We live near Mai Lee and keep coming back. Even if we didn’t live as close, we’d still return.
I turned 31 in Ohio so Jake and I celebrated an early birthday dinner at Mai Lee. The atmosphere is elegant and the service is polished and graceful in a manner that reminds us of dining at Meritage (one of our favorite Twin Cities restaurants).
The soup here is really fantastic.
Of course, there’s pho. Our typical order at Vietnamese restaurants is the pho to which the restaurant adds thin slices of raw beef that instantly cooks in the hot broth. The pho broth here is spicy. Not “hot,” but strongly spiced and aromatic. Jake loved it. I found myself gravitating thoward the Hu Tieu My Tho, a clear soup loaded with BBQ pork slices, crab sticks and shrimp. At some restaurants I’ve found the BBQ pork in my soup to be dry. Here, the slices were thick and succulent.
What really captivated us was the House Special Soup Mai Lee includes in their Vietnamese Dinner for Two ($35.95). All night, we couldn’t stop talking about this soup.
The broth had a savory, rich, shrimp flavor; not a “seafoody” flavor, but like someone had taken the time to build a broth with shrimp shells and care. It was also packed to the gills with slices of chicken, tender-crisp vegetables, shrimp, and fried shallots. And how could we forget the baby corn! Usually we hate the jaundiced, tinny little ears we find in Chinese take-out. But this baby corn actually tasted like corn and we wanted to eat it.
The rest of the meal was delicious, too. In addition to the spring rolls and house special soup, the meal came with ginger chicken, beef stir-fry coated in the lightest lemon sauce, and Vietnamese style fried rice. We were especially impressed with the freshness and quantity of the vegetables.
The rest of Mai Lee’s menu is huge and includes more adventurous choices such as caramelized fish and roasted quail, plus an entire Chinese menu. I was thrilled to see banh xeo listed in the appetizers. This is a dish I haven’t encountered since I visited a friend in Seattle. These crispy rice flour pancakes filled with shrimp, pork and greens are at the top of my to-order list.
On other visits, we tried a few varieties of banh mi sandwiches. The meatballs in the banh mi, below, are served warm in a tangy tomato sauce. We ate the chicken salad banh mi before I could take a photo. The creamy chicken salad has a special flavor that makes it taste different than any other I’ve tried. It’s my favorite.
We love that nothing here seems to be an afterthought.
Mai Lee Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant
8396 Music Memorial Drive, Brentwood, MO
*Free parking in the garage next door.