Pei Wei Asian Diner isn't "east of usual"-- but it's north of expectations

Pei Wei and BK 025.JPG
J. Wohletz
The very deviled crab wontons at Pei Wei.
I have yet to find my go-to Chinese restaurant, chain or otherwise, in Denver. And that's not from lack of trying. I have favorite Japanese/sushi, Vietnamese and Thai spots all over town, but the best I have scrounged up for moderately priced, decent Chinese is effin' Panda Express. And, yes, I'm fully aware of how sad that is. So I was stoked to get my Pei Wei on, since I figured that even if the place didn't serve great, cheap Chinese food, it would serve decent-enough stuff to serve as a satisfactory stopgap.

Pei Wei's brand slogan is "east of usual," so I fully expected my Western expectations to be met.

See also:
- Second Helping P.F. Chang's China Bistro
- Asian Pear Mojito P.F. Chang's
- P.F. Chang's China Bistro Seven metro locations

Pei Wei and BK 016.JPG
J. Wohletz
This is one neat, clean and organized condiment station.
I stopped by the Pei Wei Asian Diner in Lowry, which has free parking. Both the outside and the interior of the store had the clean, polished, sleek look that I love about fast-casual restaurants. Pei Wei is a fast-cash spinoff from P.F. Chang's China Bistro that got its start in 2001; today there are more than 150 locations in over fifteen states, as well as Mexico and Kuwait. In 2003, Pei Wei was named Nation's Restaurant News's Hot Concept.

I had gotten a couple of takeout orders from a New Mexico Pei Wei back in 2001, when a new store opened up the street from me, but I didn't remember much about the food, so the Lowry Pei Wei was a relatively clean slate. Pei Wei has a fairly simple menu -- protein, veg, rice or noodles, with a small selection of bottled beer and wine -- and everything on the menu is a fusion of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai, some dishes leaning more toward one than the others. I busted it all up by first ordering a large order of crab wontons ($4.95) -- just to spite every butt-burper who whines and bitches about how un-authentic they are. These light, crispy stars with their warm, soft, cream-cheesy, crabby, oniony middles are Americanized, bastardized, misunderstood and absolutely delicious.

Pei Wei and BK 021.JPG
J. Wohletz
It's hot, it's sour, it needs more chunks of goodies.
I also ordered a large hot & sour soup ($4.95), the Thai-ish caramel chicken ($8.35) and the featured black-pepper chicken ($8.35) with steamed rice, a bottle of Tsingtao ($4) and a single-serve Revolution Dragon Eye Oolong tea ($1.95).

The tea was a single bag in a tiny box, displayed in a larger wood display box. I'd had Revolution's Earl Grey lavender and pear-infused white teas and loved them, so chances were this one would be just as satisfying -- if overpriced. I opened the box, steeped, waited and sipped: The Dragon Eye was a blend of whole oolong leaves, safflower and apricot, which seemed to be the dominant aroma and flavor. Unfortunately, oolong's mild-to-medium natural flavor strength can get lost when mixed with other things, and while either the apricot or the safflower would have sufficed, I didn't need both.

Was the single-serving box of tea worth $1.95? I don't think so, but I'm guessing that by introducing Revolution teas, with the super-special-individual-mini-box presentation, Pei Wei is appealing to people who aren't hard-core tea drinkers -- and I can't fault Pei Wei for having a solid marketing strategy.

Location Info

Pei Wei Asian Diner

200 Quebec St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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Tsing Tao does taste like piss water! HA

ScubaSteve topcommenter

Pei Wei (pee wee!).  Short limited menu.  Overpriced.  Mediocre food.

Mantonat topcommenter

I've enjoyed Pei Wei in the past, even though I really don't care for PF Chang's. Both places are guilty of really piling on the sodium though.

you should check out Andy's Kitchen on S. Fed! Most of the food is very basic, typical American-style Chinese, but Andy runs a tight kitchen, so everything is fresh and well prepared, if not exactly ground-breaking. It's the kind of food that Panda Express promises but doesn't deliver.

jenna-furrr topcommenter

@Mantonat Andy's Kitchen, huh? Is that the best Chinese food Denver has? If so, I'll stop in and give it a go. : )

Mantonat topcommenter

@jenna-furrr @Mantonat Definitely not the best. But if you're looking for a quick stop with a friendly owner and consistent food, it's worth checking out. Plus, they have stir-fried buffalo chicken. How can you go wrong with that?

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