The Food and Wine Hedonist

leave your inhibitions at the door

Ann Arbor Eats: P.F. Chang’s

P.F. Chang’s, the popular nationwide chain of Chinese-American restaurants, opened this past week in Ann Arbor. Alongside it came a Bravo! Cucina Italiana in newly constructed buildings over at the mall.   I first went to a Chang’s back when we lived in Chicago about 15 years ago and I remember liking it a lot.   But the opening here in Ann Arbor presented a dilemma for me.

Before I get into that, let me tell you what isn’t a dilemma – my accepting the gracious invitation to dine there when they opened.   I’m always open to getting opportunities like this. (Do you hear me, Range Rover?)   The other thing that’s not a dilemma is posting my opinions, good or bad.  To ease your minds, we went there a second time so that I can see how it was when they didn’t know me as a food writer, but as an everyday schmuck.

Anyway, here’s the problem – I dislike chains.  I don’t mind Taco Bell and White Castles, but I go to those more out of necessity.  Anything above regular fast food implies that you’re doing more than “grabbing a bite.”  A restaurant with table service is more of a time commitment and involves more of a conscious decision to go there.   And if I’m going to consciously choose to eat somewhere, 99 times out of a 100 I’m going to choose an independent, locally-owned restaurant.   Unless I’m going to a chain restaurant for the purpose of blog fodder.

In order to survive, chain restaurants have to be generic, one-menu-fits-all affairs.   But while the menus are packed with a wide variety of choices, the meals themselves are not packed with flavor. The food can’t just be for savvy diners in big cities.   It has to be vanilla enough to appeal to suburbanites and hayseeds in the middle of Kansas.

So it really should be a no-brainer to avoid the new P.F. Chang’s here, right?


First off, there’s a complete lack of good Chinese food here in Ann Arbor.  We literally have dozens of sushi restaurants and what feels like 954 Korean restaurants, but only a handful of strictly Chinese restaurants.  There were two really good ones where most of the clientele were fresh-off-the-boat Chinese and they had two menus – one in broken English and the other in Chinese.  They were pretty authentic.   But the problem was that they were total dumps where I doubt cleanliness was a high priority.   Others here in town are even seedier joints where it wouldn’t surprise me if their backrooms are filled with illicit mahjongg games and menus featuring naughty massages.

Compare that to the sleek, tasteful atmosphere at P.F. Changs –

PF ext PF Bar

PF statues


You can actually take a date or a client there.

And did you notice the bar?   That’s the other problem with local Chinese restaurants.   The two or three restaurants that aren’t complete dumps (still nowhere near as beautiful as Chang’s) don’t serve alcohol.



So speaking of alcohol, we might as well start there.

PF Mojito

Yuzu Ginger Mojito – Tozai Sake and TY-KU liqueur with Yuzu, lime and mint topped with house-made ginger bear.


Their wine list is pretty good with a decent selection of varietals and styles within each. Boom Boom had her favorite Chardonnay – La Crema and I had a glass of the S.A. Prum “Essence”, a Riesling from Mose-Saar-Ruwer.  I ordered the Riesling because I thought the sweetness would work well with the spicy food.  I was surprised to find that it wasn’t, but it was still serviceable.

I was happy to find that they have a few local beers as well:

Saugatuck Brewing's Singapore IPA

Saugatuck Brewing’s Singapore IPA




Here’s what we ate

PF spareribs

Northern-style spare ribs – slow-braised and dry-rubbed.

PF wraps 2

Chicken lettuce wraps


PF sichuan

Beef a la Sichuan

PF Kung Pao Scallops

Kung Pao scallops

PF pad thai 2

Chicken Pad Thai

PF eggplant

Not on the menu – Spicy eggplant and I had them add beef.

PF Cukes

Cucumbers in a light soy-based sauce


They were all pretty good, with very fresh ingredients and adequate levels of spice.   The ribs were very tender and flavorful.   I would’ve like the scallops to be seared, but understand that the breading is actually part of the meal. The Sichuan beef had great flavor, but a little heavy on the celery.   I’ll give them a pass on not making the eggplant dish pretty as it was a custom-ordered dish.  It tasted great, though.   The Pad Thai was also excellent, definitely better than expected.



I’ve seen different versions of the same bumper sticker in Ann Arbor, Boulder, and Austin – “Keep (name of city) Weird”.   It’s that same sentiment I described earlier where it’s better to shun the chains and big box stores and spend your money on small, local shops and restaurants.  If you peruse the comment sections of local online publications, you’ll see a lot of people really passionate about it.   So I expect that quite a few Ann Arborites will be fighting the good fight.

They don’t need to.

P.F. Chang’s is a great place to have dinner, but it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your locals. (Especially if you’re looking for those seedy activities.)

Have you ever been to P.F. Changs?




P.F. Changs on Urbanspoon


About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

24 comments on “Ann Arbor Eats: P.F. Chang’s

  1. armchairsommelier
    December 23, 2014

    Only a couple of times . . . I also try to shun the chains in favor of the GDIs (God-damn-independents). But damn . . . those chicken lettuce wraps are FANTASTIC!!

  2. talkavino
    December 23, 2014

    We had been once to the P.F Changs here in Stamford, and we really liked it.

  3. Gloria Metrick
    December 23, 2014

    I’ve been to several of them in several cities I’ve lived in. I also try to avoid chains but I admit this is one of the few that I would occasionally eat at. By “occasionally” I mean that I might go there once a year.

    Overall, I think it’s handy to have a couple restaurants added to Briarwood Mall because there weren’t many choices, right there. I take the same view of the mall, though, that I tend to try to shop at individual stores as much as I can rather than going to the chains, but I’ll admit that I’ve been to the mall once every year or two and, when I go there, I do like to have a place to eat that is right there and doesn’t require that I move my car to get to it. It’s sheer laziness – I admit it – that’s why I don’t do it, often.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      December 23, 2014

      Absolutely nothing wrong with laziness!! And having a convenient parking lot for that matter. The restaurants at the mall are definitely disappointing so any improvement is welcome.


  4. A Famished Foodie
    December 23, 2014

    I tend to go to chain restaurants when I’m with my family- who think that my desire to eat at decent, non-chains makes me high maintenance and snobby (which it may)- my sister’s a big fan of this place, though I usually always go for their garlic/eggplant dish

  5. Salty Sweet Life
    December 23, 2014

    Great write up! We used to go to PF Chang’s years ago. When they first opened here, it was such a popular place that you would wait forever for a table. I particularly liked the miso sea bass. While the restaurant is aesthetically pleasing, I’ve found the food to be overly salty (and I’m a salt fiend) and fairly disappointing. I think the last time we dined there had to be about 5 years ago. We do have a “Chinatown”, so there’s really no shortage of good Chinese food–I guess we’re spoiled that way and that’s a good problem to have!

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      December 23, 2014

      They were pretty good with salt those nights. What I liked was that they were good with no sugar – a lot of the Chinese takeout places use a lot of sugar for American palates.

      You are definitely blessed to have a lot of choices. I”m still scratching my head about my town. There’s a lot of Chinese people here. Even if there wasn’t, Chinese is more popular than Korean and Japanese, yet there’s so few choices here.

  6. dwdirwin
    December 23, 2014

    For all you hear about dining in Napa Valley, there is a dearth of good ethnic cuisine here and I generally don’t have time to go the 30 min plus distance to get any. I think the nearest P.F. Changs to us is about 40 min away.

  7. a2Sicillian
    December 23, 2014

    the Dude and I had dinner there at the bar tonight. Background: for many years I thought of PF Changes as a seriously good chain restaurant, but then had a few bad experiences at one at a mall in Calif. Tasted like…bad chain food. Very very salty. I’ve heard Novi location also has gone downhill. Tonight we had the chicken lettuce wraps, ahi tuna tartare on wonton crisps, spicy asparagus side and orange peel beef, very good to good with my least favorite the beef. Lots of spice and garlic; no need for chili sauce request on side, which surprised me. Best of all those four dishes plus four drinks total came to $77, and we were stuffed. Yes, a little on salty side, but we will keep going back as long as they keep the quality uo and don’t submerge into chain restaurant hell.

    • a2sicilian
      December 24, 2014

      I will tell you I woke up this morning feeling like I’d visited a salt lick ;). Still, fun night. They always do a great job with the decor.

      • thefoodandwinehedonist
        December 24, 2014

        Your closest option is that or that Paradise dump in the Colonial strip mall. Which will still be salt lick-ish…

  8. Michelle Williams
    December 23, 2014

    Hard to not like PF Chang’s. We have several in Dallas. I rarely eat at one but when I do I always wonder why I don’t dine at PF Changs more often. Cheers.

  9. Megan @ MegGoesNomNom
    December 24, 2014

    PFC Post Twinsies! Nice choices on the starters. 😉

    I’ll admit I faced the same dilemma when it to deciding whether or not to go. I was really curious about their Pad Thai – glad to hear it was solid.

  10. wineandhistory
    December 26, 2014

    I’ve been to PF Chang’s in Portland, Oregon (another of those “weird” cities), and a couple of other places when I have traveled. While it isn’t a regular occurrence, I like that when I’m traveling, and have no time to research what the good local eats are, the chains provide a place where I know what I’m getting and don’t have to worry about it. Nice to see the local brews there! I can’t remember if the Portland one had Oregon beer and wine.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      December 29, 2014

      I still try to take a flyer on a local place whether I research it or not. My problem is finding a good reputable local recommendation. Co-workers are pretty bad and Yelp and Urbanspoon usually miss a lot. Hmmm, sounds like a good future blog post. Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Tamara
    January 8, 2015

    I like PFC a lot. They have a really good ground chicken and eggplant dish. Try it if you haven’t already!

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This entry was posted on December 23, 2014 by in Ann Arbor, Dining and tagged , , , , , , , .
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