On a cold winter’s night, as ice crystals sparkle in the air, playfully glittering through dazzling beams from a neighboring Costco, a tantalizing oasis of Chinese cuisine opened its doors for the first time, neatly tucked away behind mounds of snow and dirt.
And while a neighboring field of ice serves as a stark reminder of North Dakota’s vast emptiness of cultural offerings, a newly minted Panda Express stands in defiance of that old cliche. “Now Open” banners, littered along Highway 83, crackle against the wind, like the ancient Han Eight Banners once did along China’s Silk Road.
An ancient Chinese proverb says, “talk doesn’t cook rice”, but don’t tell that to the people of Bismarck. If anything, all that talk is certainly keeping the cooks busy at the city’s new Panda Express. Expect the sort of experience found at the Bismarck Airport while waiting in line for two hours here – your bound to bump into somebody you know (or are related to).
From the moment you step inside Bismarck’s nearly two story Panda Express (unfortunately you won’t find an escalator inside), the senses are delighted to a flurry of sensory delight as patrons are greeted to a friendly “welcome” among the many line cooks and staff.
Wave after wave of patrons crowd the establishment, like hoards of hungry Mongolians flooding the gates Rome. Yet miraculously, the staff hold their ground, serving up endless bowls of freshly cooked Chow Mein and Orange Chicken.
Panda Express’s popularity seems to have even caught the Governor and First Lady’s eyes, as sources indicate Kathryn Burgum will welcome the chain’s general manager as her guest of honor during the 2023 State of the State address at the state capitol in Bismarck.
Those seeking a truly bespoke culinary experience at Panda Express will be left sorely disappointed. But that’s to be expected and remarkably, exactly what the people of Bismarck demand. What Starbucks is to coffee and what Chipolte is to Mexican, Panda Express is certainly the equivlant to Asian cuinse.
Without a doubt, orange chicken is the crown jewel of Panda Express’ offerings. With over 41 million servings sold annually, half of all orders sold by the popular chain include the dish.
During our visit, we were served a generous portion of its famous chicken, glazed in combination of sweet sauces and peppers, thoughtfully paired on top a bed of chow mein noodles. And while the restaurant was only hours old in Bismarck, the distinct flavors parched by their woks had us totally fooled. And for a 9:00 PM last-minute escape, the food and atmosphere sufficiently exceeded what little expectations we had.
While you won’t find the assortment of offerings typically found in an American Chinese buffet, nor an 11-year old working the till while her parents work the kitchen, what Panda Express does offer is relative convenience paired with the simple innocence often mocked by society yet championed in the Midwest.
But isn’t that the point? Nobody goes to a Panda Express to taste the old Orient. Among the plastic bamboo, drywall and flatscreen displays, you’ll find an assortment of offerings that anyone can enjoy.
Salty? You bet. Americanized? Yep. Kitschy? Absolutely.
And that’s everything you should know and expect from both Bismarck and Panda Express.
Panda Express Bismarck
It's Panda Express in Bismarck. Your expectations should stop there – but that's not a bad thing by any means.
- Tasty assortment of offerings
- It's the first chain to hit Bismarck since Chick-fil-A
- Not a front (or land grab) for the Chinese government
- Fortune cookies actually offer a prediction, not advice
- Fmr. US Attorney Tim Purdon might not think highly of you if you eat here
- Due to overwhelming popularity, you may be waiting in line until February
- Does anyone offer delivery yet for this place? We haven't a damn clue.