People often ask me how I manage to stay on top of my dissertation, teaching, etc. while spending lots of time cooking, eating out, and going to foodie events. I joke about procrastibaking, but the truth is running my Instagram account and writing on this blog help me add some needed structure to my days. I’m currently teaching online for the first summer school session and working on my dissertation, and I have no actual work schedule at the moment. I’ll soon resume teaching everyday in person, but until then, I have tried to establish a routine that allows me to maximize my efficiency and still maintain a healthy level of sanity. I’ll occasionally work at night when I have writing to do. Otherwise, I mostly work during the day, so I can explore the Triangle food scene or cook a semi-elaborate dinner at night.
When a representative from Pei Wei reached out to me and asked if I wanted to try their new Wei Better Orange Chicken, I happily obliged, as I knew a trip to one of the locations in either Raleigh, Cary, or Apex would motivate me to check off items on my to-do list before 5 or 6 pm. While these cities are less than an hour drive from Carrboro, I always feel the need to make the most of my time outside the Durham/Chapel Hill area, so I asked my friends if they wanted to join me for dinner and drinks afterwards at a nearby brewery. They, too, were eager for an excuse to leave the UNC area.
We arrived at Pei Wei around 7 pm, which is the perfect summer dinner time, in my opinion. We missed the typical southern spring afternoon shower, and we were able to enjoy the warmth by sitting outside to enjoy our feast.
I have not been to Pei Wei since I was a senior in undergrad…almost six years ago. Let’s try to ignore that disturbing piece of information for the moment. My sister always loved Pei Wei, and I have fond memories of enjoying meals there on busy weeknights with family and friends alike. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex houses many chain establishments, and Pei Wei is no exception, so dining at “P.F. Chang’s fast casual cousin” (<-My marketing attempt…lol) was not as much of an event as it was for my North Carolina friends and me this past week. Thus, my expectations were a bit higher because of the trek. One of my friends and I ordered the Wei Better Orange Chicken with brown rice along with two other entrées, so we could sample multiple dishes and have leftovers to take home.
I honestly can say the Wei Better Orange Chicken surpassed my expectations; this dish was satisfying, savory, and sweet. The chicken itself was crispy, yet tender, and it wasn’t drenched in sauce like so many American Chinese dishes are these days. It served as the perfect accompaniment to the nutty brown rice and crispy vegetables. I had ordered orange chicken at Pei Wei years ago, and I am impressed with the latest iteration of this dish. It has improved since their changing the main ingredient from frozen to fresh chicken. Orange chicken is a quintessential American Chinese dish, and Pei Wei is the perfect place to visit when you are craving this style of food. Currently, this meal costs $5 (for both small and regular portions), which is a steal when you consider their upgrade of the main star of the show.
We also ordered the Thai Mango Shrimp with white rice and the Sesame Tofu with vegetables and noodles (pictured above). The shrimp was a definite crowd pleaser; the sweetness of the diced mangos complemented the thai chile spices in the mango-peanut sauce. While the vegetables and sesame tofu were enjoyable, this dish was my least favorite of the three we tried. I prefer cubed tofu that is a bit crispier and cubed to more thoroughly absorb the taste of the sesame sauce. The noodles resembled spaghetti, rather than lo mein or any other type of noodle used in a traditional Asian dish. I brought the majority of this dish home, and I intend to repurpose the noodles and tofu in a skillet with sesame oil to crisp them up a bit.
Overall, the food, service, and company definitely provided a wonderful end to my Wednesday workday. Because of Pei Wei’s proximity to several Cary breweries, I plan to go soon, especially when I get a hankering for a classic American Chinese dish like orange chicken.