Hot (and Numbing) Scoop: Panda Express Is Testing Out “Sichuan Hot Chicken” in L.A.

The chain’s Chinese-inspired take on a Nashville favorite involves a dose of tingly peppercorns
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Summer may be over, but heat levels are rising at Panda Express. The Rosemead-based, American-Chinese fast-casual chain—which now has over 2,000 locations across the U.S.—is rolling out a new spicy dish over the next few weeks in a handful of test markets, including Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and L.A.

 

Panda’s latest menu addition, dubbed Sichuan Hot Chicken, consists of “extra crispy chicken breast strips wok tossed in a Sichuan-style spicy pepper sauce,” according to press materials. The Sichuan peppercorn-laced creation was apparently developed after the corporation’s culinary development team, led by chef Jimmy Wang, took a research trip to Chengdu and marveled at the variety of spices used in the region, namely its famed numbing peppercorns. The dish also not-so-subtly nods to Nashville-style Hot Chicken, a regional dish that has gained national prominence through upstart success stories like Howlin’ Ray’s and behemoth fast food chains like KFC.

Given that it channels two foods currently enjoying a surge in local popularity—Sichuan cuisine and hot chicken—Panda Express’ mashup seems uniquely positioned to generate hype, especially since it could well be the first Panda Express offering that is truly, objectively spicy (no, Sweetfire Chicken doesn’t count). And if you’re the sort of person that keeps track of these things, this is also the first time a national-tier chain has made use of Sichuan peppercorns as an ingredient, which is somewhat wild considering the spice wasn’t available for U.S. import until 2005 due to misguided concerns over citrus blight.

 

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It’s doubtful Panda Express’ hot chicken will pack a punch on par with what you’d find at dedicated Sichuan restaurants like Chengdu Taste or Sichuan Impression, of course, but given the conservative nature of mainstream food brands, even gesturing in that direction is a pretty significant development. A little spice goes a long way, as they say.

For now, until a chain-wide rollout happens (fingers crossed), you’ll find Sichuan Hot Chicken at six Panda Express locations in the L.A. area, all in the San Fernando Valley.

18427 Nordhoff St., Northridge
20040½ Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills
5752 Lindero Canyon Rd., Westlake Village
17870 Ventura Blvd., Encino
15303 Roscoe Blvd., Van Nuys
14445 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys


RELATED: Four Greatest Combos at the Panda Express Innovation Kitchen


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