Spicy chicken with a crunch, perfectly grilled vegetables and the tangy but sweet taste of sesame chicken are just some of the delicious flavors to expect at Panda Express.

The popular chain restaurant opened on Sept. 6, 2014. When you walk into Alabaster’s Panda Express, you are immediately led into a queue for a line to order food. There are little menus with options on the left side of the queue to help you decide what you would like to eat. A board with how much the different combos of food costs is behind the counter. The food is spread in a buffet manner with a sneeze guard over it where the guest can pick their meal.

There are a few options on what someone can get for a meal. The manager Daniel Chow said the most popular dish is the two entrée plate. The plate is $6.59 and includes two entrées and a side. There is also a three entrée plate for $8.08. For people who aren’t hungry for a full meal, there is a panda bowl with one entrée and one side for $5.59. There are also a la carte meals where one small side is $2.50 and one small entrée is $3.50.

When a customer decides what meal option they are choosing, they then choose a meat. Panda Express offers chicken, beef and shrimp dishes. “Orange chicken with bacon and honey sesame chicken are our best sellers,” the manager said.
The side options are vegetables, fried rice, steamed white or brown rice and chow mein. Once I finished choosing my meal, a cashier rang up my order quickly with no wait and asked if I wanted a drink.

A drink is not included in any of the meals. Drinks cost $1.59 for a small, $1.79 for a medium and $1.99 for a large.

I sat down at a booth surrounded by windows making it sunny and bright. The tables are silver with the chairs and booths a bright red. They perfectly fit the atmosphere of being relaxed but modern as well as quite comfortable.

For my meal, I chose to get grilled teriyaki chicken and kung-pao chicken with fried rice. The teriyaki chicken was cut into pieces in front of me and served with teriyaki sauce. While the chicken was flavored deliciously with a sweet and tangy teriyaki sauce, there were a few pieces with fat on it that I had to take off myself, which was not enjoyable.

The highlight of this dish was the sauce. It burst with a sweet, almost barbecue taste that left me really happy. I preferred the Kung Pao chicken, however. If you are in the mood to be adventurous and try something spicy, this is the dish for you. It is a combination of marinated diced chicken, crunchy peanuts, diced red bell peppers, green onions and sliced zucchini.

The spices really shine through on this dish. The nuts gave a crunch to the dish and provided spicy and salty flavors. It was by far the most enjoyable thing I tasted. I also got a chance to try the honey sesame chicken which tasted deliciously sweet with the honey. The sesame seeds gave it more of a salty flavor making it a perfectly balanced chicken dish.

Another good dish would be the mushroom chicken. It was mainly chicken, mushrooms and zucchini tossed in a ginger sauce. The ginger flavors shone through the dish and ignited my tongue with a tangy flavor. The vegetables were cooked to perfection. The fried rice was nothing special. It was fried rice that you could have anywhere, but I still enjoyed it.

I have to say the one reason I would prefer this restaurant over other Chinese places I have been to is the flavor of the food. All the food I tasted had different flavors that added to a delicious meal, whether it was the sweetness of the Honey Sesame chicken or the spiciness of the Kung Pao chicken. There were really no negatives I found in the food other than the pieces of fat in the chicken.

Overall, my experience at Panda Express was quite wonderful. While it was not busy at the time I went, I have seen the restaurant completely packed before to the point that there were no chairs. The prices are very reasonable for the amount of food that is served.

The employees are friendly and seem to answer any questions one has about food, which helps since there is nowhere on any of the menus explaining exactly what is in any of the foods. This is a restaurant I plan to go to any chance I get and it has become one of my favorite places to hang out with friends because I know I can get good food for a reasonable price and a great atmosphere.