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Aug 30, 2013 06:49 AM

Panda Gourmet on New York Ave?

So, just saw this very positive review in the WP. I've never heard of this place, but it sounds like it's worth a visit:

Has anyone tried it?

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  1. I had the Dan Dan Noodles and they were salty for me and there was a small pile of something very salty in the bottom of the container (after I turned it into a larger container to mix)- like garlic salt. I got these things to go. The Ma Po Tofu was good especially the tofu. The rou jia (pork) was nice, but the filling did not have enough seasoning for the "roll" or maybe would have done well with half the "roll". Nothing was very hot- spicy, but maybe it was toned down.

    The people were nice and tried to be helpful. Of course other choices might have been better.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mscoffee1

      A Chinese coworker tried several dishes there last weekend and said that they were competent, but none were particularly outstanding. He also said the item he enjoyed the most was the cumin beef "sandwich" which is apparently something associated with Chinese muslims. My coworker spoke with the chef about the relatively low heat level in the ma la and was told that after having so many dishes sent back, he defaulted to standard low heat.

      1. re: monkeyrotica

        Maybe your coworker should post on Chowhound.

    2. I went there with a group about 6 weeks ago with the intention of tasting large portions of the menu after reading Tyler Cowen's endorsement in the Marginal Revolution blog

      The dan dan noodles blew me away. I think the salty bits mscoffee1 found were salted, roasted Sichaun peppercorns which were fabulous on top of the noodles in the restaurant. I would go back for that dish alone. The liang pi noodles were also excellent and reminded me of Xi'an Famous Foods in NYC.

      I agree--the mapo is fantastic. Tons of leeks and an excellent soft tofu highlight the dish. The rou jia mou pictured in the WaPo article has about 3x the filling we had, but they were tasty. They weren't stand out, but I would eat them again. We also had the water boiled beef which was good, but the meat was slightly chewy. The big miss was the cold beef appetizer which tasted like freezer to me.

      A surprisingly good dish was ordered by the vegetarian among us. He ordered the appetizer of ginger string beans which were very tasty and a nice counterpoint to the heat. They seemed to be steamed beans with the ginger + hot oil combo you find with Chinese steamed chicken and such.

      The place attached to an unappealing Days Inn and smelled like cigarette smoke when we first walked in. The restaurant was largely empty on a weekday night, with two couples eating American Chinese food and a Chinese couple eating the dan dan noodles. Low turnover could explain the weird freezer flavor on the beef. The service was nice and they have a few beers and sodas for drinks.

      1 Reply
      1. re: oniontears

        Salted and roasted Sichuan peppercorns? I have to try those noodles!

      2. i just read that review and was intrigued.

        i guess the only thing i thought about that days inn before was that it was a little seedy.

        i wish them all success, and will make the trek out there.

        i just want to know how can one who does not speak chinese (me!) order these delicious-sounding dishes from the chinese menu there? how does this place compare to hong kong palace (other than the fact HKP does not make its own noodles, to my knowledge)?

        4 Replies
        1. re: alkapal

          You could download a copy of Pleco and buy the OCR module, and point it at the menu and read the translations. That's the route I recommend. (Actually, I recommend downloading Pleco and a stroke order teaching tool and learning to write the characters. Live OCR is a total crutch.)

          Or you could talk me or Steve or someone more knowledgeable into coming along. Or you could point and ask for translations (though that works better if you already know something about the dishes likely to be on the menu.)

          1. re: KWagle

            The best option of all would be to persuade the restaurant that making the Chinese menu available to non-Chinese would be extremely good for their business. Something similar, I believe, was done to make the Lao menu available at Bangkok Golden in Falls Church. If everyone makes the case, maybe they will get the message. I'm going to head there for the first time soon!

            1. re: mdavidf

              In Boston an enterprising Hound posted a translation of the menu at a local Sichuan restaurant, and the restaurant printed the post out and made it available to their customers (and I believe eventually used those translations to produce a complete printed menu.

              (Sadly that restaurant closed because the building was scheduled to be demolished, and they haven't found another space yet.)

          2. re: alkapal

            Frankly, the Chinese menu is not long, has pictures, and the waitstaff is quite helpful if you want to know more. They are not trying to hide the goodies from you until you crack the code. If you piece together reviews from here, Tyler Cowen, Washington Post and Yelp, it will steer you towards what you might be interested in trying and you can ask for it directly.

          3. compare this to hong kong place, anyone?

            6 Replies
            1. re: alkapal

              I have finally been to Panda Gourmet. There was a new menu with almost all Sichuan dishes and it was extensive. The restaurant itself was new and looked decent; the manager spoke fluent English, but most of the waitstaff (several who came up to our table, perhaps because they were in training) was clearly learning. On a weeknight only two other couples were there, the large place was bare, and one of the groups seemed to be a buddy of the staff.

              The food was far better than anything Chinese on the Hill and one would be very hard pressed to find anything at this level inside the District. Right now, I still wouldn't place it up there with either Hong Kong Palace (which in my book is consistently outstanding) or Joe's (at its best, including the spicy wontons). Of the four noodle dishes sampled at Panda, the cold Chendu noodles were a real standout, spicy and complex. The Dan Dan noodles were quite good, but not great, and all the noodle dishes were decent. The cumin lamb was also strong, but not at the level of HKP. Panda's vaunted northern "hamburger" dish seemed to me not such a big deal, although it was intriguingly spiced. The ma pa tofu had leeks and was also good, but came with a lot of floating oil and, as always here, not too much heat. In sum, based on this one experience I'd say Tyler Cowen's rave was a bit over the top.

              Still, it is good to report that the menu issue is solved and there is a real Sichuan place near Capitol Hill. I will definitely be back to sample many of the other dishes on the extensive menu. That is, if more people don't go--if it remains as empty as I saw it, who knows how long it can survive!

              1. re: mdavidf

                thank you for your report and comparison to HKP.

                1. re: mdavidf

                  "The food was far better than anything Chinese on the Hill"

                  well that's faint praise (smirk)

                  1. re: hill food

                    Too true, no one would argue with anything but the smirk. But I have been to Panda many times and still like HKP better for almost all non-Shaanxi dishes, including for the dan dan noodles and cumin lamb. As a footnote, right on the Hill the pan-Asian Nooshi on 8th has some dishes that are not completely terrible.

                    1. re: mdavidf

                      I agree. The shaanxi dishes are at the heart of why I would return to Panda Gourmet.

                      1. re: Steve

                        Could not disagree more with you. The cold plates are spectacular. Weather the cubed on the bone rabbit, the chicken, tripe and tongue (worlds above that at Peter Chiangs and equal to that at Grace Garden) which are all fiery, or the bean curd and celery or the enoki which are cooling and soothing, these are the best in the area.

                        The Szechuan main dishes, when you put the right protein with the right preparation are extremely good as well. The fiery pot with fish was stunning, not so much with lamb. But we have had far more major hits than the few dishes that were merely good.

              2. Tried it for the first time this weekend... and it was GREAT. In my opinion the Cumin Beef at Panda was better than the version at HKP (which I also love). The Chendu cold noodles were fantastic, as was the Mapo tofu. We like a lot of heat, and asked for everything to be made "Chinese spicy." We were absolutely satisfied with the level of spiciness.

                The staff were also very friendly and accommodating to the variety of customers in the place - some of which clearly didn't know what they were getting into... ("do you have sweet and sour shrimp?")