As St. Louis' first Vietnamese restaurant, Mai Lee's place in local culinary history is guaranteed. But when owner Lee Tran and her family announced their plans to move from the western edge of University City to a strange new location — the ground floor of a parking garage in Brentwood, sandwiched between the Best Buy/Sports Authority colossus and the South Hanley Road Home Depot, even passionate fans raised a skeptical eyebrow. Our worries were unfounded. Mai Lee is thriving in its new home, its dining room seemingly packed at every lunch and dinner. The menu is massive — more than 200 dishes. Order any of them with confidence, from simple goi cuon (fresh summer rolls) to exotic ech xao lan (a stir-fry with lemongrass, curry and frogs' legs). For those who prefer to stick to the tried-and-true, Mai Lee's renditions of the most popular Vietnamese dishes won't disappoint: the pho is outstanding, the rice noodles that give the soup its name swimming in a lovely and complex beef broth; and the banh mi will turn you off ordinary American sandwiches for life. You might not be related to the Lees, but they'll become like your family in one respect: You'll follow them anywhere.
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