15 April 2010

Little Panda Chinese Food


There is something not right about food by the scoop.  Food by the pound like you’d get at some salad bar joints doesn’t bother me, but food by the scoop is odd.  I feed my dog a couple scoops of food each day and she doesn’t seem to mind it, so maybe I shouldn’t either.  On the other hand, I once caught her getting after one of my son’s pooped up diapers, so using her as an example might be the wrong choice.  Whatever your opinion of food by the scoop, be ready for it and some other interesting bits if you are willing to venture into the Little Panda. 

The restaurant itself has a lot of character, mainly because it has no character.   The most defining characteristic is the $1 scoop sign outside featuring the namesake little panda looking happy enough despite being exploited in the name of a greasy restaurant with lousy food.  

Poor sucker.

A coat of paint would help out on the outside, but would do nothing to draw attention away from the drive through window that is currently boarded up.  Inside, crappy wood paneling (a dive staple) adorns the non-descript interior that is little more than the buffet of food and a bunch of tables.  There wasn’t even a menu with questionable pictures of food on it, which was a big let down.  I did notice two security cameras, one pointing at the food, that were ensuring the security of who knows what.  Maybe ensuring you didn’t plate an extra $1 scoop when the scoop lady wasn’t looking?  The window next to my table had what appeared to be a bullet hole and some greasy hand/face prints – always a nice touch and something to ponder while choking down some fried rice.  And as for the bathrooms, don't be fooled by the three containers of bleach (sitting on top of a pile of miscellaneous restaurant related debris) in the dark hallway leading up to them.  Hold it if possible.

From what I could tell, the Little Panda is a two-person operation:  one guy in the kitchen schlepping the food, and the scoop lady tending the buffet and taking your cash.  The buffet contained all of the Chinese classics we Americans know and love - sweet and sour stuff, egg rolls, beef and broccoli, fried rice, etc. – and some we don’t – ie. the ominous looking whole fried fishes.  I am not sure how you'd manage a scoop of whole fried fish anyways.  I decided on the fried rice, sesame chicken, and some beef and broccoli.  Total price for a debilitatingly large container of food = $3.57.

Let’s consider the scoop pricing arrangement for a second.  While at first glance the sign along the road draws you in with the $1 scoops, a sign on the door told a different tale: ‘Due to the rising cost of water, heat, gas, electricity, food, and cleaning products, food will now be priced at $1.10 a scoop’ (ok, I added the bit about the cleaning products).  Greed knows no boundaries, apparently.  My three-course extravaganza ran $3.57, so in actuality we are talking about $1.19 per scoop.  Stay with me.  Watching the scoop lady running the line, quite efficiently I might add, I noted that with each food selection I received three scoops, for a total of nine.  This brings the per scoop price to somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 cents each.  What does all this mean?  Absolutely nothing, other than the fact that this is some cheap shit.  

And apparently cheap food is a draw of intercontinental proportions.  At 2:30 in the afternoon on a Monday, Little Panda enthusiasts were lined up to the door awaiting their scoops of joy.  Those in line were a pretty extraordinary cross section of society: young, old, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, hip-hoppers playing loud music on their cell phones, and dudes dressed all in black and sporting exciting tattoos.  A smorgasbord at the smorgasbord, if you will.  I challenge Colt & Gray to bring this kind of crowd in with their pomp and circumstance.  Hopefully they weren’t all getting the beef and broccoli, though.  The broccoli was fine, actually surprisingly well cooked, but the beef was mysterious.  I don’t think it was actually beef, but I did not venture to ask.  The fried rice was lifeless.  It was certainly cooked rice, but aside from the pea and carrot mixture the chef threw in there it could just have easily been greasy plain white.  Even my mundane glass of water had to be set aside due to the fact that it was shimmering like an oil slick.  The sesame chicken, however, saved my $3.57 from being a complete loss.  It was true to cheap Chinese food form, one of those chewy breaded little morsels of meat covered in glistening sauce that tastes just about right, and what you would expect - a bit gingery, a little garlicky, and just a kiss of the MSG.  Not too shabby at all.

The Little Panda is lousy on almost all counts, a dive of epic proportions that serves epic portions.  Take it for what it's worth though.  If you're in the mood for heaps of low-grade Chinese food for uber-cheap, with some interesting people watching thrown in, this place is for you.  Just don't touch anything. 

The Little Panda Express is located at 523 Havana in Aurora.  You wouldn't know it flying by on Havana, but the Panda doesn't lie about the scoop pricing.

Little Panda Express on Urbanspoon


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Luke Naughton said...

It is my pleasure spreading the word about The Little Panda.