Dinner at Imperial Lamian is a roller coaster of emotions. It’s a trendy, high-end Chinese restaurant in River North with good dumplings and noodles, but main wok dishes and barbecue entrees that leave you wanting more.
Walking into Imperial Lamian is exciting, like when you first walk into Six Flags or Cedar Point as a kid. The space is beautiful, and the well-dressed crowd matches the decor. It’s a loud, happening environment - the perfect setting for girls night out, action at the bar, or to see and be seen.
Start with the xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and dim sum. Just like the first little drop on a roller coaster, you’ll be off to a good start. The soup dumplings have color-coded dough that makes them particularly fun to eat - bright red for spicy Szechuan, orange for crab, and even a yellow dumpling filled with gruyere cheese. Your table will look like a giant Crayola box, but the dumplings aren’t toxic like the crayons you ate as a kid. That said, these items are limited, and we wouldn’t come here for a soup dumpling and dim sum only meal.
Next up are the homemade lamian noodles, which are made in the open kitchen and served in broth, similar to ramen. The lamian dishes are good, but like the middle of any ride you’re waiting for things to peak. It’s unnecessary to go to a trendy restaurant like this solely to slurp down a large noodle soup, so from a situational standpoint, sharing wok dishes and Chinese barbecue are the best fit for the main part of your meal.
And that’s the problem - the wok dishes and barbecue are by far the weakest part of the menu. None of the wok dishes we’ve tried are very good, and the barbecue duck is straight up bad. It’s like expecting to get on the Millennium Force at Cedar Point but ending up on one of those 25 cent horses that moves back-and-forth in front of a Target instead. Add in the fact portions are small, which makes everything feel overpriced, and you’re no longer excited now that you’re hungry after a $70 meal.
It all makes Imperial Lamian frustrating, and it’s why you should consider the other rides nearby.
Xiao Long Bao, aka soup dumplings. They come three to an order, and if you’re here, we suggest going hard on a lot of them. The spicy szechuan is our favorite, but the shang hai, duck, and crab are also all good. The grueyere and truffle are a little different, but one is worth a try if you’re sharing with others.
Barbecue pork in a baked bun. The filling is absolutely delicious. We wish the bun was a little doughier, but it’s still good.
La mian noodles in a spicy pork broth with black garlic, truffle oil, shiitake and wood ear mushrooms. We’re into it, but it’s not the kind of setting we’d go out of our way for a filling noodle soup.
Nope. First of all, it doesn’t taste very good. Second of all, it’s a tiny portion for $30. Third of all, it still doesn’t taste very good.
There are a couple options. All fine, nothing special.
Soy glazed Chinese broccoli with roasted garlic and ginger jus. We’re into the side veggies, go for it.
Chicken thigh, cashew, dried hot chili, and dark soy. Fine, but small portion and standard.
A mix of strip steak, peppers, turmeric, and chili garlic sauce. Nothing exciting here either. Get a few extra orders of soup dumplings.