Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Panda Express Food Review

General Tso's & Orange Chicken Plate with Brown Steamed Rice

Location, location, location. It's important in real estate; and it's just as important when choosing a restaurant. Unfortunately, there are only two Panda Express outlets in DC, and I chose the greater of two evils (Columbia Heights vs. L'Enfant Plaza) for my first ever visit. So what's it going to be? Merry Christmas, or Bah Humbug?

If grading on food alone, somewhere in between; but factor in the aforementioned location (and insufferable ambiance) and even Ebinizer Scrooge would have (justifiable) reasons to complain. What a shame, given the generous portions, relatively friendly service and ├╝ber-affordable prices. I ordered online for Express Pick-Up service, taking advantage of a $3 coupon in the process. That took an already reasonable price ($7.30 for two entrees & one side) to ridiculously low levels ($4.30 + tax.)

I placed my order at 1:42 PM, and was promised a pick-up time of 1:55 (only 13 minutes.) I arrived to discover no Express Pick-Up Line; but my order was still ready two minutes ahead of schedule. The employees behind the counter were friendly & upbeat (no easy task in this neighborhood) and I was able to bypass the checkout queue, since my order was prepaid. So far, no complaints.

There's a lot of tables to choose from; but sadly, all seemed to be dirty. Mine was, as was the table in front of me (which a young woman had to clean herself.) It's not easy (given the clientele, a good many of whom come in just to use the bathroom) but tables simply can't afford to have sticky/wet food on them: It's gross.

Speaking of, prepare to be entertained by the ragtag procession of customers ordering/paying for their food. I witnessed several arguments, and one potential case of bullying; and I was only there for about 10 minutes. To their credit, the employees were patient and understanding through it all. If anyone deserves hazard pay, they do.

As for the food, slightly better than 50/50. I wasn't expecting anything close to the photographs on the Panda Express website; but it managed to look fairly appetizing. Portions were large. Brown Steamed Rice took up half of my styrofoam container... but said rice was cooked unevenly, and there were at least two spoonfuls of white rice mixed in for good bad measure. Fluffy rice lovers, look elsewhere.

Dueling chickens (General Tso's & Orange) were also inconsistent. The former was downright tasty, although a lot spicier than sweet. The latter, overcooked and "hard." You could literally taste the sodium on both. Colors were nearly identical, save for a few onions and string beans amidst the Tso's flaky, all-white meat chunks. Had I ordered in house, I would have probably switched to the nicer looking Black Pepper Chicken & Shanghai Angus Steak. Eggplant Tofu looked interesting too. Perhaps at a different location.

You get a fortune cookie too. Not bad, for less than five bucks. The surroundings (at this particular location) were suspect; but I'm open to a second try with less deep frying, and hopefully some nicer fellow diners. Until then... Happy Holidays.

Atmosphere: D- (Order take away, or better yet... avoid Columbia Heights altogether.)
Chicken: C+ (The Orange was a disaster; but the General Tso's was pretty good.)
Rice: D+ (Unevenly prepared, zero fluff.)
Service: B (Admirable, and friendly under the circumstances.)
Value: B+ (Toss in the coupon, and it's practically a steal.)
Overall: C+ (You can't beat the price, but this is fast food with a "Subway" feel. Time for a do-over.)