(Image not affiliated with New Panda, I just forgot to take a picture of their sign. This is just a random panda photo.)
3814 S Bristol St
Santa Ana, CA 92704
Near McDonalds, next to Games For Less
I used to have this fantastic place near my office in Lake Forest called China Express. They were pretty much a fast food counter service Chinese place, except they didn’t have any steam tables. They had gorgeous pictures all over their walls of the different culinary delights that they offered. You would place your order and the guy in the back would wok up your order hot and fresh just for you. Sadly, China Express closed. They left a phone number in their window to call for more information. I called the number and it just rang and rang. I called again, and again. Over the next couple of weeks I dialed the phone number repeatedly. I was in a panic. Would I never have the joy of tasting their delicious dishes again?!??! I called again……ring…..ring……ring…..ring…..ring…. and finally “New Panda, can I help you?” I was so excited that someone picked up the phone! I stammered out, “I’m looking for info on China Express! This phone number was left on the door!” I then recognized the voice on the other end of the phone. It was the very nice girl that always took my order at China Express. She told me that they had relocated up to a place near South Coast Plaza. She said they were now called “New Panda.” “I can still get my salt and pepper shrimp though, right?!?!” I asked. She laughed and said “Of course.”
All of the above events took place a couple of years ago. After I hung up the phone that day I immediately drove down to their new location and ordered me up a big plate of salt and pepper shrimp. Every time I want good salt and pepper shrimp, I make the drive again. It now takes me 20-30 minutes to get there from my office but it’s oh so worth it.
New Panda is more of your typical Chinese fast food place. They have scoop and serve steam tables and a combo plate will cost you about five or six bucks. Their fried rice is a little bland, but oddly good. The rest of their steam table items are about the same you would expect from any other similar place. What I really go here for is their wok to order food. Most people going to New Panda don’t even notice the cook to order menu on the back wall. They’re really missing out.
I like to start my meal here with some of their fried wontons. At $1.50* for an order of 6, these are a really great deal. They are fried up perfectly crisp and contain a hidden gem of glistening pork inside. I like to dip them in a little hot mustard. If you ask the lady behind the counter, she will give you some real hot mustard instead of that fluorescent yellow crap that comes in the packets.
The item I can never seem to resist on their menu is the Salt and Pepper Shrimp ($6.99* during lunch). I have taken many people here to try the salt and pepper shrimp and they have all fallen in love with it. The chef in the back takes some juicy shrimp, lightly batters them and then woks them up with some oil, fresh jalapenos and green onions. They are then sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper. The resulting dish is an explosion of flavor that is hard to describe. I find myself eating these shrimp so fast that sometimes I make myself sick. Even so, sometimes I’ll go back and order more once I finish my first plate.
New Panda is an ok place to go and get some Chinese fast food, but if you have a few extra minutes, take the time to look over their “cook to order” menu and get something made especially for you. I of course recommend the Salt and Pepper shrimp, but I have also tried many of their other dishes and I haven’t been disappointed in any of them.
* Prices are from memory, so they may be a little off.