Review: Panda Express
Rating: Three forks out of four
Where: 11787 E. Kellogg Drive, 316-681-6722
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Type of food: Chinese
Reservations: Not accepted
Web site: http://pandaexpress.com
Panda Express started its Wichita invasion a couple of weeks ago when it opened at 11787 E. Kellogg, between Pizza Hut and IHOP.
The California-based fast Chinese chain, which has more than 1,300 restaurants nationwide, is hoping to eventually open four or five restaurants in the Wichita and Hutchinson areas. A second one should open on Maize Road in front of Lowe’s this spring.
Panda Express already has restaurants in Kansas City and Manhattan. And judging from crowds in the new Wichita store, it also already has a lot of fans here.
ON THE MENU: Panda Express is sort of like a mall food court Chinese food vendor but on a larger, fresher scale.
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Customers are greeted by a huge display of colorful, wok-cooked dishes, such as orange chicken, broccoli beef, sweet and sour pork, Kung Pao chicken, egg rolls and more.
Diners can choose two or three entrees as part of a combo plate, each of which comes with a choice of mixed veggies, fried rice, steamed rice or chow mein. Entrees also are available a la carte.
DON’T-MISS DISHES: Thanks to the platter concept, we were able to sample nearly every dish available at Panda Express on the day we visited.
I and both of my two dining companions ordered the three-entree plates, which contain a large amount of food for $7.24. (A two-entree plate is $5.99.)
My plate included a serving of crispy orange chicken, said to be one of the restaurant’s best sellers. It’s made sans vegetables but had a nice texture and a lightly fried but not greasy breading. The sauce that coated it was perfectly sticky with just a hint of citrus flavor.
I also ordered the Kabari beef, a new, much-ballyhooed dish at Panda Express. Made with thin slices of marinated beef and a spicy, smoky sauce, it also featured crispy and fresh peppers, mushrooms and leeks. The beef was ridiculously tender, and the vegetables had a nice crunch.
Other dishes that impressed us were the breaded, crispy shrimp, which come six to a serving, and the chow mein, a side item that was spiked with delightfully crispy slices of cabbage and celery.
A few disappointments included some Mandarin chicken, served without vegetables and presenting a deathly shade of gray/brown, and the hot and sour soup, which looked fabulous with its giant, floating mushrooms but tasted pretty bland.
AMBIENCE: The dining room has an upscale fast-food feel, but it’s bright and colorful. The case of entrees up front definitely adds to the visual appeal of the restaurant.
Food is served on paper plates with plastic utensils.
PRICE RANGE: Affordable. We ordered a huge table of food for just $30.
SERVICE: Behind-the-counter workers were enthusiastic and friendly if not a bit scattered. We had to make a special trip back to the front of a long line to get soy sauce packets and a soup spoon.