It's been a long day — the office was crazy, the commute horrendous, and the last thing I want to do when I get home is fire up the stove and cook dinner. On top of that, it's the coldest winter in recent memory and two days before pay day to boot, so I don't want to trek out into the weather or spend a bundle. I'm hungry, but not in the mood for fast food or pizza, and something's got to give. Lucky for me, I live close enough to Midtown to give myself a good, cheap option for take-out that might not be gourmet, but it's a cut above the King or the Clown. I fire up my laptop and start building an order for Pei Wei.
Now Pei Wei, the poor man's P.F. Chang's (both are owned by the same people), is never going to win any awards for its food. I've a fondness for the place, though, mostly because it's so easy and quick. The on-line ordering is very user-friendly, allowing my wife and me to pick our favorite rice (steamed white for me, fried for her), various combinations of protein, and a few side dishes that are better than might be expected. It's not a place I eat at too often, but it's a nice, cheap choice for those nights when I don't want to be in the kitchen.
My standard order at Pei Wei is the Mandarin Kung Pao with chicken. I've ordered it with steak, and once with shrimp, but I always come back to the chicken. The dish is simple: stir-fried carrots, sugar snap peas, and peanuts mixed with a spicy sauce and a healthy dose of scallions. The chicken is nicely fried to a light crisp, and I usually get extra peanuts because I just love peanuts in a stir fry. For the wife, she's fond of their Asian Chicken Salad, a large affair that comes with just the right amount of ginger dressing, and the Hot and Sour Soup, which is available by the cup or the bowl. We're usually out of there for less than $25, and by ordering online, I'm never more than a few minutes in the store.
Some of our local foodies have been known to give me grief for liking Pei Wei so much, and I'm the first to admit that haute cuisine it is not. But given that I hate ordering food over the phone, the online system is perfect for an antisocial lazy person — which means it's perfect for me quite often. And honestly, given that Little Rock isn't exactly a hotbed of excellent Chinese food, it's probably the best bet for the price (although Mr. Chen's food is still better). Decent cheap eats are important, and any time I can get something pretty tasty for not a lot of money is always a good meal for me.
Pei Wei is located at 205 N. University, in the Midtowne Shopping Center, and they're open any time you want to throw up your hands and ignore your stove.