One of the few things I miss since starting a gluten free diet is the ability to stop in a Chinese restaurant and grab some take out. So many of the dishes have soy sauce in them, and the risk of cross contamination is fairly high. I knew that P. F. Chang’s offers a gluten free menu but I really wanted someplace quicker and less expensive. I spent some some on-line the other day researching restaurants with GF options in the Baltimore area. That is when I stumbled upon Pei Wei Asian Diner.
Pei Wei (pronounced Pay Way) is another venture by the people who brought us P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. They do offer a take out option (hooray!) and all of the entrees are priced under $10.00. Unfortunately, there are only two locations in Maryland. One is in Dobbin Square, in Columbia, while the other is on York Road in the Cedarcroft neighborhood of Baltimore City. If you’ve been to Wells Liquors recently then you’ve been right next to Pei Wei.
Though I’d been looking for take out, we elected to eat in this time. The interior was attractive, dark and clean with black and white photos of life in China on the walls. Ordering was a bit confusing at first. The menu is displayed on large boards and everyone was grouped around reading, making it difficult for the folks taking orders to know who was in line and ready. Alas, the gluten free menu was not included on the general menu boards. No mention of it appeared anywhere. I went to the counter and asked if they still offered gluten free options. The reply was a reassuring “oh, yes” and the girl handed me a laminated index-card sized menu that she pulled off of a strip of velcro behind the counter.
Pei Wei’s gluten free menu currently lists five options:
Asian Chopped Chicken Salad
Pei Wei Spicy Chicken Salad
Vietnamese Chicken Salad Rolls (my choice)
Pei Wei Spicy (their “version of General Chu”)
Sweet and Sour Chicken or Shrimp
Once we had selected our choices we went to the counter, placed our order, and paid for everything at the same time. We were given a number, glasses for our iced tea, and asked to choose our seats. The restaurant was a little noisy during the dinner hour but we could still talk easily. We decided to fill our drinks while waiting for our food so we headed back to the beverage area.
I’d read that Pei Wei brews some fantastic iced tea and, being a tea lover, I wanted to sample it for myself. They offers two kinds of tea; Mandarin Orange Green Tea, and Black Chia Tea. I was very pleased to see that the teas are unsweetened, giving full control of type and level of sweetness to the customer. The orange green tea had a nice citrus taste and was pleasant, but I preferred the Chai tea. It smelled very nice, sweet and spicy and rich. I generally drink my iced tea unsweetened but I added a little bit of plain sugar to enhance overall flavor. It was very, very good.
We waited for about ten minutes before our food arrived. The Vietnamese Chicken Salad rolls come with a side of spicy sweet and sour sauce instead of the usual gluten-containing peanut sauce. They were delicious! Three rice paper wrappers were filled with lettuce, carrots, chicken, peanuts, chopped mint, and rice noodles. The flavors blended very well and each bite was better than the last. I would have been very happy if the order had come with four spring rolls instead of three!
We had few minor complaints but nothing that would stop a return visit. My friend’s appetizer (regular spring rolls which were declared “just okay”) arrived after the entrees, and the server had to be asked to bring the sauce that was supposed to be on the Japanese Teriyaki Bowl. That aside, the food was good, the atmosphere was friendly and the bathrooms were reasonably clean. What more can you ask for?
I will definitely pay a return visit to Pei Wei sometime soon. I need to try their gluten free version of Sweet and Sour Shrimp…