Times Visited: Many
True story: my boyfriend and I were planning on going to Beau Thai for a lunch special on President’s day, but we missed it, and Typhoon had already closed for their lunch time as well, so the closest thing we knew that with vegan friendly Asian food was P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. Not to mention, we were looking for something borderline lunch-special-priced.
I’ve had good food and bad experiences at P. F. Chang’s, but still consider it somewhat of a guilty pleasure, since it was a cool, affordable, veg-friendly place to go in downtown Boston when I was in college. It’s also a safe place to go with unadventurous coworkers while out of town, or with relatives whose idea of Chinese food is Panda Express (where nothing is vegetarian).
I hadn’t been in over a year until recently, and surprise, surprise, it all seemed the same. Thanks for the comfort, corporate chain! While I feel slightly hipper in P.F. Chang’s as opposed to a place more glaringly uniform restaurant, like The Cheesecake Factory or Rockbottom, I’m almost surprised that this is actually being written. But, it’s a very veg-friendly restaurant, that you can find in the Pearl District, Bridgeport Village, Tanasbourne, and oodles of other suburban shopping centers and downtowns across the United States. Looking around the cool restaurant, you see family gatherings, couples on dates, business lunches – people you could just as easily spot in a similar chain.
The thing that’s surprisingly great about P.F. Chang’s is their in-depth familiarity with vegetarian options. No need to order the pasta without butter and cheese here, and there’s even vegetarian mushroom ‘oyster’ sauce on the ingredients list. The multitude of veg*n options on a national chain’s menu is fantastic to see, and we suggest writing to P.F. Chang’s, and other chains asking for specific vegan options and clarifications.
The vegetarian listings are marked on the menu, but labeling them vegan or not is the controversial part. There is conflicting information on the internet, and after researching and speaking with them, it seems that sugar is the final line. P.F. Chang’s does not guarantee that their sugar is not processed with animal bone char. Make your decision. If you’re not comfortable, then you should stop reading here. P.F. Chang’s also provides a gluten-free menu listing, which includes basic vegetable sides and a Buddha’s Feast mixed vegetable entree.
But we were there as a matter of veg*n Chinese convenience, and our meals were pretty good! The Coconut Curry Vegetables and Tofu has an unassumingly light sauce, that even my coconut curry-disliking dining companion fell for. I’m very wary of sauces and curry at Asian restaurants (case in point: not veg*n-friendly Thai Peacock and Green Papaya) so while I knew this dish was bastardized, I was relieved that I didn’t have to worry about fishy sauces. The tofu was just how I like it in my Chinese food – lightly fried and mingling with veggies in a tasty sauce. While Ma Pao Tofu is a dish that is typically made with tofu and meat, P.F. Chang’s breaks tradition again and makes this a straight up tofu, sauce, steamed broccoli, and scallions party. The sauce is slightly spicy and flavorful, reminiscent of the classic ‘garlic brown sauce’ at so many Chinese restaurants. Once again, this experience is even better knowing there is no chicken broth in the mix. This pile of tofu easily provides leftovers, making the $8 price tag even more bearable. It’s a price I’d pay more easily at dinner, but it was worth the lunch. If I could change anything about the Ma Pao, I’d add more sauce and heat up the broccoli some more. The steamed broccoli just calls for more sauce than the dish as to offer, and the condiments on your table just don’t cut it – not even the ‘special’ mustard/chili/soy sauce made just for you.
If chains are good for anything, let it be P.F. Chang’s to the rescue when I’m traveling somewhere without an accessible veg*n restaurant. Especially if I don’t have to be seen by anyone I know!
Coconut Curry Vegetables and Tofu
Ma Pao Tofu
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Address: 1139 NW Couch St. Portland, OR 97209