By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Mar 24, 2003 at 5:40 AM

It's no secret, so I won't pretend it is, but when I mention Phan's Garden, a Vietnamese and Chinese restaurant on Milwaukee's near South Side, most people haven't heard of it. And, boy, are they missing out.

From attentive service to a charming interior and straight on to tasty dishes, Phan's Garden, 1923 W. National Ave., has a lot to offer (including a spacious parking lot to the east of the building).

Enter Phan's Garden and you're transported into a world of pink. Pink walls are matched with pink soft-backed chairs and pink table cloths. There are two good-sized dining rooms and on a recent Saturday business was brisk, but neither dining room was full. It being our first visits, we didn't know what to expect. Seeing we were the only non-Asian diners, led us to believe the food is authentic and delicious.

Since we can get Chinese food almost anywhere in town, we decided to stick to Vietnamese dishes, starting with a couple of Saigon beers and a couple 33 Export beers -- all from Vietnam. A plate of Cha Gio Viet Nam -- Vietnamese deep-fried egg rolls -- and an order of Chao Tom -- shrimp balls, six to a plate, whetted our appetites.

The egg rolls ($2.95) were crisp and satisfying, so filled with meat that they seemed almost like sausage rolls. The shrimp balls ($3.95) were also deep fried, with a thick batter encasing an alluring shrimp-based filling.

Since there were four of us, we ordered a quartet of dishes to be shared.

Two soups were especially delightful, arriving at the table in circular hot pots with a flaming chimney in the center. One held Keng Som Kay Canh Chua Ga Lao ($8.25), which had a hot and sour base laced with lemongrass, mushrooms and chicken. The other carried a pumpkin soup with shrimp called Canh Bi Do Nuoc Dua Tom ($8.25).

Both were piping hot, satisfying and delicious. The hot and sour soup was not too spicy and the lemongrass added a nice counterpoint. The chunks of pumpkin were a delight, but this soup could have used a few more shrimp.

We also had Tom Kho Nuoc Dha ($8.25), which had tender shrimp and lemongrass in a sweet coconut milk sauce, and Pho Xao Ga, Bo Hoac Heo ($7.25), pan fried wide and flat noodles topped with Mongolian barbecue-style beef strips.

Again, both were fresh, tasty and more than a little satisfying, especially over dollops of sticky white rice.


We had two servers working the table, which led to a minor mix-up over the appetizers, but both were friendly and attentive and eager to please, offering advice on dishes.

If you haven't visited Phan's Garden yet, then, hey, it's new to you. So, check it out and enjoy one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Milwaukee. Call (414) 382-4522 for more information.

The restaurant is closed Mondays. Open 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

There are $4.95 lunch specials and special Chinese lunches served from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays for slightly less.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.