Panda Express Black Pepper Chicken: What To Know Before Ordering

Nestled in between an Auntie Anne's and a Dairy Queen or Orange Julius, you'll likely find a Panda Express. Offering customers an alternative to soft pretzels or a grease-soaked pizza slice, Panda Express' wide variety of Chinese-influenced dishes has made it a staple in the melting pot of the American mall food court. Over 2,000 locations are spread across the U.S., with the most Panda Expresses being found in California (via ScrapeHero). Whether it's the chain's popular orange chicken — so popular, in fact, that more than 100 million pounds of the stuff were sold in 2018 alone (via Uber Eats) — or just an egg roll, most shoppers can rely on Panda Express for some take-out after a long day of shopping.

Aside from their orange chicken, Panda Express offers a selection of other chicken dishes. One of these dishes is black pepper chicken. If you've grown tired of getting the same old orange chicken at your local Panda Express and want to try something new, you'll probably have a lot of questions. Is it good? Is it good for me? What's in it? Is it even still available?

What is Panda Express black pepper chicken?

According to the Panda Express website, the black pepper chicken is made up of "marinated chicken, celery and onions in a bold black pepper sauce." That sounds simple enough at first glance. But what exactly is in it? What makes up the marinade? What makes the black pepper sauce so "bold?" The answer may lie in several copycat recipes focusing on the black pepper chicken.

Sweet and Savory Meals' recipe claims the black pepper chicken is made with chicken thighs pan-fried in peanut oil, and then tossed in a sauce made of brown sugar, black pepper, chili powder, garlic, ginger, cornstarch, and most notably, rice wine vinegar and oyster sauce. A recipe from Dinner, then Dessert, however, doesn't call for rice wine vinegar or oyster sauce. It instead recommends soaking your chicken in a marinade of chili vinegar, cornstarch, and ginger as well as frying the chicken in canola oil rather than peanut oil.

While both recipes differ slightly, the common ingredients include a pan-fried chicken, thick-cut celery, onions, and a marinade made up of black pepper, ginger, and a chili. 

How much is Panda Express' black pepper chicken?

If you're going to Panda Express, you usually don't have to worry about spending a whole lot of money compared to other Chinese restaurants. So, how much does a serving of black pepper chicken cost?

According to Fast Food Menu Prices, Panda Express' black pepper chicken comes in three sizes: small, medium, and large. A small serving will cost you around $4.20, a medium serving will cost you $7.50, and a large serving will set you back $10.20. While paying $10 for some chicken may cause some to balk, it seems that Panda Express charges top dollar for some of their "heartier" servings, such as $13.95 for a large serving of Honey Walnut Shrimp. For comparison, you can pay $20 for a "family feast" of 3 large entrees and two large sides, only $10 more than a regular large serving of black pepper chicken.

Panda Express' prices seemed to be on the rise in 2022, owing to contemporary economic disturbances. Early on in 2022, for example, Panda Express in Boston University had to increase the prices of its bowls and plates by 50 cents, according to the University's Daily Free Press.

Is Panda Express black pepper chicken good for me?

If we're being honest, Panda Express obviously isn't something you should eat every day. This doesn't mean it's not good or something trashy by any means; it's just something you should enjoy in moderation, as with all good things. But if the black pepper chicken is just chicken, onions, and celery in a light sauce, how unhealthy could it be?

According to Fast Food Nutrition, a 6.3-ounce serving of black pepper chicken contains 280 calories, 19 grams of fat (with 3.5 grams of saturated fats), 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 15 grams of carbs, and an astounding 1,130 milligrams of sodium. While this isn't too crazy calorie-wise, it's safe to say you're getting a pretty heavy daily dose of sodium in this dish.

All things considered, Panda Express actually isn't too unhealthy when compared to other fast-casual or food court establishments. The Daily Meal claims that neither Panda Express or its suppliers allow MSG to be added to their foods. So, you can get a serving of black pepper chicken if you find yourself in the mood for it, but it's best to just keep it in moderation. 

Is black pepper chicken any good?

One of the stars of the show at Panda Express is the orange chicken, and while it has earned a spot in the hearts of many Panda Express fans, could it be that the dish tends to overshadow other poultry-focused menu items? After all, the black pepper chicken could be a hidden gem for those who like Panda Express' chicken, just as it could very well be something that most folks turn away from.

One TikTok user gave a brief review of the dish back in 2021, saying that they "wouldn't recommend it." Their critique was that the dish tasted "exactly what it sounded like," that it was simply chicken cooked in black pepper. They didn't seem to dislike the black pepper chicken too much, however, only noting that they enjoyed the Kung Pao Chicken more since it had more spice and zucchinis.

One Redditor seemed to share the same sentiment, much to the surprise of some other users. Although the original poster described the dish as having too much pepper, some were quick to defend it.

"I love mixing black pepper chicken with the chow mein (I get 1/2 veggies and 1/2 chow mein). It's like a delicious chicken chow mein," one user wrote. "Black pepper chicken by itself is not that spectacular, Beijing Beef is definitely the superior dish. But! Try the black pepper [chicken] in the chow mein ... you may like it better," they added.

Can you even get black pepper chicken?

Panda Express has black pepper chicken on its website, so it would be safe to assume that they still have it. After all, why would they have a discontinued menu item on their website? Strangely, it would seem that as of 2022, black pepper chicken is something of a rarity.

One Reddit user said that they had been told by a Panda Express employee that black pepper chicken had been discontinued. This was backed up by a claim made by another user, who noted that their store had stopped ordering ingredients to prepare the dish altogether.

But Panda Express itself has denied that black pepper chicken has been discontinued. In a response to a "devastated" customer, the company explained that black pepper chicken was a "regional dish" that could be found in certain locations across the U.S. This means that you'll have to ask around to see if your local store has black pepper chicken, or if you need to make a particular road trip this summer.

Whether or not your local Panda Express has black pepper chicken, it wouldn't hurt to take a look at some other popular Panda Express menu items.