So, I had to get my local restaurant dining out of the way early this week. Last night was the Ladies’ Christmas Dinner at my church so I knew there was no way I was eating out for lunch without having to do the rubber band trick on my pants by the end of the night (it works for non-pregnant ladies too, my friends). I decorated a table, ate some delicious brisket, and may or may not have donned a hood that made me look like a sheep, black paint on my nose, and a graduation robe as a judge in the Sheeple’s Court. But I digress.
Since it was a weeknight, there was no way we were going out of Hixson for dinner. That’s just not how we do it. We are homebodies for real, guys. We flipped through our ever-shortening list of Hixson/Soddy-Daisy choices till we landed on Panda Chinese Restaurant, across from Abba’s House and next to Sick Boys Ink (our tattoo shop of choice. I’m not kidding.). It’s not the national chain Panda Express, by the way. Panda Chinese has been around forever with its Chinese food & frozen yogurt sign, but somehow neither of us has never eaten there.
We were greeted by a very friendly lady who seated us, gave us menus, and took our drink orders. She was minding the entire dining room as well as the cash register and balanced it all pretty well. There were several other tables occupied but I definitely wouldn’t call it “crowded”. Several people came in to pick up to-go orders while we were there as well. Anyway…she delivered our waters along with plates, silverware, folded napkins, and a bowl of fried wonton strips. Help me. I could eat nothing but fried wonton strips as my meal, so I was happy. What is it about this crispy little puffy fried strips of dough? They aren’t salty or sweet or anything like that but man are they delish. Love.
As is the protocol in Chinese restaurants, the menu was gigantic. We briefly considered one of the “family meals” which included soup, eggrolls, rice (fried or steamed), and two entrees to be shared, but the entree selections were limited (sweet & sour pork and garlic chicken OR beef & broccoli and shrimp with lobster sauce) and didn’t necessarily include the things that we would have chosen to order otherwise. Instead we ordered off the menu, taking no less than ten minutes to decide what to order. We skipped the soup but each ordered an eggroll, holding our breath until I cut mine in half to see if it contained pink meat, which frightens me. Beyond belief. No pink meat, just normal-colored ground pork, cabbage, and pepper fried up in an eggroll wrapper. Simple and delicious as an eggroll should be.
I decided on the cashew beef, which drew me in with the promise of mushrooms, water chestnuts, and cashews all on one plate. Sounds good to me. The meat was thinly sliced and tender, the vegetables nicely cooked. The sauce had a gravy-like consistency and didn’t taste too salty, though I will address the seasoning in a minute. The fried rice was rather plain, just some long-grain rice fried up with some egg (no carrots, peas, etc.), but tasted pretty good. It was a huge portion so I had the leftovers for lunch on Friday and really liked it better the second time around, especially since I mixed the rice into the beef mixture instead of eating it on the side.
Philip got the sweet and sour chicken since he judges Chinese restaurants on how well they do this dish. The sauce was not as thick and corn-syrupy looking as sweet and sour sauce often is, and he didn’t think it was as sweet as what is usually served in most Chinese joints. The chicken was nicely fried, the breading not as thick and doughy as you might expect, and the vegetables crisp-tender. He really liked it, although of course anything fried is rarely better the second time around.
All in all, I would say that Panda is a pretty good Thursday night Chinese experience (by the way, the total for our meal was $21.85). I’d love to try a real authentic Chinese restaurant, though, because, let’s face it, the food that we recognize at Chinese food in no way resembles what people in China actually eat, or even what the people who own/work at these restaurants cook for themselves. Perhaps I should just go in one day and ask them to cook me what they’d consider “authentic”? Anyway, back to the seasoning issue…while I didn’t think that the food tasted overly salty, I am fairly certain there was MSG in it. You can argue with me all day long that MSG has no adverse effects, and I know that there are many who believe that and that science is rather inconclusive regarding adverse effects from MSG….but I know how my body reacts and I definitely had some bloating. I liked the flavor of the food here enough to go back, for sure….but next time I’ll ask for it without MSG.
Panda Chinese Restaurant is located at 5137 Hixson Pike, Hixson, TN 37343. You can call them at 423-870-9563.