On a recent cross-state drive, I found myself needing dinner whilst in the middle of one of the countless and contagious stretches of country containing an explosion of chain restaurants and box stores and little else. In this hungry and road-weary state, it was a relief and a pleasure to spot the majestic cement horse statue that marks a P.F. Changs.
No matter where you are, the P.F. Changs menu seems to stay the same. To my fortune and delight, it includes a sizable vegetarian selection that promises the same dependable vegetarian choices even in areas of the country where tofu might not be popular.
The shtick is dependable too... your waiter will arrive at the table with an attractive tray with glass bottles of soy sauce, vinegar and hot oil, and small cups of chili sauce, pot sticker sauce, and horseradish-y Chinese mustard. He asks how hot you like it and like a magician combines the ingredients before your eyes.
I've found an item on the menu that I really enjoy, and I enjoy the predictability of its availability no matter how far into cattle country I've wandered. I order the Ma Po Tofu. It comes standard with the silken tofu fried (but they easily accommodate my request for steamed instead) on a big pile of steamed broccoli in a not-too-salty, not-too-sweet Ma Po sauce that is rich with garlic.
You can choose white or brown rice.
One interesting thing I noticed while looking through the PF Changs website later on, is that many of the vegetarian dishes include vegetarian oyster sauce, which includes no animal products. The existence of such a product was an exciting discovery for me (though I do wonder if it is just a fronting name for liquid MSG?), and I am pleased to see that PF Changs is going the oft-considered-subtle-extra-mile and acknowledging the presence of oyster extracts as not truly vegetarian.