Jeffrey Merlot

Phan’s Garden Is a Vietnamese Favorite

Small, exotic and inexpensive, Phan’s has good food and friendly service.

By - Apr 30th, 2014 04:25 pm
Phan's Garden phò

Phan’s Garden phò

Phan’s Garden serves an enormous number of Chinese-American classics, like sweet and sour chicken and beef with broccoli, at prices ranging from $10.95 to$12.95. But most people, including me, think of Phan’s as one of Milwaukee’s premier places for Vietnamese cuisine. That said, I was quite surprised on my latest visit to learn that they do not offer any of the famous Vietnamese sandwiches, like the bánh mì.

Although a comparatively small restaurant, Phan’s Garden has a wide-open feel, with high ceilings and almost floor-to-ceiling windows that connect the outside world with the festively decorated Asian style of the restaurant’s interior. And, if smiles were water, we would all have drowned in there! Yes, very friendly service.

Of course, my companion and I had to immediately go for the famous Phò. Pronounced “fuh,” (not “foe,” as in enemy, like everyone in Milwaukee seems to think it’s pronounced), this is a warm and savory, Vietnamese broth made with one’s choice of a variety of meats or shrimp, herbs and thin, glass noodles. It is served with fresh vegetable garnishes on the side, like bean sprouts and slices of green chili peppers. Also, a special variety of sweet Vietnamese sriracha chili sauce (pronounced “siracha”) is placed on the table to jazz up one’s bowl of phò, along with soy sauce and/or the more common, spicy-hot sriracha. The smaller bowl is $7.95; the big one goes for $9.95. We ordered the large bowl made with beef and it was deliciously exotic. A big bowl can easily feed four people, so a lot of it ended up coming home with us.

To go with our phò, we also shared an order of the Vietnamese style Asian pancake ($9.95), comprised of a yellowish, paper-thin pastry wrapped like an omelet around a very light, loose filling of bean sprouts, shrimp, noodles and herbs. The pancake is served with iceberg lettuce leaves on the side that you use to roll up pieces of the pancake and its filling before dipping into the sweet, clear sauce with just a pinch of red-pepper flakes that also accompanies it on the side. The pancake was light, fresh and tasty.

Phan's Garden spring rolls

Phan’s Garden spring rolls

We also split an order of rice-paper spring rolls heavily stuffed with more shrimp, sprouts, thin slices of pork and glass noodles for just a couple bucks. They are served with a slightly spicy peanut dipping sauce. And I was curious about the Vietnamese shrimp balls, so I had an order of those for around $6.99. They were light, quite spongy and quite savory – and I couldn’t tell that any shrimp were in them! They are served with a dipping sauce similar to what was served with the pancake.

My date had a glass of chardonnay (just $3.99) and I ordered a pot of jasmine tea (the only kind of hot, Asian tea offered here) which costs next to nothing.  Other beverages served are some intriguing sounding tropical fruit drinks, like avocado, coconut and Vietnamese “three color drink,” all for $3.45. Imported beers are just $3.95 each.

Phan's Garden

Phan’s Garden

The only criticism I have of this place is the way-too busy menu. It’s so big and confusing that one gets tunnel vision looking through the many, many food items cluttering it. They’d do well by pulling off all the Chinese items and simply going with about half of their splendid Vietnamese offerings. The beverages menu is perfect, though — simple, clean and focused on quality rather than quantity.

Our total bill for the metric ton of food that we ordered was just over $40. And, of course, they brought us a couple of fortune cookies with it. Phan’s Garden is an inexpensive and exotic break from routine dining. I recommend it.

Phan’s Garden (no web site)
1923 W National Ave, Milwaukee, WI
Phone: (414) 384-4522
No reservations required – accepts major credit cards
(only open ‘till 9:00 pm.)


Jeff Merlot's Beef Stir-Fry with Peppercorns recipe

Jeff Merlot’s Beef Stir-Fry with Peppercorns recipe

Recipe: Vietnamese Stir-Fried Beef with Black & Green Peppercorn
(Bo Luc Lac)

The French influence in Vietnam comes through in this recipe by way of butter in the stir-fry. All of the ingredients can be found at any competent Asian grocery in Milwaukee. This recipe serves two.


8 ounces beef sirloin, cut into

1” cubes

3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon hot water
1 tablespoon sesame oil, for marinating
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil, for frying meat
1 garlic clove, finely diced

½ small onion (about 2 ounces), cut into large dice
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) butter

1 –2 tablespoons each course-ground black and green peppercorns, or just black
2 coriander (cilantro) sprigs to garnish (about 2 teaspoons), finely chopped

4 tablespoons soy sauce

2 – 4 chili peppers of choice, finely chopped

In a medium-sized bowl, combine oyster sauce, hot water, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and sugar. Add the beef and marinate for at least ten minutes.

Heat a wok over high heat until smoking hot. Add 1 tablespoon sesame oil, then add the beef and seal on each side for a minute or so (the beef should be charred and the wok flaming hot!).

Add the garlic, onions, chopped chilies, ground black and green peppercorns, soy sauce and butter to the wok and continue to stir-fry until the liquid is reduced by at least half (you don’t want it to be too runny).

Serve with jasmine rice and French baguette.

0 thoughts on “Dining: Phan’s Garden Is a Vietnamese Favorite”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Phan’s Garden sounds wonderful, and because of your article I’ll definitely try it!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Read your article yesterday. Went there today. Pleasant atmosphere inside. I enjoyed a bowl of good pho. I’ll go back there. Thanks for the suggestion.

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