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Oct 27, 2009 06:39 AM

PF Changs now open in Cambridge - Galleria Mall

Hey Chowhounders. As a resident of East Cambridge, I was thrilled to see PF Changs was moving into the old Papa Razzi location at the Galleria Mall. Yesterday was opening day and I decided to get some takeout, fully prepared for things to be a little rusty. In truth, they totally had their act together and the food was fantastic, even to-go. A few of things I liked:

1.) There was a clear process to order food to-go at the hostess stand.

2.) Plenty of chairs for waiting on the side of the bar area.

3.) They brought the order over in a shopping basket to be reviewed, by me, prior to packing it up in the usual paper bag etc.

4.) They are offering coupons for a Free Appetizer, with all their takeout menus.

5.) In general, there was a brisk, but not frenetic quality about the restaurant. Staff wasn't tripping over one another to help people, as is so often the case at commercial restaurant openings. It looked/felt like they all knew what they were doing and what their role was.

I know there are better and more authentic Chinese/Asian places around town, but Changs is getting it done well, now right around the corner from me. I hope they can keep it up!

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  1. Blah, I would've rather kept Papa*Razzi around. PF Changs is the pits. Any place that tries to do Dan Dan noodles with spaghetti is not doing it well in my books.

    1. there are now 3 stores in like a 2-mile radius. world domination in progress?

      one of my admitted guilty pleasures is their crab rangoon though, lol.

      1. With so much good Chinese in Boston, why eat this stuff?

        Notice you did not comment about THE FOOD at all.

        4 Replies
        1. re: StriperGuy

          Smart move. I had an tremendous fight with my mother over PF Chang's once. Bless her soul, she actually likes that garbage. Most surprising is that she made her first visit to HK and the mainland in 1964, so she's no rube.

          1. re: Uncle Yabai

            just like anyplace else, i'm sure there are restaurants that cater to non-natives with dumbed down food. lol, it was also 40 years ago.

            1. re: Uncle Yabai

              Hey, we all enjoy our junk food. Even hotoynoodle talks about the crab rangoons, and I certainly have my share of cravings for McDonald's french fries. My dad, a native of HK and Southern China himself, actually enjoys the lettuce wraps when we tried PF Chang's years ago. But ask him if he'd want to eat there regularly over other places, and he'd probably pass.

              1. re: kobuta

                All the times I have been dragged to PF changs on business or being out-voted by friends I have only found two things worth the calories, high blood pressure, and diabetic shock - the lettuce wraps and the hot and sour soup. Most of everything else is the same - way too sweet and way too salty.

          2. OK. This is what I hate about this site. I have a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu in London, but can appreciate ALL kinds of food... why reply if you need to be such "haters?" Nothing better to do? Places like Changs may not be authentic at all, but if a narrow-minded American can try something new for the first time and actually enjoy it, I say well-done! There is place for restaurants like this and those that don't have anything meaningful to offer, will close, with or without all the "foodies" railing on them.

            40 Replies
            1. re: rpglancy

              I don't get what you hate about this site. Is it that others disagree with you? The nerve of them! My view: sure there's a place for restaurants like PF Chang's. But what a waste to be in East Cambridge and to eat this crap rather than the wonderful offerings nearby.

              1. re: rpglancy

                and after a long day, i seriously doubt anybody here would always choose to travel instead of picking up to-go nearby their home.

                chang's obviously knows what they are doing, with 2 existing stores that are always slamming busy and a 3rd likely to be the same. is it hong-kong good? of course not, but jeebus, exhale everybody.

                1. re: rpglancy

                  You haven't been on this site too long have you? It seems like half the people here must rag on all chains, anything too popular, too basic, too whatever. God forbid you enjoy a sandwich at Tennessee's or some equivalent type place.

                  1. re: Joanie

                    Personally, I don't poo on PFC because it is a chain, but because the glop they serve there is uniformly execrable. Robuchon is a chain. I like Robuchon.

                  2. re: rpglancy

                    I have to agree with Joanie that sadly all chains on this board seem to receive more than their fair share of vitriol. It seems that most folks would rather have seen the space remain vacant.

                    1. re: mats77

                      The space is perfect for a chain. But it should be ok if some of us choose not to eat there. I do eat at chains, but isn't it ok if I choose not to eat at PF Chang's?

                      1. re: Blumie

                        Blumie - if you have recommendations for, or another thread dedicated to, the "wonderful offerings" nearby here in East Cambridge, I would love to hear them. I work about 2 blocks away from the Galleria, and as far as I'm concerned this an absolute wasteland when it comes to dining options.

                        From what I have found, my best options are The Similans and 2nd Street Cafe. A major step down from there brings me to Skampa, Sweet Touch, Boca Grande, and the Cheesecake Factory (gasp!).

                        Beyond that I'm either going to Kendall Square or one of the seemingly endless series of sub shops in this neighborhood.

                        Please tell me I am missing some kind of hidden jewels, because I am certain that, like it or not, my coworkers will now be steering at least some of our lunches to PF Changs.

                        1. re: BJK

                          Our situations clearly are very different: I live in Mid Cambridge and am fairly mobile, so I don't feel locked in to the area immediately adjacent to the mall. Perhaps if I worked right there and had to fend for lunch every day, maybe I would end up at Chang's every once in a while. But here is a fairly comprehensive dicussion of Cambridge options that the hounds contributed in response to an inquiry I posted:


                        2. re: Blumie

                          Blumie, you can eat wherever you want and are free to post your thoughts anytime (that's what makes this board great), however when it's just a constant stream of the same people slamming chains for being chains it's not moving the discussion along and just gets boring. Instead of calling the food crap (some people do enjoy it) how about naming some of the great Asian places in East Cambridge that you like?

                          1. re: Blumie

                            I avoid chains too but it just seems like everyone jumps in with the same tired comments that we've heard 100 times before. On one hand, I agree that posting about most chains isn't necessary but on the other, someone might find something useful if the poster had a good experience. As evidenced by this thread, it sounds like you're pretty safe with the lettuce wraps at PFC. Whatever, it's the elitist attitude that gets to me and as soon as the haters saw PF Chang in the header, they should have just ignored it.

                            1. re: Joanie

                              Okay, verging on Not About Food territory here. You're right, a lot of the same criticisms and attitudes get posted every time the subject of a chain comes up.

                              But I chafe a little bit at the word "elitism". For one thing, it's used in political circles as a code word for people who are well-educated and live on the coasts, as though that's a bad thing, to distinguish them from those sturdy "real Americans" who live in flyover country, didn't get no fancy book learnin', and presumably eat at chain restaurants.

                              Chowhounds do and ought to take pride in having discriminating tastes and sensitive BS detectors. Maybe taking the same potshots at chain restaurants repeatedly isn't the best use of our time, but I don't think there's anything fundamentally wrong with the instinctive disdain for them. I'll buy the notion that they're not 100% worthless, but I do think they mostly stand for everything that Chowhounds are against: portion size over quality, a debasing of mother cuisines, the death of idiosyncrasy, and so on.

                              Maybe the attitude is born of rage. No matter how much we complain here or evangelize against them elsewhere, chains continue to proliferate to the detriment of locally-owned restaurants. So the knee-jerk reaction is perhaps more one of Houndishness with an edge of frustration or resignation rather than a self-congratulatory "Chains are so beneath me."


                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                "I don't think there's anythng fundamentally wrong with the instinctive disdain for them." Slim, as someone who writes critically about food and restaurants I seriously hope you don't believe that.

                                1. re: mats77

                                  On the contrary, I think many of us DO believe that. That is the point.

                                  1. re: StriperGuy

                                    I don't think that's a bad POV except when you write about restaurants for local publications. I would hope he wouldn't dismiss or overlook, say, the Napa Valley Grille (Providence Place Mall) because it is simply a chain. I think they have a great locally sourced menu and a good wine and cheese list.

                                    At this point I think I we have all gotten off the main point of this topic.

                                    1. re: mats77

                                      Well, that place looks like more of a mini-chain.

                                      Somewhere between mini-chain, and their 30th location, they will undoubtedly compromise their "source local" ethic, start buying a whole lot more from Sysco, start getting their soups delivered in big plastic bags, and realize that rather than hire an actual competent head chef on site they can just truck everything in from somewhere else already semi- made.

                                      Todd English has certainly already over extended, I would argue that so has Wolfgang Puck. Heck eventually Joël Robuchon may very well do so too if he keeps trying to expand his empire.

                                      Food is not spark plugs. Making 1,000 entrees is not just a case of automating the process of making one and making more. Food takes passion, care, and heck maybe even a bit of love thrown into the pot.

                                      Food don't scale.

                                      At a certain point there is inherently a disconnect between volume produced and any food I want to put in my mouth.

                                      1. re: StriperGuy

                                        "I would argue that so has Wolfgang Puck."

                                        The Wolfgang Puck pizza at the Museum of Science lunchroom would agree with you.

                                  2. re: mats77

                                    "Instinctive disdain" might not be the most apt phrase. "Disdain learned from repeated experience" is better. I don't automatically judge a place because it is a chain, and I end up trying a lot of them while traveling, for lack of alternatives.

                                    Also, I'm not really talking about multi-restaurant fine-dining empires, much as I like to bust on Todd English. I'm referring more to national casual-dining chains, which while fancier and offering table service still effectively follow the McDonald's model of mass production, national scale, and menu/concept uniformity.


                                  3. re: MC Slim JB

                                    Perhaps the issue has less to do with kneejerk chain-hatred and more to do with revival of the same complaints over and over again. I don't personally have a problem with anyone disliking chains (or any other kind of restaurant) but do wish people were a little more creative in assessing a place like P.F. Chang's. Fine, the food is deeply flawed in many of our opinions, but why do places like this do so well? As you said, MC Slim JB, why do chain restaurants proliferate despite the protests of chowhounders? I don't think it is as simple as saying that our palettes are more refined (that *would* qualify as an elitist argument, though I am not suggesting anyone has made it). I feel similarly when people summarily denounce the suburbs, in general (which is very much related to this particular issue). There must be a reason why people find T.G.I. Friday's, or California Pizza Kitchen, or even local chains like Bertucci's so appealing. I guess I would be more interested in those investigations than in hearing, again, that they are so terrible. Do people like P.F. Chang's because it offers more choice than a typical restaurant? Because it provides a 360-degree experience? Are places like this perhaps useful because they at least let more tentative diners put a toe in the water of a new cuisine (or an approximation of it)? I certainly grew up eating traditional American Chinese food and that opened my curiosity to more authentic cuisines. But many people are scared to jump fully into remotely new territory without a device that makes it more familiar and comfortable.

                                    1. re: hckybg

                                      My problem with this line of reasoning is that it effectively endorses a lowest-common-denominator mentality: if lots of people like it, it there must be something to it. Many of us run screaming from the most popular movies, music, and TV shows: why should our choice of restaurants be any different? The question of how we got to this sad state is an interesting one, but I don't think it changes the calculus of whether a restaurant is any good.

                                      The idea that chains might serve as a "gateway drug" to better restaurants is intriguing, but a few anecdotal examples I can think of don't support it. My buddy that loves The Cheesecake Factory just can't be convinced to try more interesting places. He can't abide any place where you don't "get a lot", and this pernicious notion that chains have assiduously promoted, that gargantuan portions equate to value, is a tough one to unseat.


                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        These are all interesting points. Your friend is an interesting case. I wonder why he is resistant to stepping outside Cheesecake Factory. I guess it depends on what he likes there, but if he likes dumplings, say, have you tried taking him to Gourmet Dumpling House? Or to one of Boston's better burger places if he likes their burgers? You see where I am going with this. There are certainly more chowish places that are still cheap and offer large portions, many Asian restaurants, especially, do so (for different reasons, of course, but the ends are similar).

                                        I don't think it endorses a lowest common denominator mentality to ask why something that we disdain is in fact very popular, even dominant. There is a lot to learn in a place like P.F. Changs. There was a famous book (and moment) in architectural history which you may have heard of called "Learning from Las Vegas." The architect who cowrote it used the phrase "Main Street is almost alright" in the book that preceded it. The point is self-evident even if you haven't read it. I make different choices in the movies I attend, books I read, music I listen to, and restaurants I patronize than most people in America, but I am interested in their choices. Sometimes the high brow crosses into the low and vice-versa. There is value in that and in figuring it out. Maybe a restaurant still isn't "good" by your and my standards but as people interested in food I think it is worth asking about and investigating.

                                        There is also a practical consideration, which is that people feel comfortable in the big chains for lots of reasons. When I was young, my parents--who are very adventurous eaters--sometimes took us to Applebee's or TGI Fridays when we went out. That is what we liked as little kids, and they didn't feel self conscious having a bratty kid in the room. I don't think this can be overlooked--it might be a wrong assumption on the part of the diners, but I do think a lot of families feel like they will be judged in less "popular" settings. Perhaps this is a threshold that is easily passed if introductions are made intentionally, but otherwise it is probably often easier to go somewhere with wide aisles, lots of other kids, and many choices.

                                        1. re: hckybg

                                          to begin, please do not dis my sporkie pizza from bertucci's.

                                          ok, now...

                                          chains offer consistency. your crab rangoon in boston will be exactly the same in minneapolis. the average diner does not like thinking outside the box, doesn't want to spend much and somehow feels cheated unless he cannot possibly finish his meal. i have worked in some of the city's finest restaurants for many years, yet i still get questions like "what's risotto?" (pronounced incorrectly, of course), or complaints if the beef isn't falling off the plate flintstone-style. diners from abroad almost never have food issues, intolerances or special needs, whereas most americans eat like babies, turning up their noses at new foods.

                                          when i was a kid in nyc, there were no applebee's or tgif's. nor was i allowed to be bratty in public. when i was very small, we went to a place owned by a family friend, or my parents had date night and i stayed with a sitter. do not even get me started on the insidious evil of "kids' menus," nor the abdication of parental control in restaurants.

                                          i do not think there is a problem with inherent disdain for the malling of america and the homogenization of cuisines, concurrent with the destruction of the mom and pop shop. take harvard square: anybody else remember the non-chains that used to be there, besides bartley's?

                                          popularity is no indication of quality. people see a line at mike's pastry and think "it must be good." miley cyrus has a platinum career. none of it bears much interest for me other than as evidence of the herd mentality.

                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                            You are certainly welcome to your opinions. But I don't think it is necessary to generalize that all parents have abdicated control. We were complimented many times when we were young and went to nicer restaurants for our good behavior; other times I had hissy fits when I didn't get to order what I want. Kids have their good moments and their bad. Thus I don't blame parents (or non parents) who prefer to take the easier, more predictable path (especially since many choose that path sometimes, but not all the time, and also gradually expose their children to broader horizons). I don't choose that for myself but I wouldn't condemn another for it. I do think it is interesting that you yourself admit that the sporkie is quite good (I agree) while also making pretty broad statements about the "homogenization of cuisine". You can get that sporkie in Richmond, VA, DC, Hartford, Philadelphia, etc. etc. It doesn't sound like you would complain--so obviously there is some nuance to this.

                                            The Harvard Square strawman is an old one and really not true. Notice that Chili's and TGI Fridays both failed to succeed there. Sure there is no longer a Wursthouse, Elsies, the Tasty, or any of the other old favorites. But Harvard Square is filled with independent restaurants, and far too many to name here. They certainly outweigh Dunkin Donuts and IHOP. It has definitely gone upscale, but the implication that it is filled with chains is simply untrue.

                                            By the way, I don't like Miley Cyrus, but I sure do like the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and Jay-Z.

                                            1. re: hckybg

                                              Hmmm you do have a point re Harvard Square (and the Beatles and JayZ, you can keep the Springsteen ;-)

                                              1. re: hckybg

                                                I still think Harvard Square is pretty chain-y, a combination of national chains and smaller, rather middling regional ones: Finale, Z-Square, Bertucci's, B. Good, Border Cafe, Fire + Ice, Boloco, Wagamama, Crazy Dough, Tommy Doyle's, Upper Crust, Subway, Legal Sea Food, Finagle-a-Bagle, Chipotle, Uno, Ma Soba, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, Au Bon Pain. But I agree that it's the supplanting of small indie retailers with mall stores that has done more to change its character. I miss the Tasty, but I never thought much of the Square as a dining destination. Most of my favorites there are pretty expensive fine-dining places.


                                                1. re: hckybg

                                                  "You are certainly welcome to your opinions"

                                                  thanks so much.

                                                  the distinction i guess i failed to make is that if i am in philly or baltimore, i wouldn't be having a sporkie at bertucci's or crab rangoon at pf chang's, whereas many diners seek out the familiar.

                                                  when i was a still a pre-teen, with a not very adventurous palate, i had an aunt that used to take me to holes-in-the-wall in little italy, chinatown, the lower east side, etc. she taught me how to use chopsticks, as well as to behave and order off the menu. that's exposing a kid to broader horizons as opposed to feeding them chicken fingers and popcorn shrimp 3 nights a week at various chains because mommy doesn't feel like cooking. this looks to be a generation who will grow up only to eat something white or battered and fried. blech.

                                                  this is not the thread to discuss parents and kids in restaurants, but suffice to say, plopping your kid in his high chair and sticking a portable dvd player in his face to shut him up may delight the waitstaff, but it isn't teaching the tot anything about how to behave in public, nor interaction with anybody besides a virtual tickle me elmo.

                                                  i think some on here forget we don't have the average american's perspective on food. that goes for those visiting from fly-over states as well as locals. they are not "hounds". they eat out.

                                                2. re: hotoynoodle

                                                  Well said.

                                                  The very first restaurant I ate at was a now long gone and amazing old school (non-americanized) Cantonese place in NYC. Still miss their beef with black bean sauce, hot and sour soup, and shrimp with lobster sauce...

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    There's a lot to like about Bertucci's (also Lowell). Really pretty good as chains go. However, I miss the opportunity to bean an unsuspecting patron with an errant bocce ball, as at the Davis Square original.


                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                      It's fine to judge others by your own standards--this is what criticality is all about. And it is good to have a bocce ball around to throw now and then. I do take issue with the idea that this "generation" is going to grow up eating only crap. My generation was one of the first to experience the massive chain restaurant phenomenon and a lot of us defined our palettes in opposition to that. What I am saying is that if you dismiss those who love Miley Cyrus without at least asking what it is about P.F. Chang's that fascinates or revolts, you might miss something. If I am in NY, I take my meals at the Barney Greengrasses, the Momofukus, the Tia Pols. But I almost always walk through Times Square at night, just because something about the spectacle is so darn fascinating. But I realize not everyone shares my view.

                                                      1. re: hckybg

                                                        "My generation was one of the first to experience the massive chain restaurant phenomenon and a lot of us defined our palettes in opposition to that."

                                                        the lines out the door at places like cheesecake and pf chang's do not support your position of opposition. for your palate.

                                                        please understand, i don't feel revulsion about any of this (ok, i do at the disgusting portion sizes at cheesecake factory, which are obscene), just disappointment that so few diners are willing to walk around the corner from pf chang's and eat at jumbo or peach farm. it simply would never occur to them. in fact the bare-bones atmosphere and live fish tanks would likely lead them to feel *disgust*.

                                    2. re: rpglancy

                                      I eat at chains 2-3 times a year usually when I am desperate for a quick bite.

                                      But I don't consider it chow, and don't post about it. It is what it is.

                                      Every chain that goes up is a little less business for a local eatery, a little less variety, and for me a small death for food I care about.

                                      I tend to go out of my way, WAY WAY out of my way to avoid chains.

                                      Drive around parts of the the southern U.S. some time, particularly suburbs of Atlanta or Dallas; heck even Framingham or parts of the western burbs here in Mass where there is NOTHING but chains. It is pretty bleak.

                                      When all there is are strip malls, nothing ethnic, nothing local, can't even get a piece of apple pie in a diner that is not made with sysco pre-made apple pie filling... or par baked frozen blech...

                                      There is a reason some of us pounce and flinch every time a PF Chang's opens in a space that could have held something a little more local, a little less crappy, a little more tasty.

                                      1. re: StriperGuy

                                        SG, I agree that in a perfect world I would always rather have an independent restaurant over a chain however that is not realistic. You are also correct in how lucky we are in Boston to have the dining scene that we do. I do disagree with you on your view that chains = death to food. You and I may not enjoy the food at a place like the Cheesecake Factory (was there ever a chain where one of words in the name was ever more apporpriate?) however their varied menu has opened up the minds and palates of many people who might not otherwise have tried bastardized asian or latin food.

                                        PF Chang's is a guilty pleasure of mine. Is it authentic or great? No. Do I enjoy it sometime? Yes.

                                        1. re: StriperGuy

                                          Take that back about strip malls ! Some of the best grub in the country exists in strip malls. =)

                                            1. re: Taralli

                                              Only a 'hound would know what the heck you just said. ;-)

                                            2. re: Nab

                                              Although here in the metro Boston area I think its more likely in two-three decker row houses which probably could not get a permit for a similar new mixed-use building if it didn't already exist.

                                              I have to say, I am disappointed that Wisteria couldn't make it a half mile up Cambridge Street and many of us wish something like Harvard Square was more quirky (foodwise though, its not been national chains there), but this is a mall and the only thing which is going to go into a space like that is a chain. PF Chang's didn't do in Wisteria and its not going to dent Mulan's business, so what's the big deal?

                                              1. re: Nab

                                                Point well taken. In the L.A, CA suburbs strip malls are chow heaven. And even in Cranston, RI there is some real SE Asian heaven in strip malls.

                                                That said I pity you if you are wandering in the north of Dallas / Fort Worth nexus even trying to find a decent taco (which you would think would not be that tricky.)

                                              2. re: StriperGuy

                                                Well said Striper. For a while there, I was beginning to feel a little sorry for the chains, with the mean chowhounds beating them down. But now I say let the beat down continue, because regardless of whether one can find one or two things in a chain that are pretty good sometimes, Striper's point here is important: chains are not "chow" (in the chowhound sense). Go there if you want, but don't post about it.

                                                Also, some here have said, well, chains are more convenient. If you care about this kind of stuff (and if you're on chowhound you should), then take the 2% worth of extra effort to not go to a chain! It really isn't that hard, people!

                                                That all said, I do go to chains more than 2-3 times a year. ;-) But I don't post about it. What is the point?

                                              3. re: rpglancy

                                                I would agree with rpg, even in chain restaurants one can sometimes ferret out nuggets of good food...i haven't been to this particular outpost of PF Changs, but at others I've been to, the double-fried panfried noodles were as good as any i've had in "real" Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area (if you ask PF to go light on the gravy, which they tend to overdo), the salt and pepper prawns were quite jumbo and respectable, the ma po tofu, while not traditional, had a nice smokiness and slightly crisp exterior reminiscent of good agedashi tofu. The waiters might be clueless about Chinese food and the chefs might not speak a word of Chinese, but decent food can sometimes still miraculously trickle down to the customer. The problem with chains is more one of consistency, on some days a given dish might turn out well, not so well on other days...

                                                1. re: rpglancy

                                                  Thought the point of this board was to share positive or negative experiences or opinions, and I can say my experience was definitely negative (and shared by many other eaters who've been there). Nothing to do with this being a chain; everything to do with the fact that I find their food pretty terrible the few times I've eaten there. For the most part, nothing remotely tasting particularly Asian except for their having flavor profiles like sesame, peanuts, mandarin oranges or soy sauce in the ingredients. And I do work in the area, so I have vested interest in someone bringing quality food options to this neighborhood. Sadly this isn't one of them, so I can't fake excitement for this opening nearby.

                                                  1. re: rpglancy

                                                    Much of the usefulness of this site is in participants expressing honest opinions, both negative and positive. Being steered away from something awful is just as useful to me as a recommendation for some place great.

                                                    I admit to having an anti-chain bias; I always seek out locally-owned and -operated alternatives if I can. But I am willing to be convinced that some dishes at some chains are better than mediocre, which is handy to know for those times when chains are the only option, as is the case in increasingly large swaths of the USA and Canada. But it's hard to overlook the Wal-Mart effect that chains have: they put local mom-and-pops out of business.

                                                    I find P.F. Chang's pretty thoroughly awful, and annoying to boot, with that inane "special sauce" routine. But I know plenty of people who like it. The one that galls me is the Transportation Building location, from which you can throw a rock and hit Chinatown.


                                                  2. Boy, this has been more fun than expected!