Steppin’ Out – Panda Express

Panda_Express_logo.svgEvery time I drive by WalMart on Missouri Flat Road, I remind myself that it has been a long time since I have visited Panda Express, which is at the corner of Missouri Flat and Forni roads, but accessed through the WalMart parking lot. Then, like with many things, I forget a few minutes later.

I decided to write myself a note the next time I was there and, finally, emailed Russ Salazar, who agreed to meet me there for lunch the following Tuesday.

Panda Express is sort of like a buffet, if you have not been there. Each of their many dishes which are continually being prepared in their open kitchen, is kept warm on display. You choose what you want and they dish it onto plates in front of you. Then you pay and find a table or booth where you enjoy your food (the booths are a bit tight).

They serve more than a dozen entrees from which to choose, along with appetizers and side dishes, and you can choose a bowl, one entree, two entrees or three entrees and a side for your meal. If a dish is spicy, they note that with a picture of a chile pepper; if it is lower in calories, they note that with a “Wok Smart” symbol.
They are a fast food restaurant with drive through service, and their food is good. It is prepared fresh and seasoned for the average person. Even their spicy food is not that spicy.

After looking over the menu, Russ and I decided to each try three different dishes and a different side and share.

Russ chose Beijing Beef, Broccoli Beef and his favorite, Honey Walnut Shrimp, as his entrees and fried rice as his side. I chose Kung Pao Chicken, Sweetfire Chicken Breast and String Bean Chicken as my entrees and white steamed rice as my side.

Russ then asked the same question I asked the first time I was there. “Do you have hot tea to drink with your meal?”

No they don’t. I don’t know why and the cashier didn’t either. I guess the “burned by hot coffee at McDonald’s” problem is the cause, but I am with him, I really like hot tea with Chinese food.
W

hen Russ got to the table he had Shanghai Angus Steak, a premium dish that like the Honey Walnut Shrimp, costs a little more. He told me they were out of the Broccoli Beef and rather than wait, like I did for more of the String Bean Chicken Breast to be cooked, he changed his order. I am glad he did, because it was the best dish of all of them.

We started by sharing the Honey Walnut Shrimp. Russ had a restaurant in Sacramento that was famous for this dish and wanted to compare. The shrimp was nicely cooked, but the tempura batter on them was still doughy and wet inside. The dish tasted very good, but was, in Russ’ words, “Skimpy on the walnuts.”

The Beijing Beef was crispy on the outside and pleasantly spicy. A nice dish overall.

The Shanghai Angus Steak was full of really tender beef, asparagus, onions and mushrooms and the sauce was very savory. It was the favorite of both of us.

I liked the Kung Pao Chicken, which is a mixture of chicken, peanuts and vegetables, with chile peppers for “warmth,” Russ is not big on chicken dishes, but he thought it was quite good.

We both thought the String Bean Chicken Breast was more than a bit drab and really needed more sauce and even some salt (they don’t over salt most of their dishes, which I like).

My favorite chicken dish was the Sweetfire Chicken Breast. From the name you can tell it also had some chiles in it, although not too many. We both liked the combination of the sweetness and the heat from the chiles.

Russ’ side dish, fried rice, was just okay and surprisingly had corn in it.

What can you say about steamed white rice: not much. It is usually the only thing I put soy sauce on (get packets from the cashier).

There are a lot more entrees to choose from, like Orange Chicken Grilled Teriyaki Chicken, Black Pepper Chicken, Mushroom Chicken, and usually a special dish or two.

In addition to the sides we chose, thy also have Chow Mein, Mixed Vegetables and Brown Steamed Rice.

Something we did not try was their appetizers: Chicken Egg Roll, Vegetable Spring Rolls, Cream Cheese Rangoons, Crispy Shrimp and Chicken Potstickers.

I guess I have to go back just to try several other of the dishes.

Drinks include, bottles water, juice, bottled drinks and fresh-brewed iced tea, but no hot tea.

Dining Room hours are from 10:30 until 9 daily. The Drive-Thru is open until 10.

For more information you can call (530) 626-5269 or visit on-line at pandaexpress.com.

Oh, they also do catering and you can order meals to go in those cute boxes, which, by the way, were originally designed to hold shucked oysters, not Chinese food.

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