Panda Express has a whopping 2,200 locations according to a 2019 census, and since 1983 it has become a top place to satisfy that craving for some epic Chinese food.
A partnership between Andrew Cherng and Peggy Cherng, who by the way met in college and subsequently married, Panda Express burst onto the scene in the early eighties, as per Wikipedia.
Add the knowledge of Andrew’s father, Master Chef Ming Tsai Cherng—not to be confused with celebrity chef, Ming Tsai—and you have the perfect recipe for what would become a top chain for Chinese food across North America and other parts of the world, including the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and even Mexico, among others…
Of course Panda Express branched off of the original father and son restaurant known as Panda Inn, which originally opened in 1973, as per restaurantdive.com.
Their menu speaks for itself. I dare say it’s very basic, but because of the setup…the restaurant locations are often found in college campuses, stadiums and even malls, the menu cannot be overcomplicated, but what they do have is perfect and delicious.
Simplicity is often best, but despite the smaller menu, they offer bold tastes and consistency and standards that you don’t always get everywhere else—something to think about when choosing a Chinese restaurant to feast at.
But what of the menu? What are some of Panda Express’ best menu items?
10. Honey Sesame Chicken
This one’s definitely a perfect option for sure. An oldie but a goodie, and Panda Express does this one justice for sure. You can indeed find this classic dish it at many Chinese restaurants, but they do it well.
*Did you know? Sesame seeds are an excellent source of calcium?
9. Orange Chicken
The restaurant chain’s signature dish…developed by chef Andy Kao in the late eighties. It was based on the cuisine of the Hunan Province, as per the company website.
Now this one you can’t find anywhere else, and you need to stop off at your local Panda Express to sample its original flavor and dare I say brightness. It takes the cake over lemon chicken for sure.
8. Sweetfire Chicken Breast
Crispy chicken bites sautéed with bell peppers, onions and yeah, pineapples. This one makes for the perfect balanced dish. You get your spiciness, sweetness and savory notes with every bite.
7. Cream Cheese Rangoon
Oh man! This one’s on their appetizer menu and well, you sold me on the word cream cheese? They are as easy as it gets dear readers. They are quite simply won ton wrappers filled with…you guessed it: Cream cheese! Need I say more?
6. Chow Mein
This one comes from their sides menu options, and yeah they have delicious rice options, but to me any respectable Chinese restaurant has got to have a great noodle dish and this, ladies and gentlemen, is an exceptional noodle dish.
I remember back in college, I worked at a video store. I remember going into the Chinese restaurant next door and asking for chow mein. It wasn’t chow mein I got.
I ordered it a whopping 4 different times afterward, giving them the benefit of the doubt—maybe the cook was having an off day. But it was different every time! I gave up afterwards and stuck to eating the meat sticks and chips we served at the video store during my shifts instead.
5. Grilled Teriyaki Chicken
Teriyaki Chicken is the dish I most often try to make at home when I get a chance. The recipe was taught to me by one of my father’s greatest friends and a man I consider an Uncle. He has since passed on.
I had the immense pleasure of working with both my father and my Uncle Johnny while I worked the line back in the day, and it was on one of these occasions that Johnny taught me this recipe…. I made it a few weeks ago and it was great as always.
When I have the teriyaki at Panda Express, it takes me back to the first time I tasted Johnny’s chicken teriyaki.
4. Eggplant Tofu
I always applaud a restaurant that has a vegetarian option. No, not everyone is a vegetarian, but there are those that are and they need to have great treats when dining out as well. Heck, I love vegetarian cuisine and I am not a vegan.
This dish here hits all the right notes taste wise and the tofu especially…. When you’re eating a tofu dish and you forget that it’s tofu…someone has done their job well.
3. Beijing Beef
The next two dishes are beef dishes and perhaps right up there with chicken, beef is one of the greatest meats in the realm of Chinese cuisine.
You get the bell peppers and onions, but the sauce that all of these ingredients are sautéed in are perfect and go together insanely well.
2. Broccoli Beef
This is one of those classic dishes every Chinese restaurant needs to have; very much like the aforementioned chow mein. Not everyone does it great, but man-oh-man does Panda Express hit the mark with this one as well.
1. Honey Walnut Shrimp
Yet another one of those original offerings to be found at Panda Express. If another restaurant serves this or serves it just as well, I haven’t found it yet.
Tempura deep fried shrimp, tossed in a honey glaze with walnuts! I mean come on! A perfect example of how Chinese food hits those marks of sweet, savory, and spicy all at the same time, yet they harmonize together better than any choir I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing; this is perhaps what makes Chinese cuisine so great after all…that harmony.
And don’t leave without trying their fortune cookies. Yeah, it’s always good to taste a good fresh cookie such as these, but the fortune found within can have a way of turning around a pretty tough day…in conjunction with the great food of course.
What are some of your favorite items to eat at Panda Express, dear readers?