Popular Panda Express Menu Items, Ranked Worst To Best

For a long time, fast food options in America have been mostly limited to greasy burgers, french fries, more greasy burgers, and tacos. The existence of fast food chains like McDonald's and Jack in the Box has always allowed us to choose between Big Macs and Jumbo Jacks but if we wanted to branch out into other cuisines, the options were pretty limited. Then, in the late 1990s, a mall-based chain specializing in pseudo-Chinese cuisine called Panda Express opened its first drive-through restaurant, according to Panda Express. Suddenly, our fast food options were no longer quite so boxed in.

Today, you can get your Americanized Chinese food fix at a drive-through window instead of at, you know, a locally-owned American Chinese restaurant. This is great when you don't want to sift through Yelp reviews or take a chance on the Chinese buffet down the street from your hotel and your options are otherwise limited. When you eat at Panda Express, you pretty much always know what you're getting. Still, if you're not already a connoisseur of Panda's special brand of sticky cuisine, then you might wonder what menu items are worth a try and which ones you should give a pass. Well, you're in luck, because we tried the most popular items on the Panda Express menu and have ranked them here, in order of worst to best. You're welcome.

18. Super Greens

At the risk of coming off like vegetable haters, we had to put the super greens at the very bottom of our list. If you're trying to eat healthily or you just dislike having to taste anything, Panda's Super Greens is definitely a good low-calorie, reduced-carb option. It comes packed with lots of dietary fiber and a surprising amount of sodium when you consider that there does not seem to be any sauce or flavorings of any kind added to the broccoli, cabbage, and kale in this uninspired side dish. Also, we should mention that there wasn't really much kale in this dish, but that may be a bonus for the kale-averse.

Now, if you want to use the Super Greens as a canvas for whatever else you've ordered as an entree, then cool. Mixed in with an order of Orange Chicken or Beijing Beef, the Super Greens will add enough bulk to your meal that you might not miss adding brown or white rice to your bowl. But hey, kudos to Panda Express for giving diners a healthy option so we don't have to experience that "oh no" feeling when someone suggests fast food for lunch. Otherwise, you can definitely give the boring, salt-forward Super Greens a pass if you're not too fussed about eating super-healthy.

17. Honey Sesame Chicken

The Honey Sesame Chicken sure sounds like it should be delicious — honey, sesame seeds, string beans and "crisp yellow bell peppers," or so sayeth the Panda Express menu. But there was nothing crispy in the Honey Sesame Chicken we ate. The green beans were so withered that they weren't immediately identifiable as string beans, while the breading was thick, pasty, generally unpleasant, and wrapped around disappointingly small pieces of chicken.

There was nothing inherently off about the sauce, which was sweet and mild, but we were pretty disappointed by the lack of the titular sesame seeds. They really should have been front and center in a dish that literally has "sesame" in its name. There was an untoasted sesame seed or two knocking around in the sauce but the dish looked nothing like the sesame-populated photograph that advertises this entree on the Panda Express website. So if your favorite breaded meat option is not available the next time you go to Panda Express, well, look elsewhere on the menu for an appropriate substitute.

16. Kung Pao Chicken

To be fair, we were surprised that the Kung Pao Chicken was actually reasonably spicy. You probably know that Kung Pao Chicken isn't a Panda Express exclusive. This famous staple of American Chinese restaurants is popular because of its spicy kick, which usually comes from the whole red chili peppers that share real estate with fresh vegetables like zucchini and bell peppers. Panda Express's version of this dish did have some heat, though arguably not as much as you'd get from the same menu choice at a typical American Chinese restaurant.

What was surprisingly absent from Panda Express's version of Kung Pao Chicken was the red chili peppers. We even checked the website to see if maybe the restaurant's recipe didn't include them, but there they were in the photograph, just as abundant as the rest of the vegetables. So we're not really sure if we just got unlucky with our portion or if Panda Express's Kung Pao Chicken is typically skimpy on the red chili peppers. Either way, we missed them and their heat in this otherwise boring dish.

15. String Bean Chicken

Despite the fact that the string beans in this dish were much less overcooked than the string beans in our Honey Sesame Chicken, we still weren't able to give this dish a terribly high ranking. The beans had that bright green color you like to see in a well-cooked vegetable, but they weren't really crisp and neither were the onions. The sauce was also bland and unoriginal and didn't contain enough ginger flavor to warrant the ginger mention in the entree's description on Panda's website. And while we know fast food isn't really known for its stellar presentation, the chicken in this dish was sliced up so unevenly that it was almost like eating two different entrees — one that was mostly chicken and one that was mostly string beans.

As far as lower-calorie options go, the String Bean Chicken was okay. At 190 calories, you don't have to worry much about blowing your calorie budget for the day if you indulge in a small order, but Panda Express does have better-tasting low-calorie options available. We'd pass on this entree even if calorie count was at the high end of our dining concerns.

14. Mushroom Chicken

Panda's Mushroom Chicken basically just tastes like the String Bean Chicken, only with different vegetables. We ranked this one slightly above the String Bean Chicken mostly because of the mushrooms in the mix. That said, the mushrooms in this entree weren't really exceptional or anything, but they were at least plump and they did offer a slightly different texture and some umami flavor. They also did better compared to the not-as-well-cooked zucchini that makes up the other vegetable half of this dish. It's probably safe to say that you could swap the Mushroom Chicken for the String Bean Chicken or the other way around depending on how you feel about overcooked zucchini versus overcooked string beans and still have the same basic experience.

It does seem like Panda Express could have done a little more to make this entree stand out compared to the String Bean Chicken, given that they both appear to be made with the same kind of ginger soy sauce. But alas, there are no cashews or green onions or anything to give your mouth some surprise textures to keep things interesting, so if you're going to choose the mushroom chicken you might want to pair it with brown rice. That way, you'll at least have a little chew to go along with the other, less-impressive textures.

13. Eggplant Tofu

We've been ranking the vegetarian options kind of low, but it's not because we're unrepentant carnivores or we think eggplant can't ever make a great stand-in for animal protein. It's because vegetarian food has to be really well thought out to appeal to a wider audience. And let's be real, vegetarians aren't going to gobble this down simply on the basis of it being like the only entree on the menu that does not contain animal protein, so it seems like Panda Express could have really tried harder with this one.

Sadly, the Eggplant Tofu really just seems like an afterthought, like someone on the Panda Express menu design team went, "Hey, shouldn't we have something on our menu for those weirdos who don't like chicken?" and everyone else just shrugged and mumbled something about eggplant.

That said, the Eggplant Tofu isn't terrible. The sauce is sweet and just spicy enough to be interesting, but the texture of the eggplant leans towards downright unpleasant. It was mushy and a little bit oversaturated with sauce, while the firm tofu was too bland. In most vegetarian dishes, the tofu functions as a sauce delivery vehicle — let's face it, most of us don't really want to actually taste the tofu itself, just the stuff it's mixed with. Even though the red peppers were a bit of a distraction from those other less-pleasant textures, it wasn't nearly enough to overcome the many other problems this entree has.

12. Cream Cheese Rangoon

Deep-fried cream cheese in wonton wrappers are kind of a staple side dish for any American Chinese restaurant. So, it seems like they shouldn't really be hard to get right, especially if they're only one of three different side dishes on your menu. Still, the Cream Cheese Rangoons we got in our order failed in two respects. For one, they were overcooked, and they just looked, well, ugly. Instead of that nice four-petaled flower look that you can see on the Panda Express website, we got some weirdly sad and misshapen things that barely seemed like what we had ordered.

Still, these Cream Cheese Rangoons did rise higher than some of Panda's entrees mostly because we assume they aren't always overcooked. And it's true that this side was still delightfully crunchy and very complementary to the rest of the stuff we tried. Though the cream cheese filling itself was either just cream cheese or cream cheese and a smattering of other virtually undetectable ingredients, we thought the simple combination was fine given that these things also taste delicious dipped in sweet and sour sauce.

11. Honey Walnut Shrimp

Panda's Honey Walnut Shrimp got a better ranking than the first breaded offering we tried, mostly because it was not overly thick and unpleasantly mushy like the breading on the Honey Sesame Chicken. But we couldn't rank the Honey Walnut Shrimp as high as we wanted to, partly because the breading was still just a little too soft. It also lost standing because of the distinct lack of walnuts, which is really a major problem for this entree since "walnut" is right there in the name.

Now don't misunderstand us, as there was a walnut or two in the mix. But we had to take a few bites of shrimp before encountering even a single walnut, and that just wasn't okay. Still, the walnuts we did get with our shrimp (all three of them) had a nice, sweet glaze on them. Then again, that might have been a slight overkill when paired with the honey sauce. 

But the overall texture of the dish was decent and the shrimp had a nice flavor without being overwhelmingly fishy, which is actually surprisingly important in a shrimp dish. Besides the lack of walnuts, our one major complaint was that there were no vegetables. This is great if you can't stand veggies, sure, but it did make this entree somewhat uninteresting and lacking in extra texture. A few onions, at the very least, would have almost certainly lifted this entree up a spot or two in the overall ranking.

10. Fried Rice

The only reason Panda Express's fried rice does not rank a lot lower on this list is that fried rice is a pretty central part of any American Chinese meal, and the restaurant's fried rice is perfectly adequate if a little uninspired. The recipe for this side dish is pretty basic, after all. It includes the requisite scrambled eggs drifting around in white rice with some virtually undetectable soy sauce and a few peas and carrots that could have come straight out of a frozen bag of Jolly Green Giant mixed vegetables. Not bad, but not exactly something that'll knock your socks off.

On the plus side, the rice in our order had a great texture — not too wet and not too dry, which made it a nice compliment to pretty much everything else on the menu. And we've had fried rice from other restaurants that went pretty overboard on the peas and carrots, too, so the scattered few we encountered in this side dish wasn't all that bad. Furthermore, the nice thing about soy sauce flavored side dishes is you can always add more soy sauce. That is, if you remember to grab a couple of packets of the stuff when you pick up your order.

9. Broccoli Beef

For calorie counters, Broccoli Beef remains the go-to menu option when ordering from Panda Express. At just 150 calories per serving, you can pair it with brown rice for a meal that will fill you up without making you spend the rest of your day wallowing in post-indulgence regret. A downside of the Broccoli Beef is that it doesn't have a ton of flavor — it would be lovely if Panda included just a little more sauce, because we did find ourselves adding soy sauce to this entree just to give it a little bit of flavor boost.

Another thing we didn't like about the Broccoli Beef is that it's a lot of broccoli without very much beef. Also, in our order, the broccoli was a little undercooked. How undercooked your broccoli might be seems to vary from order to order, though. In the past, we've actually had Panda Broccoli Beef with broccoli that was only very slightly more cooked than the raw broccoli you might find on a crudité plate at a low-budget potluck dinner. And while we do hold "crisp" up as a standard for all vegetables, over-crisp (that is, utterly raw) is not really what you want in most hot dishes.

The best thing about Panda Express's Broccoli Beef is the beef, which is lean and surprisingly tender. And even though there isn't a lot of sauce to go around in this dish, it's not dry. We just wished there was more of it.

8. Chicken Egg Roll

The most disappointing thing about Panda Express's Chicken Egg Roll is that there's only one of them in an order. Granted, the one egg roll is considerably larger than the two Vegetable Spring Rolls you get in an order of a similar alternate appetizer, but it's still barely enough for one person and would be kind of awkward to share even if you wanted to.

We do like the Chicken Egg Roll, though, mostly because it's got a great crunch and it pairs well with the chain's sweet and sour sauce. Our main complaint was that it was really hard to actually identify the chicken — if there is any actual chicken in the filling, it's been pulverized to the point where it's hard to pick out the individual pieces from the cabbage, carrots, and green onions. All of those have seemingly been mushed together to form a pasty yet surprisingly delicious filling. If you're not too bothered with petty little concerns like "is there actually any meat in this thing," then this is a good appetizer choice. But really, if we had to choose one or the other we'd probably pass this one up in favor of the Vegetable Spring Rolls.

7. Vegetable Spring Roll

The Vegetable Spring Rolls were very nearly neck-in-neck with the Chicken Egg Roll for this spot, but we ranked them slightly higher because despite the fact that they tasted pretty much exactly like the Chicken Egg Roll. At least here we weren't searching in vain for the presence of chicken that didn't seem to be there, for obvious reasons. Also, this appetizer scored higher because there are two in an order, which means you can share with a friend. Or eat them both — we won't judge.

Supposedly, the Vegetable Spring Roll's filling consists of cabbage, celery, carrots, green onions and Chinese noodles (as opposed to the Chicken Egg Roll's filling of cabbage, carrots, green onions, and the potentially phantom chicken), but we could detect no difference between the two in either flavor or consistency. Our Chicken Egg Roll did have a flakier exterior than the Vegetable Spring Roll, but we can't be sure if that's by design or if the spring rolls just weren't cooked as long. On Panda Express's website, the two appetizers appear to have the exact same exterior and are described with the identical phrase "crispy wonton wrapper," so it's probably safe to conclude that there isn't supposed to be any external texture difference between the two.

6. Black Pepper Chicken

At first glance, the Black Pepper Chicken from Panda Express looks pretty similar to some of its other chicken-based offerings, with chunks of meat in a brown sauce and some basic vegetable components (in this case, celery and onions). But there's one distinct difference, and that is the presence of cracked black pepper, which gives the dish a certain visual interest that the other Panda Express entrees don't have. Plus, the pepper adds a nice little kick that's different from the typical chili-based heat that may linger too long on certain palates. It's not really the sort of heavy spice you'd expect to find in a typical American Chinese entree, but if you're in the habit of hogging the pepper grinder at family meals then this dish will be a slam dunk.

Having said that, some people do think excess black pepper is off-putting, and if that's you, you might want to pass on the Black Pepper Chicken. If you love the spice or are even just okay with it, then we recommend this entrée over most of Panda Express's other unbreaded chicken dishes, if only because its opposite-of-bland flavor profile is both delicious and unique. At 280 calories, it's not quite as diet-friendly as some of your other choices, but it isn't a total diet-buster, either.

5. Grilled Teriyaki Chicken

When we first opened up the little carton and actually looked at this dish we were full of questions. That's because Panda's Grilled Teriyaki Chicken is really just a lot of chopped up chicken with literally nothing else included to add flavor or texture. That's right: no vegetables, no sauce, no breading, no peanuts, just chicken. And ours didn't look anything like the Grilled Teriyaki Chicken on the Panda Express website, either, which is sliced neatly and evenly and displayed in a pretty fan shape. Instead, ours was roughly chopped into messy bits.

So why did this land relatively high in the ranking compared to some other, more complete dishes? Well, presentation isn't everything. The Grilled Teriyaki Chicken has a classic teriyaki flavor and is super moist, which is not an easy thing to accomplish with just a plain, sauceless piece of chicken breast. So, Panda Express deserves some kudos for that, if nothing else.

Even so, we weren't really sure what we were supposed to do with this stuff. The lack of any kind of sauce means it didn't work with a side of white or brown rice, and even the fried rice didn't really compliment it very well. It seems like this particular dish would actually work best as a salad topper or something similar. Alas, though, there are no salads on the Panda Express menu. But hey, maybe this entree's bold decision to go naked into the world is what makes it so appealing.

4. Wok Seared Steak and Shrimp

The Wok Seared Steak and Shrimp is one of Panda Express's latest offerings and it's also one of the better ones. Having said that, this dish does seem to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis, with four different kinds of vegetables (snap peas, red bell peppers, onions, and, rather weirdly, potatoes) plus the two different proteins as promised in the title. Think of it as the Panda Express version of surf 'n' turf.

The sauce is a little bit sweet and a little bit savory, but we were promised "crisp" snap peas and we're sorry to say that's not what we got. The peas were untrimmed so they were pointy at the ends. Plus, they were borderline grayish-green from being overcooked. 

Did we care? Not that much. While the vegetables could have done better, the steak was cooked perfectly and the shrimp was plump and juicy. Furthermore, both proteins paired beautifully with the sauce. Weirdly, we didn't really notice the potatoes which means they either weren't there in large amounts or Panda Express does something to them to make them not very flavorful. Ultimately, the Panda Express Wok Seared Steak and Shrimp is a welcome diversion from some of the old standbys on the menu and definitely a great choice if you're looking to expand your Panda Express horizons.

3. Beijing Beef

This dish was a lovely surprise and a real stand-out from just about everything else on the Panda Express menu. The battered beef is accompanied by a tasty red sauce that's both sweet and spicy. Meanwhile, the onions and red bell peppers are kind of par for the course (a couple of other Panda Express entrees include that same combo) but hey, why not enjoy them all the same? They work great with the red sauce and battered beef, so it's a good fit here even if the veggies aren't mindblowing.

The Beijing Beef does suffer from that same problem as most of the restaurant's other breaded entrees, meaning the breading just isn't super crispy. At least it's not mushy like it is on some of the lower-ranking selections. That's probably due to the nature of fast-food — by design, it's probably going to sit around a little before it gets served (in fact, we wonder if the breading is progressively mushier in proportion to how popular an item is).

We probably should mention that Beijing Beef is the highest-calorie item on the menu, so if that's a concern you can either give the Beijing Beef a pass or just pretend that you didn't notice that one serving has 470 calories. Or maybe this is the right dish to pair with the Super Greens, after all.

2. Chow Mein

We are frankly kind of surprised that one of Panda Express's side dishes ended up quite so high, too, but the Chow Mein is really quite exceptional. This comes from experience — a lot of experience — at ordering chow mein, which seems to be almost universally terrible. At other American Chinese restaurants, chow mein runs the gamut from being slimy, chewy, kind of gummy, or some combination thereof. Plus, the noodles are so long that you spend way too much time trying to wrangle them onto your fork, and therefore more time noticing how unappetizingly slimy they actually are.

Who knew that Panda Express, the fast food version of American Chinese cuisine, is the one who would end up getting chow mein right, and we mean consistently right. The texture of the noodles is always perfect — not slimy and yet not dry, either. The noodles are also short so they stay on your fork and make it into your mouth without a lot of embarrassing extra effort. Panda's Chow Mein also isn't overwhelmed by other ingredients. There's cabbage and celery, which add just enough texture to keep the dish interesting but not so much that you forget there are noodles in there somewhere. And the flavor is mild enough to make the dish a great compliment to whatever entree you're eating, without actually overwhelming it.

1. Orange Chicken

Sorry to be obvious, but the Panda Express Orange Chicken is the clear winner for the number one menu item. That might have been predictable just based on how popular the Orange Chicken is amongst the restaurant's patrons. Unlike just about every other breaded offering at Panda Express, the orange chicken actually does have a nice, crispy breading (probably due to the fact that it doesn't sit around for very long before someone orders it).

The Panda Express orange sauce is gooey and sticky with some tang and some acidic zip to keep things interesting. We've tasted similar orange chicken offerings at other places, but we haven't tasted anything significantly better. And yes, we did spend some time complaining about the lack of vegetables in the honey walnut shrimp, and it is true that the Orange Chicken also has no vegetables, but that's not so bad in light of the main protein. 

What this meal lacks in additional texture it makes up for in overwhelmingly tasty flavors. And anyway, you can pair the Orange Chicken with just about any side dish on the menu and feel happy about it, whether that's the Chow Mein, brown rice, or yes, even the Super Greens. The only thing we wish Panda's Orange Chicken had was maybe some strips of orange zest to really bring out the central flavor, but that might be an overblown expectation when you consider that for all it has to offer, Panda Express is still fast food.