Far from the pack of Chinese places in Athens’ Court Street area, China Panda instead caters more to the local townsfolk. As the only place in town selling Chinese and Japanese cuisine in tandem, this is probably the only place in the area you’ll be able to get really quality sushi. With so many Chinese food places in such a small town, one would think it would struggle to stay competitive. On the contrary, I think China Panda has carved out a unique niche in attracting more than just the international students with longings of home.
The food here has the standard offering of Americanized Chinese, with tried-and-true favorites like kung pao, hunan, and stir fry. But there are half a dozen other places in town with the same menu. What makes this one special is its extensive menu of Japanese specialties; not the least of which is, of course sushi. We’re not just talking about simple stuff either, here they have a full sushi bar with an assortment of fish and vegetables. It’s not a build-your-own type of place, but with the outstanding variety of rolls, and the variety of ingredients, you’re bound to find something great.
Unfortunately, the sushi is the most inspired part of the menu; the rest of it is rather formulaic and frankly somewhat bland. The place has cheap lunch; some dishes are as inexpensive as $4.50, but what you taste just isn’t up to par. The vegetables in the side dishes are raw and underdone; a problem solved if they were chopped smaller or used differently. The sauces, while having an inspiring flavor, are ultimately bland and don’t cover the entire dish well. It’s unfortunate and unpleasant when contrasted with the full sushi bar only feet from the kitchen.
Service is good, and the workers here are exceptionally versed in keeping customers happy, refilling drinks and knowing when to appear and disappear. It’s very satisfying not to face such an interruption. There are an abundance of regulars who seem to frequent the place, not just international students and Ohio University undergraduates, but local transplants and permanent residents.
Prices are a wide range, unfortunately. The aforementioned $4.50 lunches make this place the cheapest Chinese in town (thanks to lower-quality places jacking up the prices) but there are also some very expensive options, particularly on the sushi bar. You’ll pay extra for the flavors, but there’s no other option in town. Whether or not it’s worth that much is up to you.
All in all though, I like China Panda. It’s got strengths and weaknesses, but it’s a very competitive, and delicious, option in the Athens dining scene.
- Lunch is extremely cheap. Absolutely the best time to show up here.
- Sushi is the best item on the menu, and this is the only place in town where you’ll find it.
- Some of the food options are a little bland. Try a few before passing judgment on the menu; it can be hit or miss.