Today I took my daughter to lunch at her favorite chain restaurant, Panda Express (783 A Street, one of *three* locations in Hayward). It was much better than I expected. For $5.50 you get your choice of fried rice or a simple chow mein, and any two of about a dozen entrees.
All the meat is tender and seems to be of decent quality.
I didn’t try the fried rice, but the chow mein has “wok hei” – the smoky aftertaste of a properly made stir-fry. The orange chicken (my daughter’s favorite) was tangy and not over-sweet; the crust was not mushy at all. The sweet and sour pork is – well, inoffensive.
I had broccoli beef and black pepper chicken. The broccoli was cut a little too large to be convenient to eat. It would have been more manageable either cut smaller or cooked a little longer. Mind you, it was delicious. The pepper chicken was aromatic with black pepper, but not hot, and strewn with slivers of onion and green pepper.
Very little of the food is prefab; we were able to see a huge glass-fronted refrigerator filled with trays of raw vegetables.
I don’t know that it’s a particularly child-friendly place: most of the chairs and tables are tall, like bar stools, which would be risky for small children. (My daughter’s an adult, so that wasn’t an issue for us.)
There are banners hung from the ceiling proclaiming “Gourmet Chinese Food.” I wouldn’t go that far, but Panda Express presses most of the Chinese-American-cooking joy buttons.