How to Eat Vegan at Panda Express

With over 2,500 locations worldwide, Panda Express has achieved global success. But before Panda Express, there was Panda Inn. In 1973, Andrew Cherng and chef Ming-Tsai Cherng  opened Panda Inn in Pasadena, CA with a menu inspired by Mandarin and Sichuan cuisine. A decade later, Andrew Cherng launched the first Panda Express. While Panda Inn, which still operates five locations across Southern California, is a more formal, sit-down restaurant, Panda Express is a fast-food chain.

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The first Panda Express location opened inside the Glendale Galleria, a popular mall located in Glendale, CA. Two years later, in 1985, the second location opened inside the Westside Pavilion, yet another mall food court. And in 1987, the chain developed the now world famous Original Orange Chicken. Since then, Panda Express has moved beyond mall food courts and opened thousands of locations around the world.  

While Panda Express has always been committed to American Chinese cuisine, the menu has seen a number of changes throughout the years. In 2021, for example, the chain even trialed vegan orange chicken with the help of Beyond Meat (more on this below). While the chain no longer offers this plant-based entrée, vegans can still enjoy a meal at Panda Express. 

RELATED: You Can Still Eat Vegan at Carl’s Jr. Even Without the Beyond Burger

Does Panda Express have vegan options?

Yes, Panda Express has vegan options, but they’re not as substantial as you would expect. 

According to Chief Brand Officer Andrea Cherng, the restaurant chain has seen “incredible demand” for its vegan orange chicken, officially dubbed Beyond the Original Orange Chicken. After launching at just a handful of locations in 2021, the following year, Panda Express launched the vegan entrée nationwide. However, this was still a limited-time launch, and Beyond the Original Orange Chicken is no longer offered. 

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“From our initial regional launch in 2021 and a national limited-time rollout in 2022, we saw the positive response and learned just how great the demand is for an innovative plant-based dish like Beyond The Original Orange Chicken,” a spokesperson told VegNews. “The learnings we have gathered from limited-time rollouts have helped refine our operations, and we’re continuing to gain insight into guest demand for future menu innovations and offerings like plant-based dishes.”

For now, vegans can enjoy a filling meal with the help of a few vegan-friendly sides. 

How to eat vegan at Panda Express

The next time you find yourself peering into the hot buffet trays of Panda Express, follow this guide to fill your paper containers with all the vegan goods.

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1 Rice and noodles

No need to worry about chicken, fish, or beef broth here—Panda Express has a few options when it comes to carbs. Use them as a hearty, satiating base to soak in any lingering sauce that drips from your main dish. 

As of 2019, the chow mein is also vegan. The company nixed the chicken broth and animal-based seasonings following a robust campaign by Vegan Outreach. 

Unfortunately, the fried rice contains egg. Still, that leaves you with a few solid picks. Your vegan options for rice and noodles are:

  • Steamed brown rice
  • Chow mein
  • Steamed white rice

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2 Vegetables

Honestly speaking, Panda Express could put a bit more effort into its vegetable offerings.

However, the one vegetable option available at all 2,300 locations does a suitable job. 

The Super Greens are simply prepared with steamed broccoli, kale, and cabbage. It’s always a delight to find a healthy green option that’s not a limp salad at any fast-food joint.

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3 Mains

With Beyond the Original Orange Chicken no longer an option, go for the Eggplant Tofu. The dish consists of browned tofu, eggplant, red bell peppers, and sweet and spicy sauce. A Panda Express representative has confirmed that the sauce does not contain any animal ingredients. Be warned, however, as consumers have reported it is not always available at some locations. 

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4 Sauces 

Zhush up those Super Greens or a carton of rice with one of the many vegan-friendly sauces. 

When you opt for the chili, hot mustard, plum, potsticker, soy, sweet and sour, or teriyaki sauce, you’re in the clear. Pro tip: ask for extra sauces and use them in your own kitchen for a Panda-esque stir-fry or tofu dish.

As you can see, Panda Express has options that won’t leave you feeling hungry, but it could still stand to add a little more variety to its vegan menu. But, with the demand for plant-based food, we can’t wait to see what else the chain has in store.

For more vegan ordering guides, read: