If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, dining out can be tricky, especially when you're craving Chinese food or fast food. Panda Express is a fast-food restaurant chain that combines Chinese roots with American tastes. With over 2,300 locations throughout the United States, it is the largest family-owned and operated Asian dining option in the country. If you're looking for gluten-free options at Panda Express, there are a few options, although choices are limited.
Gluten-Free Dining at Panda Express
The Panda Express website explicitly states that the restaurant does not offer gluten-free or vegetarian options. Some menu items may be safe if you're eating gluten-free by choice. But if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity you'll need to be cautious. Your options are limited to only a small handful of foods and even those options may not be safe for everyone.
Most types of rice are gluten-free. Panda Express offers two types of rice:
- Brown Steamed Rice
- White Steamed Rice
While rice is naturally free from gluten, it still may not be safe for those who are very sensitive to gluten. Dishes that contain gluten are prepared in the same areas as rice at Panda Express, so cross-contamination is a concern. Cross-contamination, or cross-contact, is when gluten-free foods come into contact with gluten-containing foods and become contaminated as a result. If you must avoid all gluten, it's best to avoid eating at Panda Express.
Some sauces at Panda Express are wheat-free, which means that they may be safe for consumption if you're sensitive to gluten. Be sure to read sauce packets to check for the "gluten-free" declaration before adding them to your rice. Wheat-free sauces at Panda Express include:
- Chili sauce
- Hot mustard
- Plum sauce
- Sweet & sour sauce
All beverages offered at Panda Express are gluten-free. These include:
- Soft drinks
Drink dispensers at most Panda Express locations are separated from the kitchen where gluten-containing foods are prepared, so concerns about cross-contamination in these areas are minimal.
Is Panda Express Gluten-Free Friendly?
In a word: no. Panda Express's nutritional menu specifically states that the Panda Express food chain doesn't offer any gluten-free dishes. Most food options at Panda Express contain wheat or wheat derivatives. If you have celiac disease or are very sensitive to gluten, it's probably best to avoid Panda Express due to cross contamination concerns. The majority of food items on the menu contain wheat or wheat ingredients.
The only food items you're probably okay to consume without worrying about gluten cross contamination are soft drinks, but many of these drinks are loaded with added sugar and not always the healthiest choice.
Better Gluten-Free Chinese Restaurant Options
If you need to steer clear of gluten, dining at other restaurants or preparing Chinese food at home are your best bet.
PF Chang's is a safer option for those who need to avoid eating gluten. The Asian restaurant was founded on the concept of making food from scratch every day, in every restaurant. The PF Chang's menu has dishes that are either gluten-free as prepared or can be modified to be gluten-free upon request.
With a wide array of gluten-free options for lunch, dinner, and dessert, most Chinese food lovers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can find an entree they will enjoy at PF Chang's. There's no worry of cross-contamination, either. At each location, chefs use a designated gluten-free cooking area and cooking utensils to prepare the food. They even take the extra step of using gluten-free plates to ensure your meal is safe to eat.
Pei Wei is a fast-casual Asian restaurant that offers gluten-free dishes at its 100+ locations in the United States. The Pei Wei allergen information webpage lists the restaurant's gluten-free options, which include chicken dishes, beef dishes, soups, salads, rice, noodles, and desserts.
Pei Wei uses a number of safeguards to ensure your food will be gluten-free, including a separate celiac workstation in the kitchen where chefs use sterilized cooking woks and utensils. Let the server know about your gluten allergy before you order and they will communicate with the kitchen to ensure your food is safe to eat. Kitchen staff will use different colored bowls for meals prepared for anyone with a food allergy (white, instead of the standard red).
Preparing Gluten-Free Chinese Food at Home
Preparing and cooking your own Chinese food at home is the best way to ensure your food is gluten-free. Though many Chinese dishes contain gluten, there are many recipes online you may want to try at home to satiate your craving and avoid any side effects of gluten consumption.