After pulling an all-nighter and powering through two interviews in the morning, I was in no mood to cook. Luckily, I had UberEats downloaded on my phone and knew exactly what I wanted to eat. During my undergraduate years, my friends and I would meet at Lai Lai Wok to catch up and to share delicious family style Chinese food. Ever since, the restaurant’s food has become comforting for me as I look back on those fond memories of how we used to help each other serve steaming rice or bok choy with garlic.

Lai Lai Wok is one of those places that has pages and pages of menu, and it can be pretty daunting at first to decide what to get. However, fear not, I can attest that it is impossible to order something that is not up to great standards and expectations. The restaurant is a good place to be a little bit more adventurous and to order a lot of food to share with friends, so you can taste different dishes.


Through the app, I ordered: chunk fish with Szechuan spice hot bean sauce ($17.99), three delights noodle soup ($11.50), Ma Po tofu with meat ($13.99), and green beans with XO sauce ($14.99). My order arrived within 20 minutes, and I could tell that the restaurant took extra precaution to ensure that the food would not spill while it is out for delivery. The food containers were packaged at least twice in different plastic bags, and there were cardboard layers to keep everything in the bag stable.

A plastic takeout bag is held by a hand with a brown, fuzzy sweater. The bag has dark blue Chinese writing and a smiling panda. Photo by Da Yeon EomPhoto by Da Yeon Eom.

I always appreciate the fact that Lai Lai Wok has a wide selection of vegetable dishes, and they can even make a boring ole cabbage taste good. For those who do not enjoy meat or have dietary restrictions, I would highly recommend their chunk fish with Szechuan spice hot bean sauce.

A plastic cylindrical container holds a fish and cabbage dish from Lai Lai Wok. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

The sauce itself is spicy and salty, and the fish and pieces of cabbage in the sauce are nice and tender. The restaurant divided the fish into two separate containers and the amount of fish chunks in the containers was generous to say the least. As I scooped out a chunk of fish from the sauce and tried to take a small piece out of it with a fork, the fish fell apart revealing its flakiness and that it was perfectly cooked inside. The spicy bean sauce and bits of cabbage coated every grain of rice with chili oil and made for such a satisfying bite.

Fried and crispy green beans in a huge heap sit in a plastic takeout container. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

Since the chunk fish with Szechuan spice hot bean sauce has a buttery and soft texture, I ordered the green beans with XO sauce for a contrasting textural component. The beans were salty and slightly crunchy, and the XO sauce brought forth umami flavor. If looking for a good side dish to complement and to dilute the spiciness from other dishes, I would highly recommend the green bean with XO sauce.

A tofu dish with a dark orange-reddish sauce sits in a plastic rectangular takeout container from Lai Lai Wok. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

Every Chinese restaurant has Ma Po tofu with meat, but Lai Lai Wok’s sauce for Ma Po tofu is thicker and more concentrated in its viscosity and flavor. The dish had small cubes of tofu with bits of meat, usually pork — and it is good for any occasion. Even those who hate tofu would find this dish unoffensive. In addition to the silkiness of soft tofu, the bits of meat and chili harmonize beautifully in one dish. I have been getting Lai Lai Wok’s Ma Po tofu for years now, and even attempted to make one similar to it at home, but I could not find or make it the same.

A soup from Lai Lai Wok sits in a plastic, cylindrical container from Lai Lai Wok. There are floating chunks of meat and veggies. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

Lastly, this was my first time trying the three delights noodle soup, and I was pleasantly surprised by its flavor. The soup had chicken stock as its base and was layered with flakes of different kinds of meat such as chicken and pork. The noodles were thick, and I thoroughly enjoyed finding an occasional shrimp while slurping through the soup. I found the three delights noodle soup to be very comforting, and I would definitely consider ordering it again.

On a wooden table, there are several packaged fortune cookies, unopened. Photo by Da Yeon Eom.Photo by Da Yeon Eom.

Since getting Lai Lai Wok food delivered, I have not had to cook for three days because the quantity of food was massive. The amount of rice that they sent with my order could have fed a party of ten. Although eating out at Lai Lai Wok can cost upwards of $50 for two people, I would definitely recommend it because their quality of food is great, and the amount of food that they provide per order has not shrunk despite the inflation of the cost of food ingredients in recent years.

I have been returning to Lai Lai Wok since I was a freshman in undergraduate, and although customers cannot sit around the tables to share food anymore, I hope those who visit the restaurant will feel the same warm feeling that I receive every time I walk through the door.

Lai Lai Wok
402 E Green St
Champaign
11 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily

Top image by Da Yeon Eom.