Even though Panda Inn has been in Ontario for over 20 years, I have yet to step inside.
However, I was recently invited to the original Pasadena location for a taste of the chain’s special 40th anniversary menu, available now through the end of the year at all the Panda Inn locations, including Ontario.
For those of you unfamiliar with Panda Inn, it’s the full-service “big brother” of the Panda Express chain.
It was founded in Pasadena in 1973 by Andrew and Peggy Cherng (who happened to be at the restaurant that night and popped in to greet us) and Andrew’s father, Master Chef Ming-Tsai Cherng.
Panda Inn currently has six locations throughout Southern California.
For Panda Inn’s 40th anniversary, the focus is on health and longevity, and the special menu reflects that.
It’s chockablock with veggies.
Here’s a peek at what to expect:
- Blue Crab Salad: Blue crab, topped with romaine lettuce and micro rainbow greens, this salad is mostly crab. It’s also decorated with pomegranate arils and diced mango and drizzled with a sweet kumquat dressing.
- Soy Bean Vegetable Soup: Mushrooms, corn cobs, spinach, and tomatoes swimming in a creamy soy bean broth. There’s really no way to gracefully eat corn cobs in soup, however.
- Sautéed Market Fresh Vegetables with Truffle Oil: In this dish is vegetables I’ve never eaten until the 40th anniversary dinner: Lily bulbs and lotus nuts. It also contains sugar snap peas, goji berries and a variety of mushrooms.
- Prickly Peppercorn Tofu: One of my favorites of the evening. Normally I like my tofu firm, but the silken tofu in this dish was balanced perfectly by the crunch of diced water chestnuts. Spicy, but not enough to make your lips burn the rest of the night.
- 20 Vegetables Brown Fried Rice: Another favorite, despite one of the 20 vegetables being broccoli. Basil adds a delicious, almost Thai accent.
- Garlic Noodles: Probably the favorite of the table. Our version included shrimp. Yours can either be plain, or contain chicken or shrimp. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in any of the choices.
- Miso Glazed Sea Bass: The fish, cooked to perfection, rests on a cream sauce with mushrooms and edamame, and is topped with micro chives. Delicious.
- Classic Panda Inn Special: This is one of the original dishes on the menu in 1973. Whatever you’re craving, it’s here: Lobster, BBQ pork, chicken and veggies (bok choy, button mushrooms and winter bamboo), all in a wine sauce. Another favorite of the table.
In addition, there’s a 40th anniversary cocktail: Passion for Panda, made with Moonstone pear sake, fresh lime juice and passion fruit.
For the full 40th anniversary menu, click here.
If you’ve never experienced Panda Inn, now is the perfect time to go and take advantage of these special dishes.
I’m looking forward to finally making it to the Ontario location, 3223 E. Centrelake Drive, having another taste of favorites from the special menu, and sampling some of the chain’s regular menu.