Noodle master Charlie Zhang, famous for his noodle-crafting showmanship during his time at Royal China, has branched out on his own. Imperial Noodle opened last week in Richardson, delivering entertainment along with a delicious meal. After entering the glitzy, auspiciously red restaurant, you catch sight of Zhang at work, crafting 3-foot-long strings of dough that will later show up in your bowl. If you want to be close to the show, four seats are available at the noodle bar.
As expected, the noodles are outstanding. The imperial beef noodle soup is a home run — a rich, beefy broth with just a hint of spice soaks into the hand-pulled noodles and tender beef chunks. Even though the soup can easily feed two, it’s difficult to split; the noodles are long and definitely designed for slurping, and while they’re the perfect consistency for chewing, they’re difficult to cut.
The soup dumplings are a let-down, sadly. While the wrappers are thin and perfectly steamed, the rest of the dumpling doesn’t deliver. There’s not much “soup” inside the dumplings, and the pork filling is a little bland. There are much better places for xiao long bao in the Dallas area. By contrast, the scallion pancakes are among the best in DFW — masterfully thin, just enough scallion flavor and the perfect balance between crispy and doughy.
If you make it past the noodles and dumplings on the first page of the menu, you may or may not find the rest alluring. It’s a hodgepodge that tries to appeal to everyone without making it clear what’s going to be great. There are tempting Chinese dishes like pepper steak and ma po tofu, but the lunch specials are dominated by the familiar takeout standards of General Tso’s and sweet and sour chicken. A sushi bar serves up rainbow and soft shell crab rolls. It was also noticeable what wasn’t on the menu; if you believe in eating your vegetables with every meal, you’ll have to settle for a mixed veggie dish instead of Chinese broccoli or bok choy. Even when you enter, you see tables set with forks and spoons instead of chopsticks. Beyond noodles, Imperial Noodle seems to still be figuring out its identity.
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Service is still a work in progress. We were seated promptly and attended to quickly and courteously, but our server wasn’t able to offer recommendations when asked and just read descriptions of various items off the menu. Soup dumplings are tricky to eat with forks, but chopsticks weren’t brought to us until we requested them. Ironing out little things like this will go a long way to improving the dining experience.
Chef Zhang is truly a master of his craft, and his specialty dishes will delight patrons. If Imperial Noodle continues to live up to its name, it will quickly become a Richardson destination.
Imperial Noodle, 101 Coit Road, Richardson