HOME > Chowhound > Chains >
What's your latest food quest? Get great advice
TELL US

P. F. Chang's -- a Chowhound perspective

Brian S Sep 3, 2007 10:06 AM

If you are lucky enough to live in New York City or Los Angeles, you probably wouldn't go to P F Chang's even if it opened a branch next door to you. But if you have to spend a lot of time in a place like Tulsa, as I did, you'll probably go there a lot.

Don't think of P F Chang's as an authentic Chinese restaurant. If you do, you will be so busy spotting errors in their preparation that you won't find time to enjoy your meal. Think of it as Chinese-inspired American food. If you do that, you will find plenty to like. Yes, some of the dishes are "dumbed down" for American tastes. Some have more sugar than they should. But many are not, even when you'd expect them to be. No gloppy sauce drowning your meat and veggies. Usually, there's only enough sauce to coat the meat. Some dishes use fermented black beans to give a strong funky flavor which I adore but which would have many a picky American eater screaming "Ewwwww" And they've even come up with a few good innovations. They marinate the beef in the American Chinese classic "beef with broccoli", yielding a richer flavor. Sometimes they char beef or lamb on a wok to give it a barbecue flavor. They add melon balls to the HK fave of shrimp with candied walnuts in mayonnaise sauce. I had lamb with cumin there a year before I found it in remote Sichuan restaurants in Queens. They even added a touich of mint, a welcome innovation. (Unfortunately, they later changed the recipe, added sugar and cut down on the cumin.) One of their best dishes is "hot fish"... fish filet pieces coated in potato starch, then gently stir-fried with snow peas with a tiny bit of a clear, tart sauce I've never found in a Chinese restaurant.

The good news about P F Chang's is that it proves that Americans are prepared to pay high prices to eat Chinese food in an elegant setting. The bad news is that you won't see a single Chinese face, either at the front of the house or in the kitchen.

www.pfchangs.com

  1. coconutgoddess Sep 24, 2007 03:23 PM

    I think that PF Changs is a good place to eat for a very large section of the population. I used to be a chef there a long time ago.. and wont eat at one anymore. (I prefer my chinese food hanging in a window with the head still on) If I never see another CHX lettuce wrap again it will be too soon. I do however like most of the menu. Authentic.. no.. good food.. sure.. over priced.. absolutely.

    One thing I have noticed with them is the lack of consistency from store to store. The location near me is not nearly as good as the one up in the city.

    coconutgoddess
    http://www.coconutgoddess.typepad.com...

    1. MSK Sep 11, 2007 09:19 PM

      I live in a county that is decidedly anti-chain. We pride ourselves on good chow with an attention to fresh ingredients from specialty locations.

      But.....there are really no outstanding Chinese restaurants. A few OK ones that people have convinced themselves are adequate because there is nothing else.

      I went to my first PF Changs in San Diego and have been excited about being in any city that has one close by. I can count 7 states and 10 different locations to my repertoire. They opened one about 20 miles away and I am always looking to plan our trips to that area to include a stop for either lunch or dinner. I will add that my extended family think I'm nuts because they have quality Chinese cuisine in their area and don't see it compare.

      Well..........they are building one in a center very near and in the center of the county. I'm dying to see if my fellow Chinese-deprived patrons will make an equal fuss. I am also curious if my fascination will sustain or was it the unattainable that was the appeal. We always want what is difficult to get!

      I'll have the ribs, lettuce cups and lemon pepper prawns while I contemplate.

      Stay tuned!

      1 Reply
      1. re: MSK
        MSK Jan 29, 2008 08:02 PM

        Well.......it's as I suspected. I waited the obligatory 2 months after opening to get them to get their act together but the highly anticipated arrival in my area is a BUST!!

        I'm so disappointed! It was truly bad! Service was negligent and seemingly overstressed even though it was early and not extremely crowded . Even my favorite standard dishes were dry, overcooked and only 2/3 the quantity we should have received.

        It's been a popular spot in the county since it opened but I can't imagine it will sustain with this kind of mediocrity.

        I guess my infatuation is over. We always want what is difficult to get!

        And....why is it impossible to get decent Chinese food in Marin??

      2. Chew on That Sep 6, 2007 12:32 PM

        I agree! P.F. Chang's is the most Americanized Chinese you can get. It's good but it just isn't quite....Chinese food. Whatever works I guess...that's the philosophy.

        1. s
          swsidejim Sep 6, 2007 07:25 AM

          Not a good option for Chinese food of any type. Over priced, and just not very good. I guess for people who do not live nerar cities with large asian populations PFC may be an option but I cant imagine anyone who lives in Chicago, New York, San Fran, etc. actually choosing to go here. I got dragged here once by some out of town clients from Mississippi, they just didnt know any better. Terrible, oversalted food at a premium price. I know I will never go back.

          When I eat Chinese food, I want the cooks, employees, and most of the customers I see eating there to be Chinese, the same scenario for when I eat Mexican food, or other foods from different countries. Just my personal preference.

          1 Reply
          1. re: swsidejim
            SweetPea914 Sep 6, 2007 07:53 AM

            As I mentioned above, I am from NYC and I do frequently tavel to Chinatown for Dim Sum, Cantonese or Shanghai cuisines. You simply can't compare PFC to a truly Asian restaurant. You are not comparing "apples to apples" so to speak. I don't think anyone thinks PFC is authentic.

          2. ArikaDawn Sep 5, 2007 04:38 AM

            I have been to PFC a few times in the past couple of months. My first visit was just after they'd opened and I was quite impressed. Since then, it seems they are already going downhill which does not bode well for a still relatively newly opened resto. After two disappointing meals in a row, I will probably not be returning. It is a shame though bc it is very conveniently located in regards to where I live and as I said I really enjoyed my first meal there.

            1. s
              Sacto_Damkier Sep 4, 2007 04:48 PM

              Gotta love the PFC threads when they come up. The biggest trouble with PFC is they are one of the biggest targets out there! For many Americans, PFC is the ultimate in Chinese food which drives many Chowhounds near insane. I like PFC and I like local stuff, but for different reasons. As much as I like my local place, it is not a fancy place for dates and impress the client/family/firends restaurant. They serve a lot of very good entrees at PFC, and I have never had a bad meal there.

              I do appreciate the summary above since it echos what has been debated before. My philosophy is to abandon any pretense about what a certain cuisine should be and just enjoy restaurants for what they are. PFC is in that 2nd Standard Deviation above-average restaurant category for Asian-style food in my book - not the best, but still pretty darn good, especially in Tulsa.

              Also, in many places, the proverbial hole-in-the-wall Chinese place either does not exist or has long ago Americanized all their food to stay in business. Only in places with high levels of Asian customers can support more authentic food.

              1. SweetPea914 Sep 3, 2007 02:42 PM

                I have said it before and I'll say it again. I actually like P.F. Changs! Although for me I see it as an alternative to the mall food court. I love the lettuce wraps, and the Mao Pao Tofu, the mongolian beef is pretty good too. I especially like their pots of tea. Yes it's "inauthentic" and the sauce they mix for you when you first sit down is a cheesy touch. However, in todays day and age when "fusion food" is so pervasive, it's just silly to use the inauthenticity (as many seem to do) as an excuse for not liking it!

                17 Replies
                1. re: SweetPea914
                  t
                  Texchef Sep 3, 2007 02:49 PM

                  Here's another thread about PFC:

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/416969

                  1. re: Texchef
                    h
                    HollyDolly Sep 4, 2007 09:47 AM

                    yes your right about no chinese faces in the place.However,I have seen chinese and other orientals at some of the local chinese buffets like China Harbour and China Seas here in San Antonio and at the regular restaurants in town.

                    1. re: HollyDolly
                      DarthEater Sep 4, 2007 12:17 PM

                      Thats because chinese people wont over pay for something they can get for better. Buffets are cheap and perhaps cheaper than PFC.

                      1. re: DarthEater
                        c
                        Chandavkl Sep 4, 2007 03:53 PM

                        Valid point. Many Chinese diners prefer bad Chinese food to any version of non-Chinese food. This is best demonstrated by the packaged tours put together in Chinatown for Chinese Americans going to such destinations like Europe and other non-Asian countries, where all the meals consist of Chinese food. Personally I have no interest in going to Spain, Switzerland or Austria to eat the local Chinese food, which in most cases is probably highly inauthentic. Yet the Chinatown based tours, as well as those organized out of China itself, uniformly stick to the all Chinese food diet. Now expensive inauthentic Chinese food is something else. That's why you will seldom see Chinese at P.F. Chang's.

                        1. re: Chandavkl
                          f
                          fara Sep 11, 2007 03:47 PM

                          I have a work colleague like that. He can't eat anything without rice but hates most of the Asian-inspired places we go to.

                          My grandparents are Italian and refuse to pay a lot of money to go out to eat. Where do they go? Macaroni Grill to order the salad and calamari or occasional simple order of something else so that they can complain about it. The ONLY other place they'll eat out is at a chinese buffet. "you get to see the food first."

                          1. re: fara
                            m
                            ML8000 Sep 11, 2007 07:27 PM

                            I give anyone over 65/depression era type a break on the only certain foods, especially people with an ethnic background that values food. That said, sometimes it defies logic but someone else paying (and not letting them see the bill) does wonders.

                            1. re: ML8000
                              f
                              fara Sep 11, 2007 09:00 PM

                              my grandfather's 90th birthday is coming up. I suppose we could call ahead to a good place and choose a pre-set menu? we don't live in the same state as them, but I could check on FL board. thanks for the inspiration :)

                              1. re: fara
                                m
                                ML8000 Sep 11, 2007 09:57 PM

                                Haha...that's the way to go, nice thinking. It doesn't really need to be that fancy. I know it's the same with my Dad. He'll drop for a Chinese restaurant but his idea of "American" food is Hometown Buffet (even if he was born in Chicago)....then you bring him somewhere nice and he surprised!

                      2. re: HollyDolly
                        Brian S Sep 5, 2007 10:54 AM

                        When I said no Chinese faces, I meant that every waiter, every chef and sous chef and kitchen employee is Caucasian or African-American or Hispanic.

                        1. re: Brian S
                          Snackish Sep 11, 2007 09:05 PM

                          So many "ethnic" restaurants in So Cal of every stripe have all-Hispanic kitchens. The front of the house may look Thai, Italian, etc but poke your head in the kitchen and it is like Guadalajara back there.

                          1. re: Snackish
                            Brian S Sep 12, 2007 08:19 AM

                            I don't think that this is true of Asian restaurants in New York, but for high end fine dining it would be hard to find a single restaurant in NY that doesn't have a Mexican or Ecuadorian line chef. Tony Bourdain wrote that he prefered them to a top CIA grad because the CIA grad can't resist tinkering with the recipes, whereas the Ecuadorian, though he might be equally talented, won't tinker without the boss's permission.

                    2. re: SweetPea914
                      e
                      Emm Sep 4, 2007 11:42 AM

                      I only went to PF Changs once, and the prices were a LOT higher than at any mall food court I've ever been in. One visit isn't enough to get a complete picture, but I thought everything tasted the same, with a kind of nasty barbecue sauce flavor. Give me some food court bourbon chicken any day and at less than half the price.

                      1. re: SweetPea914
                        s
                        shellyesq Sep 5, 2007 09:24 AM

                        SweetPea, I think we live in the same area - do you go to the P.F. Changs in White Plains? I wonder if ours is better than some of the other locations, because I've always enjoyed it too. I'd rather have chicken that looks like it came from a fresh chicken breast, rather than gristly, greasy, questionable meat that we get at your basic corner Chinese restaurant around here. If that means they're dumbing it down for my American taste, so be it.

                        1. re: shellyesq
                          SweetPea914 Sep 6, 2007 07:16 AM

                          Shellyesq- Yup, the White Plains location is the one I go to. I totally agree with you. The meat always looks like a relatively quality piece and not some unidentifiable gristly thing that you get at some "hole-in-the-wall" places. I wonder how much the quality changes from location to location? As a chain, I would imagine they would all use the same distributors, but what do I know?? Also maybe the amount of sauce changes by chef and geographical area?
                          I was first introduced to PF Changs at the Roosevelt Field Mall location (or is it by Fortunoff down the street?) by my BFF who lives on Long Island and I liked that one as well. I have never seen the gloppy/sugary sauces people talk about, maybe it's what I order?
                          Believe me, I'm all about "authentic" Asian. When living on the UES my husband and I often trekked down to Chinatown because we love the food, culture, markets, etc. However, I still like PFC for what it is.

                          To adress what Emm said above, I have never thought all the food tastes the same, in fact I find everything quite unique. Yes, the prices are much higher than the mall food court, But you are also paying for service and a restuarant vs.food that's been sitting at a kiosk all day! So, in addition to the better food, at the risk of sounding like a princess, after a day of shopping and carrying bags, pushing a stroller, etc I don't want to try to balance a tray, then find a seat at a usually dirty table. I much prefer to sit, relax and enjoy a decent meal. Unless of course I just blew my budget shopping!

                          1. re: SweetPea914
                            s
                            shellyesq Sep 7, 2007 07:03 AM

                            SweetPea, if you do go for the food court at the Westchester, check out Desert Moon Cafe. They have decent Tex-Mex (although they took the quesadilla I liked off the menu...grrrr), the entrees are made to order, and the guacamole is surprisingly tasty. But, yeah, it can be a battle to find a semi-clean table.

                            1. re: shellyesq
                              SweetPea914 Sep 7, 2007 08:16 AM

                              Thanks so much for the tip. I'll definitely check it out! I haven't been to the food court in years (probably 10) but I do remember it being cleaner at the Westchester than most!

                        2. re: SweetPea914
                          s
                          starbucksbrew Sep 19, 2007 02:08 PM

                          You raise a good point re the mall food court. For all the haters, you've gotta admit PF Chang's is way better than mall food court Chinese food.

                        3. Shaylala Sep 3, 2007 02:37 PM

                          Have you heard of Pei Wei? Supose to be a PFC knock-off. I was told that its one of the partners of PFChangs.Is it true? I like the food but the dipping sauce for the lettuce wraps are yuck.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Shaylala
                            t
                            Texchef Sep 3, 2007 02:47 PM

                            Pei Wei is the quick service version of PFC and is owned by them.

                            1. re: Texchef
                              s
                              starbucksbrew Sep 19, 2007 02:07 PM

                              PF Changs owns Pei Wei. I like PF Changs. Can't stand Pei Wei.

                          2. c
                            Chandavkl Sep 3, 2007 02:29 PM

                            Kind of like the comment I've made to good meals at Americanized Chinese restaurants, "It's good, but is it Chinese?" Quite a dilemma to be a Chinese food lover where the authentic stuff is not available--I'm not sure whether I'd suck it up and go to the best available alternative or skip it altogether. While I'm not one of those who need their daily intake of rice, it would get to me after a while. I'd probably look for the local Cantonese food outlet (amazing how these places are spread out all over the country) and order the fried rice or something that's difficult to mess up.

                            1. b
                              bulavinaka Sep 3, 2007 01:35 PM

                              Great assessment! I'm in LA and you pretty much hit the nail on the head. But this aversion to PF Chang's applies to those who for whatever reason have been lucky enough to have enjoyed great Chinese cuisine. I think the vast majority of Angelenos still prefer either the gloppy stuff or PF Chang's that (as you've mentioned) is Chinese-inspired American.

                              I don't think there's anything wrong with places like PF Chang's. I applaud any place that serves up good food, no matter if it's a chain or non-chain, authentic or inspired. Just bring on the good food, fair service and don't stick me too hard on the tab.

                              Oh yes, I forgot to mention - I always give extra regular patronage points if the business is a good community/corporate citizen...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: bulavinaka
                                Candy Sep 3, 2007 02:49 PM

                                Outback Steakhouse is a good community/corporate citizen and very giving. I applaud them for that. They have been very generous with food and volunteer hours with fund raisers for Big Brothers and Big Sisters and Casa which is a child advocacy program in the courts here. I have volunteered to go in and wait tables with their volunteer crew, the company I was with was also into the same sort of thing and having logged may hours with a tray in another time I could be trusted. But going and eating there as an option when there is so much better to choose from is just not going to happen. I will go to the fund raisers and eat the food but it is just not a place that I would choose if there were other options.

                              Show Hidden Posts