Panda Express Honey Sesame Chicken: What To Know Before Ordering

Sure, the orange chicken at Panda Express has a loud and obvious cult following. But honey sesame chicken, its sweeter and less spicy cousin, has quietly been accumulating its own fanbase over the years. The entree includes tender strips of all-white meat, stir-fried veggies, sweet and tangy honey sesame sauce, and sesame seeds. Honey sesame chicken is now on Panda Express's official menu, but it took a unique pathway to get there. According to Delish, the entree has been around since 2013 and made random menu appearances for seven years before being promoted from limited-time status to a full-time menu position in 2020. 

A large part of why this entree hasn't gotten as much fanfare could be because honey sesame chicken is one of the few entrees at Panda Express that has zero heat. But, more on all that below. If you have a sweet tooth, the honey-infused flavors in this dish could be right up your alley. Plus, if you're looking for an entree to balance out spicier fare like Beijing beef, the honey sesame chicken is a great option. Here's everything you need to know about Panda Express's honey sesame chicken, including which side people think it pairs best with.

What is Panda Express's honey sesame chicken?

Per a Panda Express menu on Yelp, honey sesame chicken is an entree consisting of "crispy strips of white-meat chicken with veggies in a mildly sweet sauce with organic honey." A 2013 press release says it "combines thin premium chicken strips, fresh-cut string beans and crisp yellow bell peppers in a sizzling wok with a delectable sweet honey sesame sauce." It's been a fan favorite for quite some time now, and like other entrees, can be ordered with any size combo meal. Customers can also get it a la carte if they don't want sides or additional protein.

Honey sesame chicken was a big debut for Panda Express because it was one of the first sweet sauce-based entrees that incorporated sesame seeds and didn't have a spicy undertone. "Honey and sesame are two premium ingredients often used in traditional Chinese cooking," Panda Express's executive chef Andy Kao said in the press release. While Panda's beloved orange chicken is doused in a sweet and tangy sauce, it definitely has a kick to it. As current patrons know, Panda now offers other sweet-inspired dishes, like honey walnut shrimp.

When did it come out, and is it a permanent staple?

After making its grand debut in 2013 and filling the guest entree spot numerous times, honey sesame chicken was inducted into Panda Express's permanent menu in October 2020. According to Delish, the news came after Panda Express brought back the entree again in August 2020 — little did fans know, it was there to stay.

At the time, we reported that Panda Express was celebrating honey sesame chicken's permanent menu status with a year's supply of honey sesame chicken. Patrons were encouraged to enter a sweepstakes, which awarded one lucky person with a $365 Panda Express gift card. The prepaid amount wasn't a riff or play on words, but rather the properly calculated amount of 52 orders (aka one per week) of honey sesame chicken. It just so happened that the gift card amount equated to the number of days in a year.

How is it made?

Honey sesame chicken features crispy battered chicken strips and freshly cut yellow bell peppers and green beans that are simmered in a honey sesame sauce. The dish is served on top of steamed white rice (or whatever Panda Express side you prefer) and finished with a sprinkle of real sesame seeds. At least, that's what you'll find at Panda Express. Unfortunately for honey sesame fans, the franchise has not publicly released the entree's official recipe — but, there are tons of copycat recipes that demonstrate how you can make a similar version at home.

Because Panda Express's dish is both battered and fried, Moribyan's copycat recipe explains you'll need to prepare both a wet (eggs, salt, and pepper) and dry (cornstarch, flour, salt, and pepper) batter. The blog uses the same main ingredients as Panda, including the same veggies. The sesame sauce is where you'll need to pay the most attention, as there's nine different components, all with different measurements. Both the chicken and veggies are fried and stir-fried in their own pans, then they're combined and tossed in the honey sesame glaze. This recipe does require time and a lot of patience, so plan accordingly.

How does it taste?

For those who steer clear of Panda Express's spicy entrees, the honey sesame chicken may become your new go-to. YouTube food reviewer Fast Food Pit Stops assured fans that the dish has "no heat, all flavor." He specifically pointed out how the veggies "retain a little bit of crispiness," while the chicken is "nice and sweet." Combine all that with the crunch of the sesame seeds, and you've got a dish that this YouTuber definitely recommends trying out. In his opinion, it tastes best with chow mein.

The honey walnut shrimp is one of YouTuber SomethingNew's top two favorites at Panda, so he was amped to try this similarly sweet entree. "I like the composition of the green beans and the peppers," he told viewers, adding that the chicken was "crispy yet tender all in one bite." Ultimately, SomethingNew gave it a 7.5 out of 10, and noted it's now his "fourth or fifth" favorite item at Panda: "I see why Panda Express made it a permanent item on their menu. It's definitely a good addition!" 

In a shocking twist, Mashed ranked the honey sesame chicken as one of the worst entrees you can order at Panda Express. Thrillist also wasn't thrilled, and ranked it in tenth place out of 15. Maybe it was an off day? These YouTubers certainly seem to love the entree, so use your own judgment.

Is it a customer favorite?

Is honey sesame chicken a customer favorite? Pshh! The real question is: Do you know any other Panda Express entree that's gotten its own merchandise line? That's right, customers can now eat and wear honey sesame chicken. In September 2020, the American-Chinese chain announced it was launching an official merchandise collection in honor of honey sesame chicken returning to the menu for a seventh time (via Her Campus). At the time, honey sesame chicken was considered a guest entree because it was still part of Panda's rotation of limited-time entrees. 

Panda Express's Swag Shop includes tons of playful apparel including tops, hats, socks, pins, blazers, and even adult onesies themed around the chicken dish. Patrons can also purchase an orange chicken-inspired t-shirt and baby onesies with graphics of pandas, fortune cookies, and takeout boxes on them. Whether you're looking for a funny birthday present, a stocking stuffer, or just want to show off your honey sesame chicken pride, there's a lot of goodies to choose from. Apparel and accessories range from $15 to $60, with a majority of items falling between $15 and $18.

How to order it

If you've ordered from Panda Express before, you know that every entree (aka, everything apart from the appetizers and sides) can be ordered the same handful of ways. This not only makes it easy on the employees, but on you as well because it streamlines the ordering line. When building your bowl or plate, remember that Panda Express cooks its entrees ahead of time, so special requests, substitutions, and altering the spice or sweetness level is off limits.

If you're a new customer or are thinking about broadening your entree choice to something other than orange chicken, it may be helpful to peruse Panda's online menu first. There, you'll see you can order your meal as a bowl, plate, or "bigger plate." The bowl comes with the least amount of food: one side and one entree. A plate entails one side and two entrees, and a bigger plate comes with one side and three entrees. The latter may be a good option if you're sharing or want leftovers. Note that customers can double or triple up on one type of entree with the plate servings. Sides include chow mein, white rice, fried rice, and super greens; customers can even get two types of sides. Craving just the honey sesame chicken? Order it a la carte! Panda Express also offers small, medium, and large a la carte boxes for both entrees and sides.

How much does it cost?

At Panda Express, everything is on the same playing field in terms of how you order it and how much it costs. The price of your meal is determined by meal type and size (bowl, plate, or bigger plate), not your choice of entree or side. The only exception to this rule is the black pepper angus steak and honey walnut shrimp, otherwise known as "premium entrees," which have an upcharge starting at $1.25 (this may fluctuate with different sized servings).

Since menu prices differ by state and city, it's recommended to use the Panda Express store locator to calculate your meal's exact cost. This handy tool will take you to your local Panda Express's menu, and you'll also be able to see which entrees they may have run out of that day. To no one's surprise, Panda Express chains in New York City have some of the highest prices. After navigating through different city menus it appears a bowl containing honey sesame chicken costs $9.50, a plate is $11, and a bigger plate runs you $12.50. Non-New York City residents can expect to pay $1 to $2 less.

Nutritional information

Compared to other popular Panda Express entrees like Beijing beef and kung pao chicken, honey sesame chicken has a smaller serving size, but more calories — 200 more calories than kung pao chicken, to be exact. According to Panda Express's website and Fast Food Nutrition, a single 5.3-ounce serving size of honey sesame chicken has 490 calories, 22 grams of fat, and 480 milligrams of sodium, which is about a third of the American Heart Association's daily recommended intake. It's not amazing, but it could be worse. For comparison, orange chicken has 620 milligrams of sodium, and eggplant tofu has 520 milligrams.

Honey sesame chicken also packs 40 grams of carbs per serving, which can be largely attributed to the fact that the chicken is battered and fried. If you ask nutritionists and dietitians, that's a double whammy of unhealthiness. And while scrumptious, the entree only has 2 grams of fiber — quite a small amount when you consider Mayo Clinic's daily fiber recommendation for both women (21 to 25 grams) and men (30 to 38 grams). On a nutritious note, there are 16 grams of protein. Moderation is key, of course, but those seeking healthier alternatives may want to filter Panda Express's entrees by the "Wok Smart" label.