10 Chinese Chain Restaurants, Ranked

There is something undeniably invigorating about a fresh, steaming plate of Chinese food. Chinese food is full of tasty contrasts: sweet and sour, soy sauce and sugar, mellow chow mein and chili-laden tofu. Whether it's the sweeter and heavier American style or cuisine that's more traditional, Chinese food offers some deeply flavorful dishes that are highly satisfying. Common favorites include tender slices of stir-fried Mongolian beef, crispy yet deliciously sticky General Tso's chicken, and fried egg rolls packed with ground pork, shredded cabbage, garlic, and ginger.

Of course, rather than making everything from scratch, it's always easier to order Chinese food from a restaurant. And there's a good chance that there are quite a few options around, including some chains. The question is: Which of them gives you the most bang for your buck? How fresh is the food? Is the rice steamy and dreamy or dry and rock-hard? There are endless factors about the overall quality to consider. The good news is that we're here to offer some insight.

10. Manchu Wok

Available mostly in mall food courts and airports, the majority of Manchu Wok's locations are scattered across the United States and Canada. The smell of the company's food can be tempting when hunger strikes, and employees often lure diners in with samples of chicken. Yet despite the enticing scent of the grill and the freebies, a full meal at Manchu Wok often ends up falling flat.

The menu at Manchu Wok mostly sticks to American-style Chinese food. Orange chicken, beef and broccoli, and sweet and sour pork are some of the main attractions. The main issue diners tend to have here is that the food is overcooked to the point of being mushy. While it's true that expectations should be adjusted accordingly for a chain that mostly operates in shopping mall food courts, there are certain lines that shouldn't be crossed when it comes to quality. Lo mein that's a little too squishy might be forgiven, but pasty chicken from practically raw breading? Life's too short to waste hard-earned money on such a thing.

9. Asian Chao

Asian Chao is another Chinese food chain that gravitates to mall food courts. Its operation extends to several areas, with most of its locations situated in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Indiana. The menu at Asian Chao is a familiar blend of casual American-style Chinese food, and even offers a few appetizers. More options earn a restaurant some bonus points in our book. Crab rangoon — which is basically American-style Chinese food's version of cheese sticks — can be found at Asian Chao. And we can't deny that plunging a puffy wonton stuffed with imitation crab and cream cheese in some neon-red sweet and sour dipping sauce is inexplicably delicious.

A common gripe among diners here is that the meals are often stingy. The restaurant will pile on the noodles or rice but dish out ungenerous portions of meat. This leaves some diners feeling a pang of hunger again shortly after eating there. Not eating enough and feeling hungry again immediately after paying a restaurant for food is always a frustrating experience. Spare yourself the suffering and look elsewhere to get your Chinese food fix.

8. Mr. Chow

Mr. Chow fashions itself as a more upscale option for Chinese food. The restaurant has locations in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, Miami, and New York City. The elevated ambiance tends to mislead diners into a false sense of security with the menu, leading them to believe that they're in store for something truly exceptional. And to some degree, that's true. The restaurant carts out a champagne trolley at the beginning of the meal and also presents desserts when things are winding down. But many end up walking away feeling a bit ripped off considering how pricey many of the dishes on the menu are. Some even say that you're better off going to Panda Express since it offers better food at lower prices.

At the same time, Mr. Chow has a fairly expansive menu that's much better than the restaurants ranked lower on this list. Mr. Chow features several styles of steamed dumplings, has plenty of seafood options, and even offers filet mignon. Where Mr. Chow really falls short in striking a balance between the cost of its food and the overall quality of its dishes. A lot of diners compliment the restaurant's service, but also complain about the portions. The bottom line: The overall experience here is a mixed bag. You can easily satisfy your cravings for Chinese food for much less money elsewhere. 

7. Pick Up Stix

Pick Up Stix is a regional chain of Chinese food that's mostly located in Southern California. The restaurant cooks its dishes to order and is known for its crispy, handmade cream cheese wontons. The restaurant's menu features plenty of popular American-style Chinese takeout dishes, including egg rolls, bourbon chicken, and salmon teriyaki. We appreciate the inclusion of salmon on the menu, which is a premium option that's rather rare for a casual quick-service chain.

One of the issues holding Pick Up Stix back from greatness is the General's orange chicken. The problem is that the chicken is often cut into pieces that are a bit too small, and because the batter is so thick, diners often end up tasting mostly batter. The good news is that it can be easily remedied by cutting the meat into slightly bigger chunks. Still, we dig that you can order lighter options here, like lettuce wraps and steamed edamame.

6. Panda Express

Panda Express has over 2,300 locations, making it the largest American-style Chinese restaurant in the country. Most of the food on the menu is pre-cooked and placed into visible warmers near the counter where employees dole out dishes for each customer. The good news is that Panda Express is usually tasty and easier on the wallet than some of its competitors. The bad news is that the restaurant's food quality and wait times can greatly vary from location to location, making this chain somewhat inconsistent.

The potential trouble comes with a dish like chicken teriyaki, which features a fairly sweet sauce. In many ways, the sugar in teriyaki sauce is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes it easier for the meat to caramelize on the grill, which can create some tasty charring. But on the other hand, if the meat is cooked a little too long, then the meat's sweet glaze can burn rather quickly. As with most things in life, timing is everything.

Some diners have reported occasions where the meat was clearly pretty burned, but was still being served by the restaurant. Of course, no one wants to see food go to waste. But no one wants to pay for burned chicken, either. Another problem is that the restaurant's lower prices tend to attract bigger crowds, and when the kitchen is overworked and not fully staffed, it can prolong wait times. This situation often varies depending on the location of the chain.

5. Pei Wei Asian Kitchen

Pei Wei Asian Kitchen has more than 100 locations across the United States. The restaurant offers a flavorful mix of popular dishes, some of which it teamed up with Chef Jet Tila to develop, including spicy Korean BBQ steak, Firecracker Tofu, and Thai basil cashew chicken. Over the years, Pei Wei has garnered some favorable reviews from diners. The restaurant is often praised for a level of freshness that tends to exceed what you'll find at other quick-service Chinese food options like Panda Express. At the same time, the restaurant can drop the ball in surprising ways. Some of these occasional issues include egg rolls that are cold in the middle and bland, overcooked chicken.

The reality is that every kitchen makes mistakes from time to time. But it's also true that chain restaurants need to ensure some reasonable consistency between locations, so that diners can rely on the brand for a certain quality level. Though reviews of Pei Wei's are often in the restaurant's favor, there have still been some major letdowns along the way. But the bottom line is that Pei Wei's food is commendably delicious when properly executed. The restaurant's dishes often taste more flavorful than a lot of other Chinese chains on the market, and the company's Feast meal bundles simplify ordering for a crowd.

4. HuHot Mongolian Grill

One of the main lures of dining at HuHot Mongolian Grill is that the restaurant offers all-you-can-eat stir-fry. The company has locations across 17 states and has a high concentration of restaurants in the Midwest. HuHot Mongolian Grill has a buffet-style bar where diners choose from fresh ingredients such as sliced bell peppers, broccoli, and carrots. Diners can also select proteins such as beef and pork, along with various types of noodles and rice. To further customize the order, customers choose from a list of over 20 different sauces to glaze the meal. Some of these sauces include options like ginger broth, Mongol mustard, and hot chili oil.

This build-your-own stir-fry bowl approach gives HuHot Mongolian Grill some extra appeal that other Chinese chains just can't compete with. At most Chinese restaurants, there's very little customization of the menu. But at HuHot Mongolian Grill, personalizing your dish is the name of the game. In the mood for spicy beef yakisoba? HuHot can make that happen. Want to get experimental and come up with other unique combinations? The sky's the limit. The chain also features some interesting fusions with its desserts, like cheesecake-filled crispy rangoon served with ice cream.

3. P.F. Chang's

P.F. Chang's makes all of its food from scratch, which creates fresher-tasting dishes compared to most of the other chains in this ranking. The menu is an eclectic mix that's just about guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser with its wide range of options. The chain is comfortable and casual yet manages to still conjure up a slightly elevated ambiance that feels special. But what truly nudges P.F. Chang's into upper-tier territory in our ranking is the quality of the food itself. There aren't many large-scale Chinese chains where you can score wagyu beef glazed in bulgogi sauce and topped with an Asian spin on chimichurri — but P.F. Chang's lays it on the table.

Diners looking to eat well but save a few bucks should consider the restaurant's scaled-down lunch menu, which has very reasonable prices. The lunch menu offers bowls of various classic dishes such as Mongolian beef, kung pao chicken, and battered shrimp fried until crispy then tossed in honey sauce. There are also tons of drink options, including sake, wine, beer, cocktails, and a happy hour. All in all, P.F. Chang's has a little something for everyone and delivers consistently delicious food, making it one of our favorite chains. Still, there are a couple of other restaurants that go the extra mile.

2. Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung has locations in New York, California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. The restaurant differs from a lot of other chains on this list because it features high-quality dumpling options and more traditional cuisine on the menu. The xiao long bao (otherwise known as soup dumplings) are so masterfully crafted and well-shaped that it almost feels sacrilegious to ravenously destroy them with your teeth. Yet biting into these dumplings releases a burst of juicy flavor that immediately forgives any momentary pangs of guilt for the inevitable yet nourishing act of necessary annihilation.

Other highlights on the menu include the braised beef soup, which is made with house-made egg noodles and topped with thinly sliced green onions and braised baby bok choy. The quality of the food here is simply remarkable on just about every level for a chain, and though it's a bit pricey, Din Tai Fung provides deeply flavorful dishes that most other Chinese chains just can't hold a candle to.

1. Lao Sze Chuan

The sheer size of the menu alone makes Law Sze Chuan exceptional. This chain may not operate on a massive scale across the country like some of the other mega-chains on this list, considering most of its locations are scattered around Chicago. But this smaller regional chain achieves greatness for its wild blend of classic American-style Chinese dishes mixed with less common and more adventurous territory like frog legs and pickled pig ear.

The menu features everything from cheap and simple dishes like wonton soup and fried rice, but it also offers whole oven-roasted Peking duck and handmade dim sum. Regardless of a diner's budget or hunger level, there's so much to pick from here that it's easy for just about anyone to walk away with a smile and a full belly. Founded by a Sichuan-born chef, Lao Sze Chuan is a great place for creatures of comfort and those who enjoy exploring new territory. The passion for the food comes through not just in its expansive menu, but in the kaleidoscopic spectrum of flavors that it conjures in the kitchen.