I love films, but summer blockbusters have rarely been my thing (in the nature of full disclosure, I did take in a matinée of the latest Harry Potter on its opening weekend). The atmosphere of the modern multiplex always strikes me as cold and impersonal, the advertisements offensive and irrelevant, and the snacks chemically loaded and astronomically over-priced. Now, I don’t always need a deep, cerebral film; some days just call for a good ol’ popcorn flick. The presence of The Art Theater in downtown Champaign has been a bright spot in my C-U experience; they offer everything from foreign films and critically-acclaimed independents to cult classics. They serve local popcorn (vegan, without the butter, of course) and other treats (probably not vegan), as well as booze (make sure to check Barnivore if you don’t know if a brand is vegan), and the theater itself is cozy and charming. I highly recommend checking their website regularly or even following their Facebook page, lest you miss out on a true gem. Yeah, Netflix is great, but really, it can’t beat a night out at the Cinema with a capital C.
You could fill up on popcorn all night, but just a couple doors down is Nitaya Thai, offering many savory vegan options. When we asked about fish sauce, we got the impression that their menu section entitled “Thai Vegetarian Lovers” already comes with sneaky animal ingredients like fish sauce already omitted! The staff has always been very knowledgeable, accommodating, and polite, so if there is a dish that strikes your fancy but isn’t listed in the vegetarian section, don’t be afraid to ask if they can veganize it for you. This is, to date, my favorite Thai restaurant in town. Why? SPRING. ROLLS. DELIGHT.
Nitaya offers the most flavorful and fragrant spring rolls I have ever had. Basil, and lots of it, is the highlight of this dish, setting it apart from so many of the lesser-rolls I’ve encountered. If you aren’t a fan of basil, skip these. I, on the other hand, could eat these all day long, especially during the summer months. Another fantastic option this time of year is the papaya salad. It’s loaded with shredded carrots and papaya, tomatoes, and green beans. I love the contrast of a dish served cold that manages to be so spicy! The eggplant basil and the mock duck (a wheat-based meat substitute) basil are both very tasty, although, the prickly texture of the mock duck (an attempt to emulate the skin of an actual duck) is a little off-putting for me. Entrées run about $10 to $12 each, and the food is a bit too flavorful and exotic for my daughter, so this restaurant is usually a date-night-only treat.