Bear necessities

Scores of dishes keep the student body satisfied at Panda Bistro


In practically every neighborhood in Orlando, you'll find a Chinese restaurant feeding residents' pangs for kung pao chicken, pork-fried rice or beef lo mein. Such restaurants garner little to no fanfare; like fast-food joints, they occupy the lower rungs of gastronomic options. So when Panda Bistro opened its doors on the Colonial'Alafaya corridor, it seemed like no big deal. But then I realized the appealing eatery is the brainchild of Maggie Lee, proprietress of Winter Park's Tatáme. I've always liked Lee's tea-and-sake house, but wouldn't go there if I were craving a meal to accompany my lychee-infused sake. So naturally, I was stoked at the prospect of dining at a Maggie Lee'branded restaurant. At first blush, it was pretty much as expected, with original art by Lee and other local artists setting it apart from other strip-mall noodle houses.

A couple of fresh faces stood behind the counter juggling takeout and dine-in orders, while an older chap who appeared quite deft at handling a wok anchored kitchen responsibilities. Given the sheer number of items available (close to 150 on the menu), he probably has one of the thickest, strongest wrists in Orlando.

A picture menu will hold your attention while you hold up the line forming behind you, so it's best to grab a bill of fare, peruse an assortment more varied than characters in the Chinese alphabet while you're waiting, and then order. A majority of the patrons here are students, and Panda Bistro seems to straddle the line between catering to undergrads with unsophisticated palates and ministering to neo-hipsters who fancy themselves connoisseurs. As at Tatáme, that's Lee's target demo ' and they're literally eating it up.

The pair behind the counter seemed so inundated with carry-out orders that it was a while before our order was taken. All was forgotten when the egg drop soup ($2.95) arrived, its clear yellow broth, suspending silken strands of golden yolk, making a comforting start to the meal. Edamame ($3.95) appeared to be overcooked, but the soybeans remained full and plump. Mains, as you can imagine, run the gamut. We opted for the Hunan Double ($9.95), an altogether ordinary stir-fry of beef, chicken and the requisite vegetables in a thick, broccoli-heavy sauce. The dish lacked that seasoned-wok essence that separates a good stir-fry from a great one (like Tasty Wok's); if you want it spicy, better ask for some sriracha and chili oil. Pan-fried noodles ($9.95) came served with a lighter sauce that was a little more flavorful than the Hunan, but it was the perfectly crisp egg noodles that made this dish worth ordering again. I'm not sure I'd order the boneless Peking duck ($13.95 half; $23.95 whole) again. The shiny slabs of dark meat looked nice sitting on a bed of scallions, accompanied by mu shu pancakes and hoisin sauce. But the duck was a bit too greasy and the sauce a tad too gluey for our liking.

When diners are presented with scores of options, the fare is bound to be hit-or-miss. A more focused menu would certainly help, but when you sustain a student body with diverse backgrounds and tastes, variety can take precedence over a concentrated approach. And Lee is the key. She knows her audience, and as ambitious, creative and determined a gal as she is (she often delivers food herself), Lee's sure to make Panda Bistro a success ' even if she has to grin and bear it.


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.