Panda Panda is part of the recent explosion in “Asian” restaurants in Paris. Thankfully, this new generation no longer tries to cater to French tastes (by pretty much omitting any hot stuff) but aims for quality and authenticity, without neglecting a touch of originality in the use of local ingredients and fusion with various national cuisines.
On its visiting card, Panda Panda claims to serve “cool Chinese food” (inspired by the street food of Hong Kong and Taiwan), and I would say that’s just right. The customers are young and trendy, and the servers are young, hip and adorable. The prices are amazingly low, and the food is wonderful. What more could you ask for?
Like many new restaurants in Paris serving non-French food, Panda Panda has French owners who have done a great job of researching and reproducing or reinterpreting cuisines from other countries (other excellent examples of this phenomenon: Double Dragon and Be Bobun for Asian food and Melt for American-style barbecue) and making it with top-quality ingredients, often locally sourced, as is the case with Panda Panda.
I have now been to Panda Panda twice and loved it both times. The sautéed rice noodles (we had the veggie version, but they also come with beef) with bok choy, egg, chives and sprouts are so good that they are addictive.
The popcorn chicken (this is definitely not KFC) is another big winner, so satisfyingly crispy on the outside and tender inside. First marinated in buttermilk and then dipped in sweet-potato breading, it is served with lemongrass-flavored popcorn and spicy homemade mayonnaise.
Another dish I could not stop eating was the Hong Shao eggplant with bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, green beans and a fabulous sauce full of chili peppers (not too hot).
In the steamed dumpling department, the xiao long bao with free-range pork, ginger, Chinese cabbage and hot bouillon (be careful when you bite into them) were stunningly good, far better than those I’ve had in many a “real” Chinese restaurant.
Finally, we had to try at least one bao (steamed bun) sandwich, currently the hot item in Paris’s Asian restaurants. Not surprisingly, it was excellent, filled with crispy duck, sweet-and-sour sauce, sautéed vegetables and cucumber.
On my second visit, we tried a dessert bao, filled with an egg-based cream. It was delightful, but I would rather fill up on the delicious savory dishes.
Speaking of bao, I still haven’t had the patience to stand in the consistently long line to get into Gros Bao on the Canal Saint Martin, the latest hotspot of the genre. Let’s hope the lines diminish soon, but in the meantime, you can try the same owners’ Petit Bao or try Panda Panda, as lovable as its namesake.Favorite