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Nothing about Mai's is bad. There are plenty of things that are weird, though: the racks of dog-eared issues of US Weekly and Cosmopolitan, the soft-rock instrumental remixes of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" and "Take My Breath Away," the organza curtains that barely hide the parking lot it shares with a taqueria called "El Bambi." But nothing's bad.
The food is excellent, filling (huge portions, to a non-Texan) and easy on the pocketbook. The service was consistently friendly, welcoming and attentive. And the menu has a whole section for vegetarians. What's not to love?
Keep in mind that I'm no expert in authentic Vietnamese. I do, however, fully appreciate impressive meals, whether traditional, fusion or whatever. We started with Goi Cuon (spring rolls with fresh vegetables and tofu) with a peanut sauce that was so good it made up for what the tofu lacked in flavor. The salad was better, a generous pile of finely shredded cabbage, carrots and pickled cucumbers topped with delicate slices of lightly stir-fried tofu. One hugely appealing aspect of Vietnamese food at Mai's is that it's simple: no mysteriously opaque spreads or sauces; nothing breaded or fried or otherwise made into something it probably shouldn't be.
For main courses, we ordered pretty typical Vietnamese fare: Bun Xao Chay (#64), a bowl of stir-fried tofu, scallions and bean sprouts with rice noodles and a light, sweet-savory brown sauce, the contents of which I tried and failed to divine. Our other dish, a tofu curry in a clay pot--#66A, and I don't want to even attempt its name: Com Ca Ry Dau Hu Noi Dat--was pretty straightforward, a mild, coconut milk-based yellow curry with soft tofu, carrots and broccoli. Fortunately, there was enough Sriracha and homemade chili sauce around to accommodate my spice-craving palate.
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And they'll make most plates according to your spiciness preference.
A couple of other little perks: Mai's is BYOB, which is a huge advantage for the penny-pincher (me). There's a Shop'n'Go just up the block, on Bryan and Fitzhugh, if you're cool with Budweiser; otherwise,stop by the awesome culture haunt of Beverage Depot beforehand for somecheap, good wine. You also, oddly, get a fortune cookie after yourmeal. It doesn't match, but it's a nice touch.
My fortune was something about life changes and bucking up. My mother's: fortune and fame. They must've gotten switched.
Mai's Vietnamese Restaurant
4812 Bryan St. #100