Quick service restaurants are continuing to lean into plant-based meats and vegetarian friendly options on their menu. The same goes for Panda Express, the fast casual Chinese-American chain that reintroduced orange chicken in a partnership with Beyond Meat and continues to look for new ways to incorporate more plant-based ingredients in its menu. As more consumers opt for less meat intake, this seems like a natural progression.
That being said, it’s important to note that Panda Express’s entrees and sides aren’t prepared in entirely vegan kitchens. “All dishes at Panda Express are cooked and prepped in the same kitchen with shared facilities and equipment-which may not be acceptable for guests with strict vegetarian and vegan diets,” a spokesperson for Panda Express shared. When it comes to your own diet, use your best judgment. In the meantime, here are all the entrees and sides at Panda Express that are not actively made with meat (though some of these options contain animal byproducts, like eggs and cheese).
Beyond Orange Chicken
Although this entree has yet to roll out nationwide, it’s been one of Panda Express’s most successful regional launches to date. This reimagining of Panda’s most popular entree hits all the sweet, tangy, and citrus-kissed notes-without any of the meat. It’s currently available at select locations, which can be found here, for a limited time. But with all of its popularity, we’re certain this vegetarian-friendly option will eventually become a permanent fixture on the menu.
Although eggplant tofu is not offered at every single Panda location, this is my plea to Panda Express to make this entree more widely available. Of all the vegetarian options at Panda, this one is definitely top tier. The braised eggplant is rendered soft in a bath of sticky sweet and spicy sauce. The tofu is browned and maintains a crispy edge and fluffy soft interior, whereas red bell pepper has crunch. It’s a symphony of textures and flavors that will satisfy both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
Veggie Spring Rolls
These veggie spring rolls are stuffed with a blend of shredded carrots, cabbage, celery, green onions, and translucent noodles all wrapped in a crispy egg roll shell. Dunking these spring rolls in a vat of sweet and sour sauce really brings them to life. A small order comes with two pieces and a large provides 12, so get them for just yourself or to share.
Cream Cheese Rangoons
The inside of these crispy rangoons contains cream cheese and diced scallions (no crab here!), so they’re technically vegetarian-friendly if you can get past the fact that they are fried in the same fryers as non-vegetarian items. And if you can get past that fact, drizzling them with sweet and sour sauce is delightful.
For a more nutrient dense side that will pair perfectly with anything on Panda’s entree menu, opt for the super greens. This blend of broccoli, kale, and cabbage is tossed in a garlicky soy sauce and retains its bright hue and freshness.
This is standard fare, but it’s hard to miss with a serving of steamed jasmine rice, right? It’s just rice. It’s good, it’s filling, it smells vaguely floral, it’s deeply inoffensive. Rice goes with pretty much everything and Panda Express’s rice is just as fluffy and appetizing as anything you’d prep at home in a rice cooker.
Same as above, except brown rice is more nutritionally fulfilling and a bit nuttier. Even just mixing brown rice with super greens and eggplant tofu would make for an amazing, colorful meal.
Although this wouldn’t be suitable for vegan guests, as it contains egg, the fried rice is merely a medley of peas, carrots, and green onions dressed in savory soy sauce. If you don’t mind that it’s tossed in woks that meat entrees may have also touched, this is a suitable side.
The Panda Express spokesperson confirmed that chow mein isn’t made with any animal products, however, it is also tossed in woks that may contain cross-contamination. If that’s okay with you, you’ll get to enjoy a tangle of wheat noodles with softened onion slivers, celery, and cabbage.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat!
Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer of food & drink at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.
The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.
From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.
Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.
Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.