One of the things that makes Mai Lee so appealing, is the story of its owner. I first learned about Mai Lee on Twitter from a Zagat tweet. However, I had lived in St Louis back in the early 1990s and never knew about this gem.
From their website: Mai Lee’s story
After escaping a war torn Vietnam in 1980 with my husband and young son, I waitressed at various Chinese restaurants around St. Louis to help make ends meet for my young family. Pursuing the American dream led me to opening Mai Lee Restaurant in 1985 with a full Chinese menu. To honor my heritage, I slowly added Vietnamese dishes to the menu of the then tiny 6 table restaurant. To my delight, our customers welcomed the additions enthusiastically and now Mai Lee is regarded as the very first Vietnamese restaurant in St. Louis. It has been over 20 years and although the restaurant has moved from its original location, it is still a family affair. It is a privilege for me, my husband, Sau, and my children, Qui, Sara, and Linda to welcome you to Mai Lee Restaurant. It is our goal to make sure you have a pleasant dining experience as you navigate your way through the unique cuisine of Vietnam.
We went to Mai Lee with a larger group of 6 people and had to wait about 20 minutes on a Tuesday night for a table. The restaurant, which is located in a large shopping center complex off of the interstate, was noisy and filled with all types of diners.
We ordered an appetizer and variety of entrees and quickly discovered we had ordered a TON of food. In fact, the table wasn’t big enough and the staff promptly brought over another two-top table to accommodate. We started with the make your own spring rolls – what a great concept – but a little challenging for those in the group who had never worked with rice paper before. We ordered the BANH HOI GA NUONG spring rolls which included fresh greens and flavorful chicken. It was up to the diner to wet the rice paper – we were given a bowl of water and a plate of rice paper – fill the spring roll with the greens and chicken and roll it. Making the spring rolls was fun and they were delicious.
We also ordered two soups that came on large burners and could easily serve about 4 people! Lau Sate was a combination of meat and seafood in a coconut sate and Lau De was a traditional Vietnamese Goat Soup – yes, there was really goat in it. We ordered a firepot soup – Lau Thap Cam which was a combination of meat and seafood. In addition to the soups, we ordered the Ga Xao Chau – a chicken stir-fry in lemon sauce with mixed vegetables.
The service was outstanding and we were even greeted by the owner herself –she taught us how to prepare the Lau Sate.
Everything was amazing and full of great flavor. The food was light and satisfying. I would consider Mai Lee one of the best Vietnamese restaurants I’ve been to in the US and definitely reminded me of my trips to South East Asia. I loved Mai Lee and will definitely return on my next trip to St Louis.