Because of its location -- on a beaten path, but not that beaten path -- I'd like to say I discovered Panda Gourmet. But, as it happens, I didn't. I was tipped off by the Going Out Guide in the Washington Post. My mouth watered for the place from the moment I read Tim Carman's review last Friday. I had no idea the opportunity would present itself so soon, but it did, and wow, am I ever glad. In fact, can't wait to return.
But about the location: a Days Inn at 2700 New York Avenue. Getting there from downtown requires doing a quick turnaround via Bladensburg Road. Or Rhode Island, over and down to Bladensburg. If you're coming from the Maryland direction, it's easy, and don't pass it by. If nothing else, phone ahead for carry-out. I was with my colleague Michael Goesele, the art director of Washingtonian. We had been at a photo shoot nearby. When he said, "we have to eat before going back to the office," I said, "I'm on it," and aimed the car toward the northeast. He said, "where are you taking me?" I said, "a motel."
Yes, it's a motel but it's also a restaurant and there's lots of parking. There's a Dunkin Donuts next door. We ordered from the Chinese menu, with English translations, but there's also an English-only menu.
We opened the menus. There was so much to choose from. As Michael read the offerings I recited Carman's colorful, appetite-firing review. We started with Dan Dan Noodles. I could go back and have them right now. We followed with Szechuan Chicken and Tofu with Winter Mushrooms. I gazed at the adjacent table for 6 or 8 or 10 and mentioned how great it would be to come back with a group and "order eveything on the menu." Do it.
The waiter warned us of the spicy hotness of the food. It was just right, but we both favor spicy hot. I'm posting photos because that's what I do, but the photos do not nearly convey the texture, complexity and richness of the flavors. Michael and I kept returning to the sauce of the Dan Dan Noodles to ladle on to our rice. As for drinking, it looked like they have beer but no bar. I had Diet Pepsi with lots of ice and Michael had water.
Our waiter said that since the Carman story the place has been busier than usual. Just watch. In a few months some investors will come along and move it to 14th Street.
So, go now. Go often. Take a group. Order everything.