Have you ever dreamed of trying every single Panda Express entree? We are happy to report that we lived your dream — and it was just as fantastic as you think. Maybe you've always wanted to branch out from your usual order, but think the famous Orange Chicken is just too good to pass up. We explored every single dish so you can know once and for all which meals are worth the gamble. As long-time fans of Panda Express, we jumped at the opportunity to sample and rank each of their dishes, even if it meant we couldn't go back to our local shop for a while. "You want every single one?" the teenager at the cash register asked with a cocked eyebrow. "Why?"
Now a national favorite, the very first Panda Express location opened in Glendale, California in 1983. Once a small venture by a couple, Peggy and Andrew Cherng, it's now a worldwide business with more than 2,300 locations, and is famously one of the only fast-casual Chinese restaurants on the market — if you only have time for drive-through, Panda Express is the answer. Even though we have been eating there for years, some dishes shocked us with how good they were. Others were so disappointing, that we feel like they disgraced the name of Panda. We ranked the dishes based on taste, texture, and how well they lived up to their name. Keep reading to see where your favorite ranks on the list.
13. Grilled Teriyaki Chicken
For such an appetizing dish in concept, the Grilled Teriyaki Chicken was such a disappointment when we tasted it. Of all the dishes we sampled from Panda Express, this was the most bland and boring. First, it doesn't live up to its name without adding the chain's teriyaki sauce. Without the sauce, the dark meat was salty and stringy and lacked any distinctive teriyaki flavor. It tasted like overcooked chicken that might be a little off-date, with a strange earthy taste added in. With the sauce on top, it wasn't much better as the chicken was bitter, chewy, and even saltier.
Choosing this as a main might work for someone who just wanted a simple protein option for dinner. However, if you are looking for something with flavor we would recommend skipping the Grilled Teriyaki Chicken. There are plenty of other items on the menu that taste great.
12. Honey Walnut Shrimp
The Honey Walnut Shrimp unfortunately fell flat for us in terms of flavor and texture. The overwhelming sweetness, lack of depth in flavor, and disappointment in the strange shrimp and walnut combination are what did it for us. The fried shrimp was too soft and the batter was a little soggy. All the while the glaze it was covered in was way too sweet. It was like a jumbled mess of textures that didn't go well together, leaving a bad taste in the mouth.
Although this item looked delicious on the counter at the restaurant, it failed to deliver. Adding walnuts didn't really make much of a difference to the taste of the dish. The crunch of the walnuts seemed to disappear in the overly sweet glaze, so it didn't do much to add interesting texture, either. For that, we have to place it toward the bottom of the list.
11. Black Pepper Chicken
As soon as the dish arrived, we couldn't escape the strong smell of pepper. Sadly, this overwhelming pepper scent didn't leave much space for other flavors to come through — the chicken only tasted of pepper and nothing else. The one-note taste profile became pretty boring after a few bites. Plus, the chicken itself was a bit of a letdown. Its texture leaned towards the chewy side, leaving us to feel like we were eating rubber instead of our dinner. Unfortunately, it gets worse. The chicken was tough to chew, sure, but only after you got through the slimeiness of the sauce. It was such a losing combination.
In addition to the meat, the Black Pepper Chicken came with cooked celery and onion for flavor. While the onion provided a nice texture to the bite, the celery fell flat. While a traditional inclusion in some Chinese dishes, the vegetable here had that woodsy, stringy feel that celery has on its worst days. This made it feel entirely out of place. For all this and more, this dish had to be placed near the bottom of our list.
10. Mushroom Chicken
Even though mushrooms are supposed to be a main ingredient in this dish — it is called Mushroom Chicken after all — it felt like they were kind of forgotten. The earthy flavor they could have brought was totally overpowered by a sauce that was slimy and strange. As a result, the taste ended up being pretty boring and not very exciting. Typically, mushrooms have such a strong flavor profile that we were surprised the chicken didn't taste more like them.
The actual mushrooms themselves were a bit overcooked and had a rubbery texture that we didn't like. The chicken was kind of overcooked as well, giving it a tough, stringy consistency that was hard to chew and gave us the ick. Because we had never eaten this entree before, we were not sure if this particular batch was just overcooked in general, or if it was supposed to taste like this. Either way, we cannot recommend it, so it's near the bottom of the ranking.
9. Kung Pao Chicken
The best part about the Kung Pao Chicken at Panda Express is definitely the cashews. They add a satisfying crunch to every bite and perfectly complement the tender chicken. It's all about that mix of textures, and this dish nails it. The chicken in this dish is perfectly cooked, tender, and juicy.
Unfortunately, not all of the textures in this dish were great which is why it doesn't rank higher. We liked that Panda Express included grilled bell peppers and zucchini in this entree, but they were a tad too mushy to be enjoyable. As we ate, they got softer and softer, which kind of gave us the ick. Add in the sauce, which was a little too abundant in our opinion, and you have a dish that could have been a favorite, but just fell short. It was definitely the most spicy of all the items on the menu, though, so if you're more of a spice-over-everything kind of diner, this could be a bit higher on your personal rankings. For us though, it was solidly average.
8. Chili Crisp Shrimp
The Chili Crisp Shrimp had an okay flavor. It wasn't mind-blowing, because it kind of just tasted like chili, but it also didn't disappoint for the exact same reason — we like chili! The combination of the sauce and batter gave it a mid-level spiciness and crunch that we found enjoyable enough. It wasn't a flavor explosion, but it would satisfy our cravings for a great Chinese-inspired lunch. It also feels like a good pick if you want a bit of spiciness without going for a full-blown fire alarm.
One thing that saved the dish from being forgettable was the texture combo. The crispy shrimp paired well with the chili-infused sauce. Unlike the Honey Walnut Shrimp, the meat in this entree didn't get soggy. We're partial to a great sensory experience when eating, so the shrimp here took care of that for us.
This one's a relatively new addition to the menu and it's marketed as a "premium entree" by the restaurant. While it's certainly a step up from its walnut counterpart (and likely a welcome addition to all those who want seafood!), it's not the best thing we've ever had, so it finds a home here in the middle of our rankings.
7. Beijing Beef
The beef has a really nice, sweet aroma to it, especially when it is warm. It's also covered in a nice amount of fried batter, which kind of reminds us of a chicken-fried steak. However, at Panda Express, it's likely the same batter used for the Orange Chicken. The spice level of the Beijing Beef is perfect. The dish is sweet and tangy, with a little kick of chili that lingers on your tongue between bites. It gave us the burn we expect and love from a spicy dish, but didn't have us reaching for milk to soothe our palate either.
The beef was kind of chewy, but it got spicier the longer we chewed, so we didn't mind the texture too much. Overall, this dish tasted fine but was pretty forgettable. While it didn't taste bad, there wasn't anything about it that stood out to us, so it ranks here, near the middle.
6. Black Pepper Angus Steak
This dish earns a solid place in the middle of the pack. While the steak in the Black Pepper Angus Steak entree kind of tasted like a pot roast, weirdly this worked for it. Plus, the accompanying vegetables were cooked to perfection. The red bell pepper, little wisps of broccoli, onion, and mushrooms all came together to make the plate look colorful. They were blanched to perfection, giving the dish a nice refreshing touch which balanced out the hearty steak perfectly.
However, the steak, while flavorful, had a slightly stringy texture that made it hard to chew at times. The dish also leaned towards the saltier side, but this didn't take away too much from our overall enjoyment. In fact, despite the "black pepper" in the dish's name, it wasn't particularly spicy. The heat level was subtle, lacking the lingering burn one might expect from a spicier dish. If you don't like spicy food, this might be a positive, but we expect a little more kick from pepper dishes. Overall, this dish was good — but just not great.
5. String Bean Chicken Breast
The first thing that caught our eye with this one was the generous portion of green beans. Panda Express certainly doesn't skimp on the veggies here. While this might bother some, others who appreciate a hearty serving of greens might like it — just as we did. The dish features a delightful combination of chicken breast, string beans, and onions, wok-tossed to perfection in a mild ginger soy sauce. The inclusion of onions added a nice touch to the overall flavor profile, infusing their wholesome flavor into the chicken, too. The green beans were super crunchy, which probably means they were cooked a bit before throwing them into the dish. It kept their natural texture intact and gave each bite a bit of snap, which we liked.
The only drawback that kept the String Bean Chicken Breast from the top spot, however, was the sauce. The ginger soy sauce was really good, with a nice mix of sweet and savory flavors. However, there was far too much of it, enough that the food kind of felt like it was swimming in sauce towards the end. The taste was great overall, but it was a little too sweet for us. If you prefer a milder sauce, this one might be a bit too intense.
4. SweetFire Chicken Breast
One of the things we liked most about this dish, and why it's near the top of our ranking, is its amazing aroma. You can smell the heat of the SweetFire Chicken Breast, especially when it's warm. We caught a whiff and our mouths started to water. This entree shares the same fried chicken base as Panda Express's ever-popular Orange Chicken and Honey Sesame Chicken meaning that, like those dishes, this option also has a familiar and satisfying crunch.
Of the spicy dishes available at Panda, this is our favorite, as it strikes a delicate balance. It offers just enough kick without overpowering the other flavors, and it leans more towards the profile of sweet chili sauce rather than an intense heat from something like habanero peppers. This gives it an accessible level of spiciness. The only drawback is that we think the sauce isn't quite thick enough. If there had been more, we think the chicken might have been a little softer and the meal just a touch better. So, SweetFire Chicken Breast, if only you had more sauce you just might be at the top.
3. Honey Sesame Chicken Breast
This dish easily claimed its spot in our top three picks. The chicken looked like it was coated in the same kind of batter as the Orange Chicken, giving it that distinctive crunch that we love. It just has a different sauce drizzled over the top. You can really taste the honey in the sauce, and it adds such a yummy sweetness to every bite. The sauce isn't super spicy, but it does have a nice little kick. Plus, the sesame seeds on top make it look even more appealing and give the whole dish a nutty flavor.
We also enjoyed the variety of vegetables included in this entree which can account for its high ranking. It had orange bell peppers and chopped green beans. The veggies looked really bright and added a nice crunch to every bite. We liked that they stayed crispy and didn't get soggy, despite the amount of sauce. For this reason, this dish comes in a solid third.
2. Broccoli Beef
Broccoli Beef was a strong contender for the top spot on our list. We couldn't be sure how long the batch we ordered from was sitting out on the counter at our local Panda Express — and yet, each generously sized broccoli stalk retained its crunch as if it had just come out of the steamer. Can we talk about the size of the broccoli too? Panda Express must have a secret supplier where it sources genetically superior plants because these were some of the largest portions of the vegetable we've seen at a Chinese restaurant, fast food or otherwise.
In addition to the freshness of the vegetables, the beef strips in the dish had a fantastic softness to them. A great melt-in-your-mouth kind of texture. The sauce had a great tang to it too, adding a delicious flavor profile to the overall dish. Plus, it wasn't gloopy which is often the downfall of Broccoli Beef. Nothing's worse than gloopy sauce when mixing meat and vegetables. For this, it earns a proud second place.
1. The Original Orange Chicken
We doubt anyone will be surprised to see The Original Orange Chicken in the number one spot. In fact, at every Panda Express we've ever been to, the dish is served from a bowl on the counter that's nearly twice the size of all the others. It's a true testament to the food's consistent popularity. And the dish isn't just a bestseller because of hype — it's actually pretty good!
The orange zest in the flavoring is just strong enough. It has a perfect sweet and tangy flavor profile that isn't too overwhelming. What's more, it also has a touch of spice, which is enough to give your tastebuds a little bit of heat, but not so much as to be overpowering. Instead, the spice leaves a nice warm, tingling feeling in your mouth in between bites. The breading on the chicken also does well to hold onto the sauce. It doesn't feel slimy and, in an amazing feat of food physics, the breading doesn't get soggy even if you don't eat the chicken right away. The pieces are generous, with most of them being a bit larger than just one bite, so you won't walk away feeling like you want more. For all of these reasons, The Original Orange Chicken claims its spot at the top of our list, fair and square.
How We Ranked The Dishes
We know that taste-testing foods is going to be pretty subjective. So, even though we're lifelong Panda Express fans, we tried to leave personal preference out of it. Instead, we focused on a few key factors when ranking the foods. First, the texture and taste. If the flavors of a dish are bland, or if the meat is chewy and the texture unpleasant, then it's going to rank pretty low. Next, we considered the quality of the ingredients and how well the dish lived up to its name. Was there plenty of broccoli in the Broccoli Beef? Was the SweetFire Chicken Breast actually spicy? With this framework in hand, we were ready to wok.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.