Finding a delicious Chinese chain restaurant is more difficult than it sounds at first blush. In total, there are more than 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States, which is more than the number of locations of Subway (about 22,000), McDonald’s (approximately 14,000), and Burger King (around 7,300) combined! However, due to various factors, there just aren’t that many chains of Chinese restaurants.
Even if you are able to find a Chinese chain restaurant, there’s no guarantee that the food will be good. In fact, a few of the chains that do exist are so bad that you should avoid them at all costs. The good news is that there are also some yummy chains that are completely safe to visit when you’re in the mood for some memorable Chinese food.
In this ranking, we’ve listed the most popular Chinese restaurant chains — beginning with the worst and culminating with the best of the best.
16. Manchu Wok
Manchu Wok is a chain of Chinese restaurants that was founded in Canada in 1980. Over the course of the last 40 years, they’ve opened locations across the globe, including more than a dozen in the United States.
On Manchu Wok’s extensive menu, you can find anything from Honey Garlic Chicken to Green Bean Beef, and from BBQ Pork to White Fish Tempura. Sadly, nothing on their menu is worth ordering, no matter how mouthwatering the description sounds. This Chinese chain restaurant gets terrible reviews across many different sites on the internet. Typically, the food you order will arrive either burnt beyond recognition or so cold that you’ll be grossed out the second it touches your lips. It won’t take long for you to realize you’ve made a grave mistake.
Save your money and stay away from Manchu Wok. If you ignore this advice, be prepared to throw away the majority of the food that you’re served.
15. Asian Chao
Asian Chao is a Chinese chain restaurant that is primarily located within airports and mall food courts. Its first location was in Orlando, Florida, back in 1991. Unfortunately, like Manchu Wok, online reviews for Asian Chao are mostly either bad or really bad. Even if you have a hankering for Chinese food and this is the only restaurant option within a 100-mile radius, you should go elsewhere. If it comes down to it, just buy the ingredients and make your own Chinese food rather than settle for something as forgettable as Asian Chao.
There are two main issues with this chain of Chinese restaurants. First of all, the flavor of their food is too bold. Even if you typically love Chinese food, your taste buds will be overwhelmed with flavors that are either too sweet or too spicy. Second, seemingly everything at Asian Chao is overpriced. Even if you’re used to airport food that tastes bad and costs too much, you’d be surprised by how much you would end up hating this Chinese food.
14. City Wok
If you’re a religious watcher of South Park, you’re probably confused by the presence of City Wok on this list. In South Park, City Wok is the name of the town’s Chinese restaurant. But in real life, there is an actual Chinese restaurant chain named City Wok that has multiple locations in the United States. Sorry, South Park fans — the real chain wasn’t made as a response to the fictional chain. In fact, the first real City Wok was opened in California in 1990, which was seven years before the first South Park episode aired.
When it comes to their food, City Wok doesn’t deserve a recommendation. Everything they serve is obnoxiously bland. Regardless of what you order, your taste buds will be bored to death. Furthermore, with prices that provide a poor amount of bang for your buck, there’s really just no excuse to go to City Wok. The food isn’t terrible, mind you, but you can do a whole lot better.
Back in 1985, Chowking opened their first restaurant in the Philippines, and it didn’t take long for this chain to become extremely popular. A decade later, Chowking opened its first location in the United States. Though this chain is from the Philippines, everything on their menu is influenced by Chinese cuisine.
At it’s best, Chowking is actually decently good. For example, their Chinese-Style Fried Chicken Lauriat is sometimes outstanding. At first glance, it looks like fried chicken that you’d get at KFC. However, upon closer inspection by both your eyes and mouth, you’ll realize that this fried chicken has the unmistakable Chinese goodness you know and love.
Tragically, the quality of the food you receive at Chowking is highly inconsistent. Sometimes your food is so good that you will promise yourself that you’ll add it to the rotation of restaurants you visit on a regular basis. However, other times the food is so disgusting that you’ll be angry that you wasted money at Chowking. More often than not, you’ll be unhappy with the food’s quality — and, thus, you’d be smart to pick another Chinese restaurant.
12. Pick Up Stix
While the name Pick Up Stix may sound gimmicky, this chain of Chinese restaurants actually has a long and storied history. Their first location was opened in 1989, and they now have in excess of 70 restaurants.
If you know what to order at Pick Up Stix, you can be relatively confident that your meal will be a tasty one. For your appetizer, start with their Cream Cheese Wontons. These wontons are extra crispy and extra flavorful. For the entree, pick the House Special Chicken that features tender pieces of chicken prepared with soy sauce, white wine, green onions, and garlic.
While Pick Up Stix has a lot of other options on their menu, including beef entrees, shrimp entrees, and even salmon entrees, nothing else they serve is worthy of a recommendation. If you want something other than the House Special Chicken and the Cream Cheese Wontons, go to another Chinese restaurant.
11. HuHot Mongolian Grill
If you have a picky palate or you simply like things done your way, try HuHot Mongolian Grill. While the food here won’t blow you away, you should be pleased with what you receive. If you’re unhappy, it’ll be your own fault.
At HuHot Mongolian Grill, you simply make a few decisions and then, before you know it, your stir-fry dish will be ready to eat. First, select your protein. Options vary from location to location, but typically you’ll be able to decide between a list of proteins that include hot sausage, breaded chicken, beef, and shrimp. Next, pick one of their rice and noodle options. Third, it’s time to select which vegetables you want in your stir-fry. Last, but certainly not least, you will need to choose a sauce. You can pick one sauce or multiple sauces.
Reviews for HuHot Mongolian Grill aren’t great, but they’re good enough that you can be reasonably certain you’ll be happy with your meal — as long as you make wise decisions, that is.
10. Mama Fu’s
Let’s begin with their negative attributes. Just about everything Mama Fu’s serves is oily. It’s not as bad as the super oily food you’d get at Long John Silver’s that will make you instantly regret your order, but be ready with napkins to help you deal with your oily fingers and oily lips. Another bad trait is that Mama Fu’s food tends to be mushy. If you want crisp Chinese food with a memorable texture, you should look elsewhere.
The leading positive attribute for this Chinese restaurant chain is their unique options that add a dash of Southern cuisine to give the Chinese food even more flavor. For example, their Jalapeno Brisket Fried Rice is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. This fried rice features brisket that has been smoked, with jalapenos, onions, mushrooms, and green pepper sauce.
9. Leeann Chin
Leeann Chin is a restaurant chain that’s the brainchild of an amazing woman named … wait for it: Leann Chin. After growing up in China, she came to America with her family in the 1950s. She not only raised five children, she also operated a sewing business and simultaneously wowed customers with her culinary skills. By 1980, she decided to capitalize on those skills and opened a restaurant. Today, Leean Chin has dozens and dozens of locations, primarily in the Midwest.
This Chinese chain gets strong reviews, with loyal customers pointing to the freshness of the food and the friendliness of the waitstaff as reasons why they return again and again. While most of their offerings are above average, stick with the chicken entrees such as Sweet & Sour Chicken, Peking Chicken, Grilled Bourbon Chicken, and Lemon Chicken. Leeann Chin’s Firecracker Tofu entree is also really good. It features tofu that is stir-fried in Mongolian sauce. It’s really spicy, but if you can handle the heat, you’ll love it.
8. Mark Pi’s
No, Mark Pi’s doesn’t sell apple pie and it has nothing to do with the circumference of a circle. This is a Chinese restaurant chain founded by a man named Mark Pi. He was born in South Korea to Chinese parents and quickly made his mark in Chicago soon after moving to the United States. To say he’s an expert at the art of making Chinese noodles would be an understatement. Mark Pi actually made the Guinness Book of World Records due to his noodle-making speed.
The number one rule if you visit Mark Pi’s is to avoid their buffet. The stuff you’ll discover in the buffet is borderline inedible. What you’ll want to do is order off of their regular menu. Of course, begin with the noodles — their Lo Mein noodles, to be specific.
The quality of Mark Pi’s food is good across the board. Nothing they serve is particularly memorable, but their food is relatively inexpensive, prepared quickly, and will fill you to the brim.
7. Din Tai Fung
If you want gourmet Chinese food, you could do a lot worse than Din Tai Fung. This place opened their doors for the first time all the way back in 1958 in Taiwan and now has about a dozen locations in the United States, primarily on the West Coast.
What will catch your attention right away is the presentation of the food at Din Tai Fung. Everything is beautiful and will cause your mouth to water. From Jidori Chicken Dumplings to Kurobuta Pork Buns, it’s not difficult to find something yummy on their menu. If you like Chinese soup, they have outstanding options such as Braised Beef Soup and Hot & Sour Soup.
There are two reasons why Din Tai Fung isn’t higher on this list. First, their prices are on the high side. Second, their portions aren’t the biggest. You’ll be thrilled with what you order, but don’t be stunned if you’re still hungry at the time you leave the restaurant.
6. Pei Wei Asian Kitchen
Originally, Pei Wei Asian Kitchen was launched as P.F. Chang’s answer to the growing fast-casual dining trend. The first location opened in Arizona back in 2000. These days, Pei Wei Asian Kitchen has approximately 200 locations and is no longer affiliated with P.F. Chang’s. Since the beginning, the quality of the food served at this chain has remained high.
If freshness is what you crave, it’s very difficult to find a better Chinese restaurant than Pei Wei Asian Kitchen. Everything you try will be amazingly fresh. Additionally, the prices are reasonable and the atmosphere at each location is always relaxed.
Why isn’t Pei Wei Asian Kitchen ranked higher? Their one flaw is either really annoying or no big deal, depending on who you ask. That flaw is that they overload all their dishes with an overflowing amount of vegetables. If you love your veggies, you won’t mind. In fact, this is one of the best restaurants for vegetarians. But if you’re looking for hearty, meat-filled dishes, you’re going to be underwhelmed by all the vegetables that come along for the ride.
5. Chinese Gourmet Express
Many things will surprise you about Chinese Gourmet Express. First of all, your order will be ready almost instantaneously. They weren’t exaggerating by putting the word "express" in their name. Secondly, the portions you receive are larger than you’d expect, especially when you see the price tag. Third of all, the flavor of everything is quite impressive.
While many Chinese restaurants are able to make tasty chicken dishes, Chinese Gourmet Express also has other really good meat options on their menu. For a pork entree, try the BBQ Pork that features a Chinese barbecue sauce that is deliciously sweet. If you prefer beef, the Broccoli Beef is a hit. This stir-fried dish features thin slices of beef and fresh broccoli in a flavorful sauce.
4. bd’s Mongolian Grill
If you really enjoy the aforementioned HuHot Mongolian Grill, you’ll fall head over heels for bd’s Mongolian Grill. The two chains are very similar and involve you picking out ingredients that will be stir-fried. The biggest difference between the two is that bd’s Mongolian Grill has been around longer. Their first location opened in 1992, while the first HuHot Mongolian Grill didn’t open until 1999.
What makes bd’s Mongolian Grill better? They have an unlimited soup bar and an unlimited salad bar with really good options. Typically, unlimited buffets of Chinese food are destined to be gross — but not at this place. Additionally, there are some really tasty appetizers on their menu including egg rolls, potstickers, and crab rangoons. Add these appetizers to your hand-selected stir-fry dish and you’ll have a Chinese meal at your fingertips that will be scrumptious until the final bite. If you’re still hungry, they also have must-try desserts, like Fried Oreos.
3. P.F. Chang’s
Anyone who has ever eaten dinner at P.F. Chang’s isn’t surprised that this Chinese restaurant chain is sitting in a top-three spot on this list. The food here is really, really good. It’s almost impossible to leave this restaurant without a grin that extends from ear to ear. Sure, some items on their menu are overpriced, but your taste buds won’t complain when you decide to go back to P.F. Chang’s.
The best thing to do at this place is to try something new. P.F. Chang’s boasts a lengthy menu with unforgettable dishes such as Crispy Honey Chicken, Northern-Style Pork Spare Ribs, Mongolian Beef, Pepper Steak, and Oolong Chilean Sea Bass. Even if you think you have found a new favorite, keep switching things up and you’ll end up with a laundry list of favorites.
The only reason why P.F. Chang’s isn’t number one in our ranking is the fact that a lot of their food is undeniably Americanized. If traditional Chinese food is what you’re after, this is the wrong restaurant to visit.
2. Mr. Chow
If you’re a Chinese food fanatic looking for the ultimate fine dining experience, take a trip to Mr. Chow. The first location was opened in 1968 in London, England. Since then, this chain has ventured to America and opened restaurants in numerous cities, including Beverly Hills, New York City, Miami, and Las Vegas. All of their restaurants are fancy, and their food is equally as exquisite.
As expected, you’re going to pay top dollar for fine dining at Mr. Chow. Don’t even think about visiting unless your purse strings are adequately loose. That said, when it comes to the food quality, the ambience of the restaurants, and the service level you can expect, Mr. Chow satisfies the vast majority of their customers.
If you’re unsure of what to order, you can’t go wrong with the Gamblers Duck that comes with plum sauce and steamed pancakes or the delicious Beijing Chicken that is served with walnuts.
1. Panda Express
When it comes to commercial success in the world of Chinese chain restaurants, Panda Express is in a league of its own. They sell around $3 billion worth of Chinese food per year and have more than 2,100 locations in the United States. Since opening their first restaurant in 1983 in California, Panda Express has grown to become a household name due to their ubiquitous Chinese food that is oh-so yummy.
The primary key to their stunning success has to be their delicious Orange Chicken. They sell more than 100 million pounds of this stuff each and every year. This chicken is sweet, but it’s also just a little bit tangy and just a little bit spicy. If Orange Chicken is the only Panda Express item you ever order, no one could blame you. This entree is just unbelievably amazing.
Before you scoff at a fast food restaurant being number one on this list, give Panda Express a fair chance. Their food is surprisingly authentic and will have your taste buds in a nonstop state of bliss for the duration of your meal. Panda Express doesn’t just have the best Chinese food for the price, they have the best Chinese food — period.