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PF Chang's- could it actually be any good?

[note...the moderators split this discussion off from another thread, where a chowhound and his Taiwanese wife expressed fondness for PF Chang's]

Hey, I will totally cop to the fact that PF Changs (which I've never tried) might actually be great, and that I'm being a snob in knocking it before I've tried it. OTOH, I haven't tried every single menu item at Olive Garden, either. Generalization is one of the unavoidable hallmarks of chowhounding...can't get too bogged down in too many fine details...

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  1. Actually, Jim, your initial thought is correct: PF Changs is absolutely ghastly, and should be avoided at all costs. You'd be better off finding a Panda Express, it's that bad.

    And this coming from someone not philosophically opposed to chain food.

    18 Replies
    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

      Simply not true.... I challenge you to actually eat Panda Express side by side with PF Chang's, which actually possesses some refinement over the general swath of Chinamerican food.

      Jim, try the chicken lettuce wraps, which are totally inauthentic but very tasty!

      Mr Taster
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      1. re: Mr Taster

        I will admit the PF Chang is better that most buffet palaces, but not more than that. In order for them to justify charging the prices they charge, they need to have more subtle flavoring and control over the cooking techniques. That is just not there, they inevitably slightly overcook everything because they don't understand the subtle differences in flavor, degree of tenderness and texture so essential in fine Chinese cuisine. It is the Applebees of Chinese food, good enough to fool the masses but not as bad a McDonalds.

        1. re: Phaedrus

          It doesn't fool me... I've spent 2 months with my wife eating our way through China last year and several more in Taiwan and regularly eat many different styles of authentic Chinese food here in Los Angeles (hand pulled noodles, Shanghainese xiao long bao dumplings, Szechuan hot pot, Yunnan crossing the bridge noodles, Taiwanese stinky tofu, etc.) and still like several dishes at PF Chang's. Of course compared to the super cheap and highly delicious fare to be had in LA's san gabriel valley, PF Changs loses about 99% of the time (even though there's a branch about 3 minutes from my house, and the SGV is about a 30 minute drive) but my point here is simply that I feel many people summarily dismiss PF Chang's because it's inauthentic. The difference is that it is inauthentic and tasty, whereas joints like Panda express, Yang Chow here in LA and others are inauthentic and bad.

          Mr Taster
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          1. re: Mr Taster

            You miss my point. It just doesn't capture the subtleties of authentic Chinese, there fore I avoid it. If I wanted to feed at a trough I will go to a crappy place and not pay a premium.

            1. re: Phaedrus

              It seems as if you missed my point as well!

              The things I find most awful about virtually every Americanized Chinese dish is that the sauces are overly heavy and dripping in thick sweetness. The cooks at PFC have a much lighter hand with the corn syrup (or whatever it is most places use to glop up the sauce) and as a result the food is infinitely more tasty.

              It is inauthentic but it is very unfair to lump them in with Panda, Pick up Stix and the like who are happy to dish up bowls of chicken breading floating in orange goo.

              Mr Taster
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              1. re: Mr Taster

                I could not possibly care less about "authentic" versus "inauthentic." My interest is solely "tasty" versus "not tasty."

                Based on my experience, PF Chang's is firmly on the Not Tasty side.

                1. re: Mr Taster

                  I think PF Changs does it's job of appealing to the masses. I would lump it in with Olive Garden.

                  1. re: Texchef

                    I feel that this is an unfair lump.

                    While I rarely eat at chains myself, it is wholly irrational to lump all chains of any given category together, simply because it is fashionable to do so. People like to lump in Olive Garden with Buca di Beppo, for example. Now Buca is hardly haute Italian cuisine but the food is leagues above the bland stuff that OG serves up. (Granted, I haven't been to Olive garden since I was in college 13 years ago, so I have no recent experience by which to go by).

                    Mr Taster
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                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      Buca di Beppo is nasty. All their dishes taste like they combined Prego with refrigerated diced garlic. At least Olive Garden has an all-you-can-eat salad/breadstick bar.

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        Your PF Chang cook was not my PF Chang cook. Some of my foodie friends like some of the dishes at PFC, but EVERY dish my family ordered one night was totally inedible: one was way too salty, one was way undercooked, one was way overcooked, one was swimming in grease, and none had quality ingredients. I'm Chinese and don't mind "inauthentic" Chinese food (even my mom can't cook dishes exactly like my grandma did - things evolve!) However, paying a lot of $$$ for food that even my Caucasian husband thought was horrible was insult upon injury.

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          Mr. Taster, I am right there with you. I do like pf changs (for what it is). I abhor olive garden, like you, I have not been there since college, also about 12-13 years ago. I figure if I didn't like it then, I certaintly wouldn't like it now! I think many people lump chains in together and don't give them a chance. I had an argument one day with someone that tried telling me that Olive Garden was as good if not better than restaurants in Italy. I was aghast, to this day I think he was just trying to pick a fight!

                      2. re: Mr Taster

                        For what I would pay at PFC, i could get a tasty and authentic chinese meal without going to a Panda of a buffet palace, so why bother? PFC is for people who won't go the extra mile to find good Chinese food and who are impressed by the decor.

                        1. re: Phaedrus

                          Certainly PF Chang's is the kind of place that appeals to a solidly yuppie upper middle class demographic who love all the trappings of a place that feels and tastes Chinesey enough to make them feel like they're doing something exotic.

                          I haven't eaten at PF Chang's in about a year, but still I think the chicken lettuce wraps and one other dish (mongolian beef, I think) are expensive but really quite tasty. And this is coming from someone who less than a year ago was squatting on a tiny stool outside a villager's home eating barbecued yak near the border of tibet.

                          (given the choice, I would much rather eat the yak over PF Chang's mongolian beef)

                          Mr Taster
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                          1. re: Phaedrus

                            "PFC is for people who won't go the extra mile to find good Chinese food and who are impressed by the decor"

                            Maybe it's only here in the tri-state area that this is the case. But, P.F. Changs is only located at malls. No one I know goes there as a foodie destination. It's where chicks (myself included :-) ) grab lunch or dinner after a day of shopping.

                          2. re: Mr Taster

                            What really bothers me is that the sauces are made in a central kitchen somewhere, with tons of preservatives so they can be shipped across the country without refridgeration. Plus the food is cooked in huge batches and that makes it hard for a cook to focus on the quality of a single dish. You can taste the ridiculous amounts of sodium in the food and the food doesn't have a fresh taste to it. These are standard problems with chain restaurants.

                            Is it better than some of the crappy mom & pop run places? Sure, but I wouldn't go to any of those places either. If you're getting deep fried globs of goo, you're clearly not going to a very good Chinese restaurant.

                            But there are good Chinese restaurants that make everything onsite from fresh ingredients and they cook in small batches. I have found a few of these restaurants here in the bay area and would never choose a PF Changs over any of them.

                            That said, I've suffered through some pretty bad meals weeding out the bad restaurants. That's the appeal of PF Changs, you always know what you're in for.

                            1. re: Fussy Foodie

                              My boyfriend works as a manager for a PF Changs and I know for a FACT that the sauces are made in each restaurant!

                                1. re: sweetnspicy

                                  That's remarkable if it's true. Too make everything in-house and still have it taste the same at all the locations nationwide would take a great quality management system. It still doesn't taste fresh to me and has way WAY too much sodium, but I admit that the freshness thing could be psychological.

                  2. "Authentic" or not, that place is simply no good ESPECIALLY when given you can get something just as crappy at Panda Express for much less.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: mstinawu

                      Patently untrue. See my comments above.

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                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        I didn't mean to say it was authentic or not. Good food is good food and bad food is bad food. I just thought that PF Changs was bad though I've never had the chicken wraps. I'll try it if I am ever forced to go there again though. =)

                      2. re: mstinawu

                        I agree - I think all their food is way too salty and charge you too much. I think people are being sucked in because they have a nice decor and looks so 'chic'.

                      3. If I am going along for the ride with someone who really wants PF Chang's I can definitley find edible food, but for price and authenticity I definitely have local favorites. I don't mind the PF Chang's fast food off-shoot, Pei Wei. Cheaper, similar food and quick.

                        1. I have only eaten at PF Chang's twice. I eat at Panda Express more than I eat at PF Chang's, but I have stopped that habit recently. I do know a lot of people who like PF's, though. My sister and her friend used to really love the lettuce wraps.

                          1. While I've only eaten at PF Chang's maybe two or three times, I'm not going to call it outright "bad." I think a major issue with people is that they might be searching for authentic food, visit PF Chang's, and then size it up against their expectations of authenticity, and their local, possibly more authentic restaurants. This really isn't fair, as I don't think it's claiming to be tremendously authentic, and by virtue of the fact that they're a national chain, undoubtedly deliberately americanize the food, which makes a completely different "species" of food altogether. Taken for what it is, it's certainly not terrible.

                            Although I almost never go to PF Chang's, I do visit Pei Wei, their semi-self serve, faster/more casual, and significantly cheaper brand (entree are ordered at the counter, delivered to table by number, all cost around $6-$7). For me, the food is quite tasty, fresh, and reasonably priced, making it considerably better than much of the americanized chinese out there (assuming you don't mind these breed of food--don't go expecting high authenticity by any means). However, were it to cost the Chang's price of $15 +/- instead, it would certainly not be worth it.