Post-Dispatch file photo


Mai Lee

Mai Lee is a quintessentially American success story — twice, or even thrice over. The Tran family fled Vietnam after the war, rebuilt their lives in St. Louis and, after Lee Tran started cooking her home country’s dishes at her restaurant, which she’d opened to serve Chinese food, introduced the area to Vietnamese cuisine. When Mai Lee outgrew its original home in a charmless University City strip mall, the Trans relocated in 2010 to a much bigger, more modern space in Brentwood, and the restaurant lost none of its charm — if anything, the food across the lengthy menu (more than 200 dishes) was even better than before. Now, as Lee’s son, Qui, becomes well known to local diners as the public face of Mai Lee, the restaurant is passing to the next generation, and once again, losing nothing in this transition. With Qui’s enthusiastic guidance, newcomers can fall in love for the first time with the basics (pho, lemongrass-intensive stir fries, the famous salt-and-pepper calamari) while old hands can still find dishes to surprise them.