out it’s for the entire day. You can typically catch them at Urbana's Market at the Square on Saturday morning, and then find them somewhere on campus later in the afternoon and again on Sunday. The best way to find out where they’ll be is by calling the number on the side of the truck: 217-480-6064.
For the extremely reasonable price of $31, we got two appetizers and three entrees. We chose potstickers (4 for $4) and the sampler platter, which consisted of one chicken satay, two egg rolls, and two crab rangoon ($5). Our entree selections were Pad Thai with chicken ($7), Khau Mee with beef ($7), and Cashew Chicken ($7).
Flavors of curry and nuttiness defined the chicken satay. The ample chicken strip was skewered and fried up with a very light breading that added just a bit of crunch. I thought I detected an almost floral flavor, but my grandmother argued it was more of a sweetness. Either way, it was nicely seasoned.
The egg rolls were delightfully crispy in a thin wrapper. They have a lovely crunch from the wrapper that doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of the cabbage, carrots, and meat inside. This egg roll also has a pleasant sweet onion flavor to it which complements the sausage and veggies. Grandma and I agreed that the crispy, thin wrapper is the way to go and sets the bar for a superb eggroll.
Speaking of sausage, the potstickers also had a distinct sausage flavor coupled with green onion. The dumpling wrapper was on the thicker side, which held up well and was fried to a golden perfection on the outside while being soft and juicy on the inside. It was quite nicely composed.
Crab rangoon is my favorite appetizer and this one is up there on the list of “Good Rangoon in C-U.” The wrapper is a bit thicker, like the potsticker, but perfectly sealed and then deep fried. I do wish the ratio of filling to wrapper was more balanced; however, the filling was properly creamy and warm. On the spectrum of sweet to savory, this rangoon falls slightly to the more savory, green onion-y flavor.
Khau Mee was something completely new to me and surprisingly tasty. Slices of beef are tossed with thin noodles and vegetables. The sauce was salty, savory, and paired well with beef. My 2 year old especially liked this one and kept asking for “more of dat.”
Pad Thai with chicken is a family favorite, if not an "everyone’s favorite." This Pad Thai definitely delivered. It was sweet, citrusy, and nutty, as pad thai should be. Chopped nuts and sprouts gave a necessary crunch to the soft, chewy noodles and tender chicken. Plus peanut sauce? Yes, please! It’s a well balanced Pad Thai that won’t make you regret eating the whole container.
Cashew chicken varies greatly. While Thai-Lao has its own spin, it was a welcome change from what I’ve typically seen. The chicken was tossed with vegetables and cashews that seem to have been slow-cooked. I’ve never had cashews that softened after cooking, but it worked surprisingly well. They still had a bit of firmness but absorbed the flavor of the dish. It comes with a side of white rice which is perfect because for the sauce that is warm and comforting with a low key heat. If this cashew chicken were a superhero, it would definitely be the underdog that swoops in and saves everyone when you least expect it.
Grandma’s favorites were the Khau Mee and Cashew Chicken. She looks forward to going back again next time she visits and added that if she lived in C-U she’d be there twice a month. I’m still blown away that 4 adults and one very hungry toddler each ate a full meal for $31. We were all satisfied by both quality and quantity. Everybody got to try a bit of everything and then eat a bit more of their favorite.
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Photos by Sarah Meilike