REVIEW: Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs

Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs

Panda Express’ Chinese Spare Ribs are Andy Kao’s swan song.

Who’s Andy Kao?

He’s a man you should hug if you’re ever fortunate enough to meet him because he invented Panda Express’ wonderful Orange Chicken, which for some of you is the only reason why you go to Panda Express. After decades as Panda’s executive chef, Mr. Kao is retiring this year. But he’s leaving us with Chinese Spare Ribs, an entree that’s almost as good as his Orange Chicken.

Panda Express’ Chinese Spare Ribs are St. Louis cut and slow-cooked for five hours. Then they’re wok-fired in Panda Express’ Chinese BBQ sauce that’s made up of sesame oil, mirin, garlic, red chili bean paste, and dried red chili flakes.

I ordered two servings and was given 14 pieces of various sizes. Most of them were somewhere between two to three inches long. Some pieces had a layer of fat, about half had most or all of their meat on them, and others had half of their meat missing. This got me thinking that these ribs were so tender that the meat easily falls off the bone.

Silly me. It’s fast food, not some Kansas City barbecue place.

The meat does cleanly come off the bone and its easy to chew, but it doesn’t melt off the bone or in my mouth. But the ribs I received weren’t straight from the wok, and I don’t know how long they were sitting in their serving trays, so they might be tenderer right from the wok.

Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs 2

The Chinese BBQ sauce that coats the ribs was inspired by Char Siu, which is a traditional Chinese barbecued pork. It’s sweet with a mild chili pepper spiciness. It does taste like Char Siu, but spicier. The sauce isn’t messy and it helps give the ribs a wonderful caramelized exterior with a few crispy edges. I really like it, but I’m not surprised because Panda Express is great at sweet and slightly spicy sauces, like those on their Orange Chicken, Sweetfire Chicken Breast, and Beijing Beef.

There aren’t a lot of bone-in ribs in fast food history. No, I’m not counting the McDonald’s McRib and its rib-shaped pork patty. In 2010, Burger King offered their Fire-Grilled Ribs, but they were pricey and not good. Panda’s Chinese Spare Ribs are more expensive than most of their regular items. They have an additional $1.50 charge to them, just like Panda’s entrees that use premium ingredients, like shrimp or Angus beef.

Paying that additional charge is something I’m used to, but it feels different with these ribs. With the shrimp and Angus steak, everything is consumed. But with these ribs, most of the weight of each serving comes from the bones. Bones that I can’t eat. So it sort of feels like I’m not getting my money’s worth.

But, DAMN, they’re the best bone-in fast food ribs I’ve ever had. Granted, they are the only bone-in fast food ribs I’ve ever had. But they’re tasty and tender enough that they make me want to give Andy Kao a hug.

(Nutrition Facts – 370 calories, 25 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 90 milligrams of cholesterol, 740 milligrams of sodium, 7 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar, 1 gram of fiber and 28 grams of protein.)

Item: Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs
Purchased Price: $8.20 + $3.00 upcharge for two servings
Size: 1 plate with two entrees
Purchased at: Panda Express
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: The best bone-in fast food ribs I’ve ever had. They look really good. Nice sweet and spicy sauce. Meat cleanly comes off the bone. Orange chicken.
Cons: $1.50 additional charge for each serving. Some pieces were missing meat. Giggling whenever I type bone-in.

QUICK REVIEW: Panda Express Shiitake Kale Chicken Breast

Panda Express Shiitake Kale Chicken Breast

Purchased Price: $7.89 (2-entree plate)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Panda Express
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Panda Express’ healthiest chicken entree (lowest in fat, saturated fat, sodium), so if I feel guilty about getting Orange Chicken, I’ll feel less so if I order this as my second entree. Tender chicken. So much broccoli that they should’ve called it Broccoli Lovers Shiitake Kale Chicken Breast. If you drink too many smoothies and salads with kale, here’s a different way you can consume kale.
Cons: The gingery sauce didn’t really excite my taste buds. It has less sodium than most Panda Express entrees, but the sauce also has a really salty flavor, which made my taste buds a bit irritated. Shiitake mushrooms don’t bring anything to the flavor table. A slightly embarrassing amount of kale; I can get more kale for $1 at a farmer’s market when it’s closing.

Nutrition Facts: 170 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 570 milligrams of sodium, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber, and 14 grams of protein.

QUICK REVIEW: Panda Express Orange Chicken with Bacon

Panda Express Orange Chicken with Bacon

Purchased Price: $7.89 for 2-entree plate, plus 50 cent upcharge
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Panda Express
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Does bacon make Panda Express’ Orange Chicken better? Yes. Applewood-smoked bacon pieces are thick and their smoky and salty flavor goes well with the sweet orange sauce. I received more pieces of bacon than pieces of chicken (your servings may vary). Orange Chicken exterior remains slightly crispy even after being drenched with sauce and sitting in a tray for a while.
Cons: 50 cent upcharge for it. Its color is lighter than their Orange Chicken and it has a slightly milder flavor than their regular Orange Chicken, but the chicken gets easily stuck between my molars like their Orange Chicken. Panda Express says it’s spicy, but I’ve never considered their Orange Chicken to be spicy. Has almost double the sodium and saturated fat than regular Orange Chicken. Bacon not crispy, but what should I expect for bacon that’s been drenched with sauce and sitting in a tray for a while.

Nutrition Facts: 510 calories, 240 calories from fat, 27 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 75 milligrams of cholesterol, 1020 milligrams of sodium, 46 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of sugar, 0 grams of fiber, and 21 grams of protein.

QUICK REVIEW: Panda Express Golden Szechuan Fish

Panda Express Golden Szechuan Fish

Purchased Price: $9.57 (2-entree plate with premium)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Panda Express
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: It’s Panda Express’ first fish product that’s been rolled out nationwide (They’ve been testing other fish dishes over the past few years). Tender, flaky fish with a pleasant fishy flavor. Sugar peas were crispy. Made with 100 percent wild-caught North Pacific Cod. Edges of battered fish were still crispy even though it was sitting in sauce on the drive home.
Cons: Having to pay a $1.25 premium for it; doesn’t taste like it’s worth the additional cost. Szechuan sauce tastes watered down and is more spicy than flavorful. The fish itself has a stronger flavor than the sauce. Ugh…Enough with the red bell peppers; it seems like it’s in 75 percent of Panda’s entrees.

Panda Express Golden Szechuan Fish Closeup

Nutrition Facts: 320 calories, 140 calories from fat, 15 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 450 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, and 14 grams of protein.

QUICK REVIEW: Panda Express Honey Sesame Chicken Breast

Panda Express Honey Sesame Chicken Breast

Purchased Price: $7.89 (2-entree meal)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Panda Express
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Nice mild, sweet honey flavor with a little bit of sesame. Crispy exterior on the chicken breast strips. Great replacement if they’ve run out of Orange Chicken or Sweetfire Chicken Breast, or if you’re sick of Orange Chicken or Sweetfire Chicken Breast. Not as cloying as Orange Chicken.
Cons: The vegetables weaken the flavor of the entree; the sauce’s flavor doesn’t seem to stick to the vegetables. Some of the chicken breast strips were too thin and the chicken in them were dried out. Yellow bell pepper were probably included for their color. I thought the string beans were asparagus.

Nutrition Facts: 5.3 oz – 420 calories 200 calories from fat, 22 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 480 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 19 grams of sugar, and 16 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Panda Express Shanghai Angus Steak

Panda Express Shanghai Angus Steak

With menu items like Beijing Beef and their new Shanghai Angus Steak, it’s safe to say Panda Express likes using alliteration and Chinese locations in their entree names, so I’m hoping the next item that pops up on Panda’s menu is Canton Chicken Feet.

If you’re a Chinese cuisine expert, or read Wikipedia entries about Chinese cuisine for 15 minutes, you would know Shanghai is not known at all for steak. Instead, Shanghai, one of the most populated cities in the world, is known for two other foods that begin with the letter S: seafood and stinky tofu. While I could see Shanghai Shrimp being served at Panda Express, I don’t think most American palates and olfactory organs could handle stinky tofu.

But back to Panda Express’ new Shanghai Angus Steak, which consists of thick slices of Angus Top Sirloin marinated with Asian seasonings, asparagus, mushrooms, and Panda’s new zesty Asian steak sauce.

PanEx wasn’t kidding when they said on their website that this entree has “thick cut slices” of Angus steak. (Yes, I’m going to start calling Panda Express, PanEx, like I call American Express, AmEx. Be one of the cool kids and do the same.) Look at the photo above. Then look at the photo below. Some of those chunks are the size of baby limbs.

Baby limbs!

Panda Express Shanghai Angus Steak Closeup

And they’re also as tender as I imagine baby limbs to be. Occasionally, there was some connective tissue or something else, which made part of the meat a little tough, but 98 percent of the time the thick steak slices were easy to chew. The Angus steak also has a nice flavor that wasn’t overwhelmed by the dish’s sauce, which I’ll talk more about in a moment.

The mushroom slices were also substantial. Their size made me wonder if any Smurfs are now homeless. As for the asparagus, the stalks were chopped into one inch pieces, but there weren’t any asparagus tips in the two Shanghai Angus Steak servings I purchased. The “zesty Asian steak sauce” tastes like a light teriyaki sauce with a slight kick at the back end. I could’ve done without the zesty part, but the rest of the sauce was pleasant and, again, it didn’t drown the flavor of the steak.

The Shanghai Angus Steak isn’t as tasty as PanEx’s Beijing Beef, but it’s significantly healthier. A serving of Beijing Beef has 690 calories, 40 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, and 890 milligrams of sodium, while a serving of Shanghai Angus Steak has 220 calories, 7 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 910 milligrams of sodium.

Just like when you order a shrimp entree at PanEx, you have to pay an extra dollar for the Shanghai Angus Steak. Is it worth it? I say yes.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 serving – 220 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 910 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 13 grams of sugar, and 21 grams of protein.)

Item: Panda Express Shanghai Angus Steak
Price: $9.69 (2-entree plate)
Size: 2-entree plate
Purchased at: Panda Express
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Baby limb-sized slices of Angus steak. Huge mushrooms. Tender steak. Pleasant Asian steak sauce. One of the healthier items on the menu. Good source of protein. Calling Panda Express, PanEx.
Cons: Not as tasty as Beijing Beef. Zesty part of sauce seemed unnecessary. Charging an extra dollar per serving. Around for a limited time. Not as tasty as Orange Chicken. Stinky tofu. Homeless Smurfs.