Growing up, my family would go out to eat Vietnamese food almost once a week, so I'm always on the lookout for good Vietnamese restaurants. When we found out there was a new Vietnamese place in Urbana we rushed up to it at the first oppurtunity! A few days ago we went for our third visit to try one of the specials which I highly recommend if it's still available (many of the specials rotate in and out of the menu).
The special was a salt and pepper fried shrimp rice dish. The shrimp was super cripsy and tasty, flavored with salt, pepper and crunchy fried garlic bits, and it was served with pickled vegatables over rice and garnished with cilantro. Ironically, I used to hate those pickled vegatables as a kid, but now I think they complement the dish perfectly. There was also a tangy pepper-lime dipping sauce that accented the shrimp well. It encapsulated what I love about vietnamese food - the flavors are light and fresh and aren't overpowering, and theres a balance of hotness, sweetness and tartness that I don't think any other cuisine matches.
As an appetizer we had grilled marinated beef skewers that were extremely flavorful and tender. Along with staples like pho, vietnamese BBQ meats are some of my favorite parts of it, so these were right up my alley. The side of spicy carrot and papaya salad was delicious and balanced out the saltiness of the beef with some sourness.
Mollie has become completely addicted to the banh mi's at Xinh Xinh, particularly the BBQ pork one filled with pickled carrots, daikon radish and cilantro. If you've never had a Banh Mi before, it's a very unique experience. They're the result of the French influence in Vietnam, sort of like early fusion cuisine. The one's I'm used to in Toronto were usually also filled with a sort of rolled pork and pate, but Xinh Xinh has a very wide assortment of them that I'm eager to try.
They also serve bubble tea (aka boba tea) - tea served with tapioca balls. I ordered the milk tea while Mollie got the green tea. Hands down, Xinh Xinh's got the best bubble tea in town, at least out of the several places we've had it so far. The trick is getting the tapioca to have the right consistency, and they nailed it here.
All in all, whenever we're in Champaign-Urbana, we have a hard time not returning to this place, and we can't wait to try their other dishes. I'll have to post again sometime about their pho, and they recently announced that they're beginning to serve vermicilli bowls which I'm REALLY looking forward to! Just be warned that at the moment they don't take credit or debit.
Xinh Xinh Cafe
114 N Vine St
Urbana, IL 61802