Mai’s Restaurant – 35 years and counting

    My junior year of high school was my first year ever in America, and I was still learning the rope of living here, high school dance among other things. A friend invited me to Homecoming. For the pre-dance dinner, he talked about going to a Vietnamese restaurant named Mai in Houston. I didn’t know exactly where it was or what it was (this was 2002, Google Maps and Yelp didn’t exist), but I thought that was considerate of him. In the end, we went to a steakhouse instead, I thought it was because Mai was a bit too far away, and I was left wondering what Mai was like.

    A few years later, my host parents mentioned Mai again in passing conversation, and suggested we went together sometime. The place, dated back to 1978, is known as the very first Vietnamese restaurant in Houston, and pretty much every Houstonian knows at least its name. My parents and I were interested, but again, days passed and we forgot. One day in early 2010, news came that the restaurant had been destroyed by a fire. We sighed, somewhat regretful.

    Luckily, it reopened. I forget how and when we came to know of its re-opening, but this summer, we decided that as Houstonians, it’s about time we should check this off the list.

    As usual, my mom told me to order anything I want, and I did. But I overdid myself, and we struggled to finish a few plates fast enough to have room on the table for the next plate. It was a marathon. The portion was dinosaur-mongous. The three of us packed half of the food home.


    Fried shrimp with garlic butter sauce

    Fried shrimp with garlic butter sauce

    This plate was the first to be move out of the way. Guess what I poured on my dress? The garlic butter sauce. I smelled “good” for the rest of the day.

    Chao long - rice porridge with "dau chao quay" (youtiao) and pork offals.

    Chao long – rice porridge with “dau chao quay” (youtiao) and pork offals.

    Yes, this is an appetizer, although the bowl can probably fit me in it.


    Breaded fried catfish steaks

    Breaded fried catfish steaks – Crunchy and not too oily, but I wish they were not breaded and simply pan fried.

    Canh chua - sour soup with fish, tomato, pineapple, okra and celery

    Canh chua – sour soup with fish, tomato, pineapple, okra and celery. So refreshing for the summer!

    Banh hoi - thin rice noodle mesh with lemongrass grilled beef

    Banh hoi – thin rice noodle mesh with lemongrass grilled beef

    This one is to be wrapped in rice paper, which my mom artfully put on her bowl like a mini table cloth (the first picture).


    Green tea ice cream

    Green tea ice cream

    Banana tapioca pudding

    Banana tapioca pudding

    One of those extremely common desserts in Vietnam that you never see in American Vietnamese restaurants. This one is good (but I like my version better ^_^).

    Mai’s menu has a lot of stuff, but nothing strayed from the usuals that you would see at any Vietnamese restaurant in town. Although few things jump out at me, anything that we ordered tastes exactly how we want them to. They make traditional Vietnamese food in the honest, straightforward traditional manner, with abundance to boost, which is also characteristic of Vietnamese food. Their home-styled comfort delivered, and we wouldn’t ask for anything better.

    Mai’s Restaurant is at 3403 Milam Street, Houston, TX 77002 – (713) 520-5300

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