When it comes to restaurants that have hundreds of locations across the country and more than 20 locations in other countries around the world, you have to think they're doing something right.
That is certainly the case at P.F. Chang's, located inside The Quarter at Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City.
When entering the restaurant, the staff is friendly and helpful and a full bar awaits you, just in case you have to wait for a table.
Although it's a franchise, the little things, such as beers and specialty cocktails served in large frosted mugs, don't go unnoticed at P.F. Chang's.
Down a long winding staircase, you reach the dining room, with high ceilings and a partly open kitchen. The room is wide and features murals on the walls and drum-like lights on the ceiling to set the mood.
Perhaps due to the high ceilings, or maybe due to the fact a loud group was at the next table, it didn't seem like a quiet, authentic Asian dining experience. Although you don't quite feel like you're being transported to Asia when you enter its doors, you still feel like you're indulging in dishes influenced by hundreds of years of history.
Speaking of dishes, it seems almost taboo to enter P.F. Chang's without ordering its signature lettuce wraps. An order of Chang's chicken lettuce wraps ($9.95) was the perfect starter to a meal, offering a heaping pile of seasoned, Wok-seared chicken, mushrooms, green onions and water chestnuts served over crispy rice sticks. Four big bowl-like lettuce leaves made the dish perfect for sharing and helped set the ambiance for the meal.
When it comes to the spiciness of the dish, Chang's puts you in charge, offering you sauces on the side to make your dish go from mild to as hot as you can handle.
By chance, the lettuce wraps were ordered just before the end of happy hour, so the normally $9.95 starter was just $6. The same went for an order of crab wontons, normally $7.95 but priced at just $5 for happy hour. Happy hour runs 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and includes a separate menu packed with food and specialty drinks.
The wontons, which were extra creamy inside and came in a generous portion of six, were delectable when dipped in the spicy plum sauce.
After inquiring about the sauce, our server let slip that it was really just duck sauce with some extra spice, but my taste buds weren't complaining.
According to the server, the entrees at P.F. Chang's are served in 12-ounce portions plus a choice of steamed brown or white rice, making it a generous meal sure to fill you up and likely leave you with some leftovers to take home.
One dish worth trying at Chang's is the shrimp with lobster sauce ($14.95). The lobster sauce may not have any lobster in it at all, as the menu describes it as garlic white wine sauce, but it is light and creamy with a subtle flavor that lets the shrimp take center stage. The shrimp was anything but chewy, as it nearly melted in your mouth thanks to the sauce. The dish also featured Chinese black beans, mushrooms, scallions and egg, which was shredded in separate white and yellow pieces.
Orange peel chicken ($14.95) came in a mild chili sauce with julienned fresh orange peels. The orange sweetened the dish and paired well with the tender-cooked chicken.
Sweet and sour pork ($13.95) was absolutely delectable. Served with tender pork loin; fresh-cooked and crispy bell peppers and onions; and candied ginger, warm and juicy pineapple wedges nearly stole the show.
For dessert, Chang's offers plenty of options that will satisfy any sweet tooth. Prices here are reasonable, as you can sample a "sweet treat" of six items including tiramisu, chocolate peanut butter crunch cake or blueberry cheesecake for $2.95 each, or select three for just $7.95.
You also can indulge in The Great Wall of Chocolate ($7.95), six layers of rich, frosted chocolate cake served with chocolate chips, fresh berries and raspberry sauce, or you can go a more authentic route.
Try the banana spring rolls for a dessert you're sure to remember. Six crispy and nearly thumb-sized egg rolls are filled with warm banana and served around a giant mound of coconut-pineapple ice cream. All of that is drizzled with caramel and vanilla sauces. It's perfect for a group, but once it hits the table, you might not want to share.