Panda Express Menu Items The Staff Avoid At All Costs

There's no doubt that Panda Express is one of the most popular fast food chains around. Founded in 1983 in Glendale, California, the brand has grown into a global chain with over 2,300 locations. The restaurant is known for its Americanized Chinese cuisine, serving dishes such as Orange Chicken, Honey Walnut Shrimp, and Eggplant Tofu alongside classic accompaniments like fried rice and chow mein.

You may think that you could never tire of crispy shrimp or sweet, succulent chicken. However, it's a different story if you work at Panda Express. After trying everything on the menu 一 probably multiple times 一 employees have a lot to say about the food and it's not all good. As with every fast food service job, many Panda employees develop aversions to certain dishes after learning how to make them. Others may enjoy the food at first but eventually grow wary of it. Some workers even swear off the food altogether, blaming excessive amounts of sugar and sodium. Whatever the case, here are some particularly egregious menu items that employees avoid at all costs.

Cream cheese rangoon

The Cream Cheese Rangoon is already a polarizing item at Panda Express. Despite the name, confusion persists on whether the appetizer contains crab (it doesn't). The deep-fried wonton shells hide only cream cheese within. Still, you might want to think twice before ordering them. A customer posted a picture of their order on Reddit, pointing to what looks like dust all over the surface. A worker responded, explaining, "When we put stuff in the fryer we're supposed to shake the basket over a pan to get rid of crumbs + skim the oil and if you don't do this it will build up so it's just breading we put on the meat." Others agreed that this was likely the case, adding that the oil was probably old and in need of replacement.

Your order itself might not be fresh, either. According to one employee, "my store doesn't make them to order but they are the least popular appetizer so that's probably why." Maybe there's a reason they're not that popular. A fresh-out-of-the-fryer rangoon will always taste better than one that's been sitting under a heat lamp for hours. No one, including the workers, wants to eat old breadcrumbs or dried-out wonton shells.

Original orange chicken

The most popular item by far is the Original Orange Chicken. With many customers requesting double orders, workers are constantly preparing fresh batches to satisfy the demand. The chicken is deep-fried and then tossed in a wok with a sweet and slightly spicy orange sauce. However, for employees, the sugary entree can grow old. One worker explained, "Orange chicken doesn't taste anywhere as magical as when I used to eat it every 2 weeks before working here." While they still eat it (it's a free meal, after all), they wrote that they're sick of all the restaurant's food. The pungent smell of the vinegar alone is enough to make anyone gag.

Some employees reported loving the Orange Chicken until witnessing the high sugar content in the sauce firsthand. One worker found this revelation so off-putting that they stopped eating the dish entirely. Another employee had a similar experience. They claimed, "it takes 10 quarts of sugar to make one [double] batch of sauce not counting all the starch and sodium." They added that they will never eat at the chain again.

With 19 grams of sugar per serving, the Orange Chicken certainly packs a sweet punch. To put things into perspective, the American Heart Association recommends limiting your daily added sugar intake to 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women.

String bean chicken breast

One of the more overlooked entree items on the menu is the String Bean Chicken Breast. The wok-cooked dish consists of chicken breast, string beans, and onions, mixed with a ginger soy sauce. Many employees say that it's not very popular at their stores, with most batches going uneaten. Some locations have even replaced it with a different dish, according to employees.

Workers dislike making the entree, citing temperamental ingredients. "We all hate the chicken," wrote one employee on Reddit. "Gets the oil dirty fast and easy to burn." Burnt chicken doesn't sound appealing, but that's not all that can go wrong. Another employee wrote, "It's a pretty simple recipe but it gets really clumpy if you let the sauce set up just a second too long." They added that the dish has a limited lifespan, which creates a burden for staff who have to constantly prepare fresh batches. Clumpy, gloopy sauce is sure to ruin any meal, as is chicken that's clearly been stuck to the wok. Unless they're able to make it fresh without the above things going wrong, employees tend to avoid the dish.

Chow mein

Out of all the sides offered at Panda Express, the Chow Mein remains one of the most popular. However, many people have had bad experiences with the dish. Stir-fried with cabbage, onions, and celery, it's sometimes lacking in one thing: the noodles. After one Redditor posted a picture of their sorry-looking chow mein, a worker at the chain commented that they probably received the last of the noodles. "What happens is all the veggies go to the bottom of the serving wok," they explained. The result is a plate full of cabbage.

Others pointed out problems with quality. One employee shared that their store first microwaves the noodles in plastic bags before throwing them into the wok. But the noodles are often "microwaved into oblivion," raising questions about the safety of heating plastic beyond the recommended time. They wrote, "even if the plastic bag that the noodles are in is microwave safe, I'm pretty sure some of its chemical components goes into the noodles everytime it exceeded the 1:30 min mark." If even the employees are wary of the noodles, it may be best to skip them.

Mushroom chicken

Mushrooms are one of those foods that people either love or hate and Panda Express's Mushroom Chicken is no different. Made up of mushrooms, zucchini, and chicken and cooked in a ginger soy sauce, the wok-tossed classic is difficult to get right, according to employees. One worker wrote on Reddit, "most people who cook it at my store make it soupy and it just looks unappetizing." The consistency is supposed to be on the saucier side but definitely not soupy. We can imagine this makes the mushrooms overly soggy.

This might explain why the entree is not so popular at some locations. "It was the worst selling item at my store," said one worker. "It would sit for hours at a time." Hours-old anything doesn't sound appetizing. Others wrote that the portion sizes also tend to be smaller. Unlike the more sugary menu options, the mushrooms don't stick together as well when scooping. Since employees can only give customers one scoop per serving, Mushroom Chicken fans may leave feeling short-changed.

Grilled teriyaki chicken

Panda Express's Grilled Teriyaki Chicken is another dish that varies in quality. While slicing, grilling, and dousing chicken in teriyaki sauce sounds simple, a lot can go amiss. Grilling raw chicken requires a watchful eye, but it doesn't always get the attention it needs: "sometimes employees forget to flip it (it has to be flipped three times) and will serve a whole batch raw," a worker wrote on Reddit. Others verified that undercooked chicken reaches customers all too frequently.

On another post, a customer complained about their chicken's slimy, rubber-like texture. A Panda employee offered a possible explanation: "many people don't know that once the timer goes off it's good to let it sit another minute or two to let it fully cook." They also theorized that too much oil could have contributed to the texture problem. 

To make matters worse, the Teriyaki Chicken uses thigh meat, which contains a good deal of fat and sometimes bones. Even when grilled perfectly, the dish still isn't a staff favorite. It's just too sweet, one employee said. When asked why they still ate the Orange Chicken, they explained that the extra kick of vinegar and spiciness balance out the sauce's sweetness. ​​Nevertheless, employees tend to prefer other chicken dishes.

Fried rice

The Fried Rice at Panda Express contains all the familiar ingredients: rice, egg, peas, carrots, green onions, and soy sauce. Yet many believe that it falls short. One employee confessed that every cook prepares it differently: "we have a recipe to follow but it's not always going to be exact due to people not doing exact measurements or not washing the rice." This inconsistency can lead to bland, dry orders. Unwashed rice is a problem, too. If you skip this crucial step, the excess starch in the rice might result in a gummy texture when cooked.

The type of rice at the base of the dish is also at fault. While the restaurant's website currently lists white rice as the main ingredient, employees say this isn't always the case. In the past, the recipe has switched between calling for white rice and brown rice, with the latter being much less popular among customers and workers. Several employees recommended that customers avoid the side altogether: "you can make a better meal at home." While you can argue this is true of any fast food offering, it seems that the Fried Rice is a gamble many workers aren't willing to make.

Super greens

The Super Greens are touted as a healthier choice, consisting of broccoli, cabbage, and kale. While this low-calorie option is a good source of fiber, the veggies aren't immune to problems. Some Redditors reported a strange taste when eating the side dish. While several employees attributed this to the recipe's salt and garlic soup base, others had a more sinister explanation. "Could be Irresponsible closers letting their chemicals into the water blancher and not cleaning it after," one worker speculated. Another employee backed up this claim, adding that while they're not allowed to use chemical-based cleaning products until closing, not everyone follows this rule.

The wrong texture can also be offputting 一 there's nothing more disappointing than a limp piece of broccoli or a soggy pile of cabbage. One worker described that the veggies become soft (and disgusting) within minutes of sitting under the heat lamps. Even without the fear of chemical contamination, a strange, artificial taste and mushy texture would make anyone lose their appetite.

Broccoli beef

Broccoli Beef is another customer favorite. The simple dish consists of pieces of beef and broccoli cooked together in a wok with a ginger soy sauce. However, both customers and employees have one big complaint about the dish: there's simply too much broccoli. On a Reddit post appropriately titled "broccoli beef but the beef is silent," a customer shared a photo of their floret-heavy plate. In the comments, Panda employees jumped in to say that this was all too common. "Sad thing is that is how much beef they want us to give ... it's way not enough," said one worker. Others also expressed frustration at the portion sizes. One employee revealed they would get in trouble with their manager if they served customers extra beef and urged customers to choose a different entree.

In another thread, employees echoed this sentiment. "It's 80% Broccoli and 20% Beef," one worker explained. "If I gave you more beef the next person would get even less beef because we gave more to you." For many, the price tag fails to match the meager amount of beef per serving, leaving hungry diners disappointed. For this ratio, employees say it's just not worth it.

Black pepper angus steak

You may be tempted to try the Black Pepper Angus Steak, a premium option that promises a mix of broccoli, onions, bell peppers, and steak seared in a spicy black pepper sauce. But save your money, for workers have revealed some unsavory details about the meat at the heart of the dish. Apparently, the steak arrives at the store already cooked. "This new steak sucks it's pre-cooked and soaked in plum juice to look raw," lamented one worker, who shared a picture of the steak's box as evidence. Other employees compared the steak to eraser bits or dog food. Some also complained about the meat's disagreeable smell.

The comparisons to dog food continued on another Reddit post, where one worker also admitted to calling it "hot dog steak." While hot dogs might be a step up from dog food, this doesn't exactly boost confidence. Adding to the concerns, the steak suffers from a dry and tough texture. One worker blamed these shortcomings on the steak's pre-cooked nature, with others suggesting this makes it prone to overcooking on the wok. Repulsed by the sight, smell, and texture 一 not to mention the mystery of how long ago the meat was actually cooked 一 workers give this dish a hard pass.

Beyond orange chicken

Vegetarians everywhere rejoiced when Panda Express announced a collaboration with Beyond to deliver a plant-based version of its signature Orange Chicken. The limited menu item drew many fans, who have since expressed disappointment at the chain's failure to enshrine it as a permanent offering.

Panda employees aren't exactly mourning the Beyond Orange Chicken, however. Despite public acclaim, many workers reported that the dish just didn't sell in some regions. When the chicken was on the menu, one employee said that "it always sat at the steam table and got old and gross." The menu item received negative feedback from many who tried it, with some calling it disgusting. 

Part of this reaction might stem from difficulties in cooking the plant-based protein. One worker admitted on Reddit: "it would always stick and burn to the bottom of the pans." Others had the same experience, saying it was unpleasant to prepare. One worker was particularly bothered by the Beyond chicken's foul, cheesy smell. Employees also warned they cooked the protein in the same fryer and wok as real meat, meaning it's not even truly vegetarian or vegan. While it's a hit with some customers, the dish seems to be more trouble than it's worth.

Any food from the drive-thru

Everyone loves the convenience of a drive-thru. The ability to order, pay, and receive your food without leaving the comfort of your car is a huge win for anyone on a tight schedule. While you may associate drive-thrus with chains like McDonald's and Taco Bell, you can also enjoy this perk at many Panda Express locations. But before you get behind the wheel and head to your nearest store, you might want to hear what employees have to say about working the drive-thru.

"I work at Panda Express. If you've never been there please go inside to actually see the food. PLEASE Don't go through the drive thru," one worker implored on Reddit. This way, you can get a better idea of what you'd like and avoid holding up the drive-thru line while making your decision. Another concern is that it's impossible to visibly gauge the freshness of your favorite dishes. When it's slow, food may sit under the heat lamps for a long time. You might open your take-out at home only to discover soggy Orange Chicken. Or, you may find that you've been dealt Broccoli Beef that's more greens than meat.

Cleanliness is also an issue at some drive-thru locations. "My store is a common victim of the inspector because of people going from money to food and it's the biggest pain," confessed one worker. All things considered, your safest bet is to park your car and order inside.