Restaurant of the Week: Panda Inn

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Panda Inn, 3223 E. Centrelake Drive (at Guasti), Ontario

Panda Inn, an outpost of the small Pasadena-based chain that also owns Panda Express, opened in 1992 in Ontario in what was then the hinterlands. But we had an airport. The location, only yards from the 10 Freeway, was renovated in 2013, the subject of one of my columns. I’ve dined at this Panda several times over the years with groups of friends. I had dinner there last month with a friend and figured I might as well memorialize it here.

Panda is a little more modern inside now. They knocked down a wall to the bar, making it more accessible, and it has more TVs. And the dining rooms are more stylish and colorful with elements like decorative bird cages.

The menus are updated too, although I don’t remember enough about the old menus to gauge how much it’s changed. Panda is still Americanized, as perhaps you must be to fill an enormous restaurant in Ontario, and orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, and fried egg rolls remain on the menu.

But they do a good job. My friend got kon pao chicken ($14), pork fried rice ($10) and braised string beans ($7.75). A creature of habit, she orders those same dishes at any Chinese restaurant she visits. She likes Panda’s versions best, though. I got steamed pork dumplings ($6.25) and wok-fried scallops on a bed of spinach ($19.25). Pretty good.

All the food came out quickly, except my dumplings, which arrived 10 minutes after everything else.

The waiter was exceptionally friendly. Celebrating mutual March birthdays, we got birthday ice cream and a song from three servers. And of course, Panda’s signature foil-wrapped fortune cookies dipped in white chocolate.

Overall, it was a pleasant meal in nice surroundings. Leaving our dining room for the men’s room, my way was momentarily blocked by a party of four taking a selfie. “The arches,” one explained apologetically. Ah, yes, the arches: The long hallway got five arches as part of the renovation, and it does make for a neat, almost science fictional sight.

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  • Carl Knecht

    Two weeks of two chain restaurants… At least they are more IE unique restaurants and not, I don’t know, Applebee’s. *please don’t let next week be Applebee’s please don’t let next week be Applebee’s*

    • davidallen909

      Carl, your prayers will be answered next week when I feature Applebee’s. Er, that IS what you just asked for, right?

  • SAWZ

    I have eaten with a big group, family birthday, once each, at Panda Inn and PF Changs. The key is to have one person in the group order the dishes, with something for everyone, and then everyone digs in. Both these restaurants are similar–good food, and good service. The difference at the time I was there, in the last couple years–the portions at PI were much larger and there was loads of food to take home–nothing left from PF Changs. Either way, you can’t go wrong if you want, “delicious”. (My favorite is honey-walnut shrimp. According to my grand daughter who ordered at PI–there is something you need to know about what dressing to have on the Chinese Chicken Salad.)

    Dont despair, Carl. Applebee’s has come a long way on its menu choices in the last few years–but they have disturbed me a little by canceling out their Weight Watchers meals. The atmosphere is good, service is good, and the best thing at the end is their sundae shooters–extra cost of course.

  • Theodore Melendez

    They could have fancy er plates