If you’re strolling down Lincoln Avenue and happen upon Rice Bistro, taking a look at the menu posted just outside the door isn’t going to do much to lure you in. Spring rolls, tom yum, pad si-ewe, broccoli chicken…there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. But the swinging wooden door just to the left helps to sweeten the deal. Push through and you’ll find your way to a back patio that could only be described as plain but sufficient for us Chicagoans starved for outdoor experiences—any outdoor experiences. Even those that involve pad thai with a side of exhaust fumes.
Luckily, there’s no sputtering traffic spoiling Rice’s patio. Instead, there is a nice view of the glowing St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church, an always-welcome BYOB policy, and a sweet server who genuinely seems to have your interests at heart when she cautions against ordering the panang noodles “spicy.” Turns out, “medium” packs plenty of heat, but it’s standard Chicago American-Thai nonetheless, sweet from a heavy dose of coconut milk and sporting a generic “curry” flavor. The tom kha holds a bit more interest, carrying that sour-sweet of kafir lime leaf and a jolt of spicy galangal. Pad thai lands squarely in serviceable territory, meeting the checklist of required ingredients but leaving your palate a bit bored. To counter that boredom, take over the back patio with a large group, arrange a menu beforehand with the accommodating staff…and bring plenty of booze.