Pei Wei Asian Market Is, in a Word, Inoffensive

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Pei Wei Asian Market Location: 742 E Glendale Ave (at 7th St). Open: Two days. Eats: Americanized Pan-Asian. Price Point: About $10 per person. The folks behind the wildly popular Pei Wei Asian Diner recently opened a slimmed-down version of the restaurant, dubbing it Pei Wei Asian Market (which Chow Bella writers have found fun to shorten to PWAM!). Given my aversion to nationwide chains but odd fascination with Pei Wei, I couldn't resist taking a peek.

The space is more industrial looking than a regular Pei Wei, with an open ceiling and an Asian street scene mural on the back wall. It's a curious mix of light-filled from wraparound windows and dark from the brown/black palette and Edison-style light bulbs. The rightmost screen of the flat-screen TV menu is a touchscreen that gives additional information on ingredients like lemongrass and Fresno chiles. The menu at first looks just like the familiar Diner menu, but further inspection shows the full-size Signature Dishes section is gone, replaced by a selection of sandwiches. The Diner Selects are called Pei Wei Classics, and the small plate menu is transported over almost entirely intact, with the addition of sweet potato fries (noted to be popular in Korea to justify their existence on the menu).

The Grilled Lemongrass Chicken Breast sandwich is supposed to be inspired by Vietnamese banh mi, but upon arrival looked and tasted more like a standard panino with chicken and bacon. The Sriracha-lime mayonnaise wasn't apparent, the chicken didn't have any lemongrass flavor, and the bacon and Chinese pickles made for an odd pairing. There are slices of tomato on the sandwich, but they don't make their presence known at all. I felt like the sandwich didn't really work, but I polished off the whole thing nonetheless. It was, in a word, inoffensive. The Chinese BBQ Pulled Pork and Vietnamese Chicken Meatball sandwiches both look closer to banh mi; I'll probably get one of those next time I find myself there, even if I do have a hard time paying more than $3 for an authentic one.

The sweet potato fries were the same sweet potato fries you get anywhere. The accompanying Sriracha aïoli (French for "expensive mayonnaise") had a smoky note that gave a little depth to an otherwise familiar condiment. Spice Market Noodles inexplicably included chicken despite no listing of chicken in the dish on the menu. Its flavor was pretty standard-issue Pei Wei, managing to be a nice balance of sweet, tangy, and spicy, yet fairly indistinct.

The staff was everywhere, yet somehow already seemed bored with the job despite having been open less than a week. Maybe they were a little addled after overly extensive training. Given Pei Wei's recent marketing strategies, I could see trainers being a little too excited about the food for their own good. Or maybe the staff is still nervous about having the corporate bean-counters around.

So, how is PWAM? Simply put, if you already like Pei Wei, you'll find this a welcome blend of familiar classics and new dishes. If you weren't a fan before, you'll find it a street-food version of the same safe, sanitized Pei Wei you know and dread. I'll probably find myself at PWAM! more often than I want to admit.

Follow Chow Bella on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest.

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.