When my husband I were newlyweds, we ordered in Thai food so often that the owner sent us a personal, hand signed Christmas card. Once we moved to Austin, we quickly found some Thai spots and frequented PF Chang’s for our fancier Asian meals. But after the kids arrived, the thought of a leisurely dirty martini while the waiter prepared our sauce tableside just didn’t have the same appeal. So I was delighted when PF Chang’s started Pei Wei, a more casual and affordable branch of their business. I dragged my then 2 year old daughter in with me the week our closest Pei Wei opened. I ordered Chicken Lo Mein and coaxed her: “This is just like chicken spaghetti. You’ll love it!” She spit it out all over the table and shouted “This isn’t spaghetti! This is GROSS!” I share this story because Pei Wei is now her absolute favorite restaurant in Austin and it may become your child’s favorite too.
Pei Wei has a better vibe than most counter service restaurants. My husband and I enjoy it because we actually feel like we’re going out. They sell beer and wine as well as an unusual iced tea selection and soft drinks. Pei Wei’s cuisine is considered Pan-Asian, spanning 5 different countries. Their signature menu features various styles of cooking. Once you choose the preparation you prefer, the next decision is chicken, beef, shrimp or tofu and veggies. You also have an option of brown, white or fried rice. I sometimes find the myriad options a bit daunting, so I’ll ask the server which meat is best with my chosen sauce. I’ve always had good success with the advice they’ve given me.
We like to start with the chicken lettuce wraps or spring rolls. The chicken wraps are served with a dish of spicy soy minced chicken, shitakes, scallions and water chestnuts and sides of lettuce and dipping sauce. You essentially make a burrito out of the chicken and lettuce. The flavors go well together and can also be a light lunch. This is their most popular dish. The spring rolls are similar to egg rolls, but very light and vegetarian.
For a light meal, I go with the Vietnamese Chicken Salad Rolls. They are similar to large spring rolls, but not fried. Chicken, peanuts, mint, carrots, rice noodles and lime vinaigrette are wrapped in rice paper and served with a delicious dipping sauce. My mother is a fan of their Pad Thai, found on the rice and noodles section of the menu. Two of our favorite signature dishes are Orange Peel Beef and Lemon Pepper Shrimp or Chicken. Pei Wei Spicy is one of their most popular preparations. I’ve had their Thai Coconut Curry with Tofu before, and it is fine but I’ve enjoyed better at other area restaurants.
Now, on to the pickiest diners at any table. The kids menu does a great job of introducing kids to Asian cuisine. No chicken nuggets on this menu! You can choose from Honey Seared or Teriyaki Chicken or Chicken Lo Mein. The menu offers brown or white rice, but you can ask for noodles. Take it from me, you want the noodles! My kids love the Honey Seared Chicken. Yes, it is fried and doused in a honey sweet sauce. But I love that Pei Wei gives them special implements to help them use chopsticks. They sit properly and eat with chopsticks and I feel like they are getting a little cultural education with their meal. After dinner, they can help themselves to fortune cookies at the drink station. Pei Wei is very family friendly, high chairs are accessible and the bathroom has everything in place for an emergency diaper change. For a family of four, we generally spend about $30 for dinner. Kid’s meals are around $4.50 and entrees are about $8, depending on the meat chosen.
Pei Wei currently has four locations in Austin, with a new one coming soon to Round Rock. Look for them at Hancock Center at 41st Street, Brodie Oaks at 4200 South Lamar, TechRidge at Parmer and I-35 and their newest at Anderson Arbors at 183 and Anderson Mill Road.
Written by Jennifer Leon.