Saturday, March 17, 2007

When Pei Wei Comes to Town

After a very long wait, the much-praised Pei Wei has finally opened in Waco, Texas. When I sit down and make a list of my favorite chain restaurants, Pei Wei makes the list along with Salt Grass Steakhouse, most of the Brinker restaurants, and all of the Pappas restaurants. I recently ate at their new Greek themed restaurant YIA YIA Mary’s in Houston and thought it was very good. Pei Wei is an off-shoot of the larger more expensive P. F. Chang’s. The initials "P.F." stands for the founder of the chain, Paul Fleming, while the "Chang" is derived from Fleming's co-developer, Phillip Chiang. I believe there is also a Fleming’s Steakhouse and a Taneko (Japanese) tavern.

If you have not braved the out-the-door lines that accompany almost every new Waco opening, you probably should wait out the stampede. If you have never tasted the delights of Pei Wei, then maybe it would be a good strategy to visit at an off time to beet the crowds.

The menu offers a lot of options and reveals a bit of the Asian diner philosophy of Pei Wei. The choices of beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, scallops or tofu with most of the entree choices allow you to construct your own dish. They also have a variety of salads, noodle bowls (good bargains) and appetizers. The starters like the spring rolls and lettuce wraps (from the P. F. Ching menu) are good additions. You can sample Thai, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean sauces (and others) combined with different vegetable, meat and noodle combinations. The portions are generous if not too large for one. Some observers have noticed a decline it the % of meat vs filler in some of the dishes but unless you have eaten at other P. F. Chiang’s you would not know that.

The Asian Coconut Curry and Pad Thai is probably better that any Thai offerings we currently have in Waco. I have tried most of the other Pei Wei dishes and have yet to find a loser. The prices are good for Waco. Maybe this is just a bit more for lunch that you might normally pay but since the lunch and dinner menus are the same that makes dinner a good value.

Their iced tea comes in two flavors with lots of condiments to spice up the food. Good fortune cookies bring good luck as well.

Bottom line, this is a solid chain restaurant if you are looking for a quick meal that is inexpensive, but does skimp on quality. It is a bit noisy and at least for the near future will be crowded but don’t let that keep you from enjoying the tasty sauces and quality ingredients. This is a nice addition to the Waco restaurant scene.