Pei Wei Asian Diner has changed its menu over the years to include a variety of healthy and lightened menu items. Dishes normally battered and fried can be ordered steamed; tofu and vegetables are now available; and two new sushi rolls have been added to the "healthier" food lineup.
It seems like Pei Wei should have already been offering sushi rolls just as most fast-casual Asian eateries do. But, the new Mango California and Spicy Tuna rolls prove why it has always stuck to stir-fry bowls with rice or noodles.
The steamed dishes, such as Teriyaki and Orange Peel chicken with brown rice, are tasty and filling lighter options for those wanting fast Asian food minus some of the guilt. If you're going to eat something healthy at Pei Wei, stick to the lettuce wraps and steamed entrees; the new sushi rolls may be lower in calories, but you'll regret your decision the second you eat one piece.
You can order the sushi rolls in either a pack of four or eight. Customers can create a full serving by purchasing four roll packs of both flavors.
The Mango California Roll is a twist on the traditional California roll normally stuffed with avocado, crab (imitation or real) and cucumber. Pei Wei's version substitutes the sticks of avocado for strips of mango. While the fruit adds a hint of sweetness and freshness to the roll, it doesn't provide the creaminess normally provided by the avocado. There's not enough soy or citrus ponzu dipping sauces to soften the super thick coating of rice combined with the dry imitation krab, firm mango sticks and cucumber.
It's nice to see that Pei Wei at least offers one roll stuffed with real fish, though. The Spicy Tuna features tender chunks (not neatly chopped) of Ahi tuna with slices of cucumber and scallions. Surprisingly, you might need a spread of wasabi on top of each roll; if you're expecting it to be spicy, you'll be sorely disappointed. The Sriracha aioli adds some heat, but one dunk and all you'll taste is the thick yellow sauce. You're better off with soy sauce.
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Aside from the bland flavors in both rolls, each comes with different size pieces. Some are overly stuffed with the fillings, giving you too large of a bite, while others have just a smidgen of chopped ingredients.
Sushi rolls generally attract customers who don't prefer eating raw fish (nigiri and sashimi), and it's clear that Pei Wei wanted to provide sushi-newbies something to eat. However, there are much better California and Spicy Tuna rolls in Houston than these. If you want a tender, soft, flavorful sushi roll, don't expect to find them at Pei Wei.
The fast-casual Asian eatery needs to reconsider the fillings and reduce the amount of rice. Otherwise, it needs to just take the sushi rolls off of the menu and stick to the classic Wok'd entrees.