The Panda Express Orange Chicken Sandwich Is Nearly A Knockout

Panda's OC Sandwich is a great idea, but it's lacking one key component.

I've only been to Panda Express once or twice, but, like everybody else, I was there to eat orange chicken. Seemingly everybody I talk to goes to Panda for the orange chicken. The chain could probably sustain its entire business with this single menu item. The irresistible, sticky-sweet fried chicken and rice is an absolute workhorse of a meal, a soothingly caloric sugar bomb. But what if you took that iconic orange chicken and put in between some slices of bread and slapped on some pickles? Five Southern California Panda Express locations are currently testing the Original Orange Chicken Sandwich, and I set out to try one.

KTLA reports that Panda Express is planning to pivot slightly to more handheld foods (something Pizza Hut has done with great success). Does that mean we'll eventually see beef and broccoli submarine sandwiches at the nation's foremost American Chinese chain? Perhaps if the Original Orange Chicken Sandwich yields good sales, we might. KTLA quotes the Panda Express press release explaining the dish:

"Inspired by fan favorite dish The Original Orange Chicken, the OC Sandwich marries its beloved sweet and tangy flavors with America's favorite comfort food, fried chicken... The OC Sandwich is made with crispy chicken glazed in our signature Orange Sauce, topped with pickles and sriracha aioli in a potato bun."

I must say, this press release sells the sandwich better than most I've read, making it sound starkly different from the gaggle of Southern-style chicken sandwiches available at other fast food chains. It's refreshing. I'm a fan of spicy chicken sandwiches as much as the next guy, but we're oversaturated with them right now. What sounds more enticing than spicy (or even blackened) is a sweet and tangy chicken sandwich. While everyone else is zigging, Panda Express is zagging, and I'm down with it. Honestly, it's brave.

What Does the Panda Express OC Sandwich taste like?

Let's start with the downright egregious problem with this chicken sandwich: The bread. The potato bun here almost put me off from the whole endeavor completely. It is simply not a good potato bun, and there's too much of it. There's too much crust, and it also lacks squish, the prized quality that every great potato bun possesses. Squish is a differentiator that brings the whole sandwich together, each ingredient melding seamlessly into the next. The Panda Express potato bun feels more like a thick whole wheat burger bun. Totally disjointed from the ingredients. In fact, the bun seems to teeter atop the chicken like a star on top of a Christmas tree. If you're not careful, a gust of wind would turn this into an open-face sandwich. The bun, in short, is bullshit.


The bread is an outlier, however, because the rest of this sandwich absolutely rocks. I hate to use the word "stoner food" to describe funky food mashups, but that's exactly what this is—a citrusy chicken sandwich with a little bit of a stoned chef's touch. It wouldn't surprise me to see a version of the OC Sandwich being served at a pop-up in Los Angeles. The chicken breast fillet lacks crunch, but it's moist and deliciously sweet. I was elated to have sticky fingers while I ate this. It's not unlike a honey butter chicken biscuit, in that way.

The warm, gooey flavors of orange chicken are deeply satisfying, but the real kicker here are the pickles. I would never in a million years ask for a side of pickles to accompany an order of General Tso's, or even orange chicken, for that matter. But here, they add a surprisingly tangy, acidic component that plays off of the saccharine quality of the chicken. The sriracha aioli adds a bit of spicy richness, too, which is necessary for this thing to feel like a sandwich. Sauce is key.


When I review fast food here at The Takeout, I often brace myself to absolutely hate it. But the Panda Express Original Orange Chicken Sandwich was something I almost absolutely loved. I can see the good in it. If anybody at Panda Express is reading this, man, you're on the right track. Get rid of that bun, replace it with a quality potato roll, and you have an absolute stunner on your hands.