By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 30, 2005 at 5:32 AM Photography: Eron Laber

{image1}Certainly, the Rice Palace, 3730 W. National Ave., is no secret. It's gotten some coverage since opening about two years ago in a neighborhood that has a growing population of Asian Americans and a growing list of good eateries.

But this casual pan-Asian restaurant isn't a hot spot yet, either.

And that's a shame, because whenever you visit you can expect a smile and friendly service at this family-run place. If you visit at lunch time, you can also expect a small but satisfying buffet for under $8. And on a visit you'll run into a number of devotees.

On a recent weekday, we popped in for a late lunch and found Rice Palace nearly empty, as the buffet devotees had already cleared out. However, the offerings on the hot table were well-stocked and fresh.

{image2}And diversity was the order of the day. In addition to Chinese egg drop soup and traditional appetizers like crab puffs and egg rolls, there was fried rice, curry-laced stir fries, sweet pork with soy sauce, hard-boiled eggs and more.

Three hungry men had no trouble (over) satisfying themselves -- and there were three other tables and a few carryouts -- as the table remained well-tended.

Rice Palace was opened by Chuedang and Youa Vue who arrived in Milwaukee from Laos 25 years ago and also run an adjacent bakery, deli and banquet hall.

The atmosphere is informal, but bright, clean and welcoming. There are simple wicker-seated chairs, well-spaced tables and a charming thatched roof above the counter and buffet table.

The beverages come in cans, but the food is by no means no-frills. Although the egg drop soup was a bit bland, all the other dishes were flavorful and fresh and the fried appetizers weren't too oily and were piping hot, making them favorites.

{image3}Our server told us that while the Rice Palace lunch buffet appears to be growing in popularity, dinner hour diners have yet to discover the charms of this restaurant, which serves up Thai, Hmong, Chinese and Vietnamese specialties.

Certainly the neighborhood, which is a bit out of the way for many Milwaukee diners, is a factor. But with more and more good restaurants opening along National Avenue, that can be expected to change.

Rice Palace Asian Cuisine is open Sunday through Wednesday, from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.; and Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Orders can be faxed to (414) 383-0325 or called in to (414) 383-3156. You can even carry out from the buffet at lunch.

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 OnMilwaukee.com 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.