REVIEW: Panda Express Sichuan Hot Chicken

Panda Express Sichuan Hot Chicken

Panda Express’ Sichuan Hot Chicken is its take on crispy chicken strips, which seem to be all the rage with fast food chains nowadays. The entree is breaded all-white meat chicken tossed in a spicy Sichuan peppercorn sauce and dusted with a secret spice blend.

It’s easily the crunchiest chicken item on the menu, although that texture is on the edges of the pieces where the coating is a bit thicker. The chicken within the breading of the strips I received was juicy. Of course, your results may vary because of someone who was overzealous with the wok tossing.

The sauce isn’t sticky like Orange Chicken or gloopy like what’s on mushroom chicken. Instead, it’s an oil-based sauce with the spices swimming in it. Panda’s Sichuan peppercorn sauce with the secret spice blend is savory, peppery, spicy, a smidge citrusy, and pretty darn good.

Panda Express Sichuan Hot Chicken Make it Spicy

But it’s even better when you “Make it Spicy,” which is an option you have while ordering. If you do, your chicken will get sprinkled with an extra dose of the secret spice blend, which gives the breading an ominous look and amps up the heat AND flavor. To me, the added seasoning makes the standard Sichuan Hot Chicken pieces seem kind of bland. When I order this again, I’ll definitely “Make it Spicy.”

While the word “hot” is in its name, the regular Sichuan Hot Chicken isn’t what I would call “hot.” There’s a burn that slowly builds up to a mild level, but it doesn’t have me reaching for a soothing beverage. The “Make it Spicy” pieces are noticeably hotter, but it’s still not enough to make me want to shovel Panda’s fried rice into my mouth to relieve the burning. Also, whatever heat there is doesn’t linger for long.

Panda Express Sichuan Hot Chicken Side by Side

My biggest issue with this entree deals with size. The pieces aren’t uniform. As you can see in the photo above, the ones on the left, which is a three-piece order of the standard Sichuan Hot Chicken, are dramatically smaller than the ones on the right, which is a three-piece order of the ones made spicy. Looking at those three small pieces on my styrofoam plate, I can’t help but think I’m getting ripped off a little. But if I got three of the ones on the right or more of the smaller pieces, I’d feel a bit better.

Panda Express Sichuan Hot Chicken Innard

Sichuan Hot Chicken is another yummy sauced chicken selection from Panda Express. The Sichuan peppercorn sauce and secret spice blend are tasty, but they’re not quite good enough to make this limited-time menu item Orange Chicken-tastic or Beijing Beef-abulous.

Purchased Price: $9.20 (2-entree plate)
Size: 3-piece serving
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (3 pieces) 400 calories 26 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 910 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 19 grams of protein.

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QUICK REVIEW: Panda Express Peking Pork

Panda Express Peking Pork 1

Panda Express’ new Peking Pork is everything I wish the chain’s original Sweet & Sour Pork was years ago — breaded pork, onions, and green bell peppers in a sweet and sour sauce, without hot pineapples.

Because hot pineapple is THE WORST!

But, oddly, hot acidic fruit chunks didn’t stop me from choosing the chain’s Sweet & Sour Pork when it was available. I’d just move the fruit to the side, eat the rest of the entree, and then, after they’ve cooled down, let my fortune cookie’s fortune decide their fate.

“Treat yourself to something of quality.” Trash the pineapple.

“Stop searching forever, happiness is next to you.” Eat the pineapple.

“Keep your expectations reasonable.” Trash the pineapple.

“You will find hidden treasures where least expected.” Eat the pineapple.

The Peking Pork’s breaded pork chop pieces remind me of Chicken McNuggets, but thinner. I don’t know how long the batch I ate from sat before being served to me, but the breading didn’t have a crispy texture thanks to thick, goopy sauce around each breaded piece. The pork itself is a bit dry and firmer than any of Panda Express’ chicken dishes, but it’s still easy to chew.

Panda Express Peking Pork 2

It’s been awhile since I had Panda Express’ Sweet & Sour Pork, so I don’t exactly remember what it tastes like. But I feel as if the Peking Pork’s sauce is less sour, which I don’t mind. It’s tastes great, but because it’s sweet, it kind of reminds me of other Panda Express dishes. Cutting through the sauce’s sugariness are the onions and bell peppers, which also add a bit of crunch that I wish the breading provided.

Overall, Panda Express’ Peking Pork is tasty addition to the chain’s lineup of sweet sauce dishes. Sadly, the hot pineapple-less sweet & sour pork dish I’ve always wanted from Panda Express is only available for a limited time.

Purchased Price: $10.70
Size: Large Entree Container
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (5.6 oz. serving) 400 calories, 180 calories from fat, 20 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 960 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 19 grams of sugar, 20 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Panda Express General Tso’s Chicken

Panda Express General Tso's Chicken

Who is General Tso?

Twho cares?

All I really care about is whether years of waiting for Panda Express to develop their own version of the iconic American Chinese dish was worth it. I’ve always found it odd that the fast food chain that’s responsible for introducing many Americans to some kind of Chinese food didn’t have their own version of THE dish that was specifically made in Chinese American restaurants to introduce American taste buds to Chinese food.

And I find it even odder that Panda Express, which is known for entrees that consists of crispy chicken coated a sweet and savory sauce, like Orange Chicken, SweetFire Chicken Breast, and Honey Sesame Chicken Breast, didn’t have the sweet and savory General Tso’s Chicken until now.

The Panda Express version features crispy all-white meat chicken, green beans, red and yellow bell peppers, and onions tossed with a sweet, spicy, and tangy sauce.

I feel the best way to share what I think of it is to compare it with another iconic sweet and spicy Chinese chicken dish that’s supposed to appeal to American palates — Orange Chicken.

Panda Express’ General Tso’s Chicken is like Orange Chicken’s boring cousin who was brought up in a household where he watched 30 minutes of TV per day, wasn’t allowed to drink soda, and ate lots of vegetables. Orange Chicken is the fun one that everyone loves because it’s mostly sweet, a little spicy, and it doesn’t come with lame vegetables.

While the extremely popular Panda Express entree is more sweet than savory, the chain’s General Tso’s Chicken is more savory than sweet and comes with FOUR different vegetables. I guess being that way could make it seem like a refined version of Orange Chicken.

Its sauce isn’t as slimy as what’s on Orange Chicken, but that’s probably because there’s less sugar. Along with the light sweetness, there’s also a noticeable soy sauce flavor and pepperiness. It’s a tasty sauce that I think does a great job at honoring the dish. However, there were a couple of times when I asked myself, “Why do I taste hot dog water in my mouth?” And there was a moment when its flavor reminded me of those Lay’s Chinese Szechuan Chicken Potato Chips, which I didn’t love.

Much like I’ve experienced with Orange Chicken, the breading was still a little crispy, even though it’s coated in a sauce. The chicken inside was a little dry. The bell peppers and onions also give the entree a crisp texture. My double serving of the dish was heavy on the onions, but light on the green beans.

Is Panda Express’ General Tso’s Chicken worth getting?

I want to say “Tno” just because that would make an awesome ending, but that would be a complete lie. It’s not Orange Chicken good, but I enjoyed it. So if you’re at Panda Express, Tgo ahead and try it.

(Nutrition Facts – 5.7 oz serving – 330 calories, 100 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 910 milligrams of sodium, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 15 grams of sugar, and 19 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $8.40
Size: 2-Choice Entree Plate
Purchased at: Panda Express
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Nice change of pace from Orange Chicken or SweetFire Chicken Breast. More savory than sweet sauce. Crispy breading. Crispy vegetables.
Cons: Not as good as Orange Chicken. Chicken was a little dry. Why do I taste hot dog water? Not being able to use “Tno” to end a review.

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.