Panda Express – Latham, NY

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I’ve never been to Panda Express, and I wanted to walk into the experience with no preconceptions.

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Walking in and seeing a sign touting “American Chinese Food” set my expectations low. Seeing the food on the buffet line set it even lower.

Just so we’re clear, there’s a definite hierarchy of Chinese Food in upstate NY. And here it is, in order of descending quality:

  • Authentic Restaurant Chinese (i.e. Ala Shanghai)
  • Sit Down Restaurant Chinese [Sometimes also serving sushi and hibachi] (i.e. Buffalo Wagon)
  • Takeout/Delivery Chinese (Your neighborhood choice for house special lo mein)
  • Mall Chinese (i.e. “Cajun Cafe and Grill”)

Some places cross the line, and I’m sure there are various degrees of each and exceptions, but that covers the basics. You can’t always have top of the line, so we’ve all settled for some of the lower options.

My impression of Panda Express is summed up as follows:

Mall Chinese Food with a branding budget
Mall Chinese Food with a branding budget

I’m not saying it was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, because I’ve had some pretty shitty mall Chinese food in my day. I’m just saying the style overshadows the substance, that’s all.

Moral of the story: branding is important if you want to be successful.


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