Mai Lee's Success Story Continues to Unfold in STL

By Matt Sorrell
In Culture

It’s the quintessential American success story: an immigrant family travels to this country, starts a small restaurant and through hard work and perseverance builds not only a successful business, but a life for themselves as well. Such is the story of Mai Lee. Originally opened 30 years ago by Lee Tran and her family, who immigrated to St. Louis from Vietnam, Mai Lee has evolved over the years into the preeminent spot for local foodies to enjoy authentic Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine.


Photo by Jenn Silverberg

Mai Lee has been at its current location for the past six years. The exterior of the humble space, located in a retail strip in Brentwood, doesn’t reveal much about all of the goodness to be had inside. But once you step through the door, the vibe is comfortable and laid-back.

Mai Lee is a real neighborhood joint, where regulars are greeted by name and the welcoming atmosphere—along with the tempting smells wafting out of the myriad pots bubbling away on the stove in back—gives customers the sense of being around the table in someone’s home instead of in a restaurant. This was one of the first, if not the first, authentic Vietnamese restaurant in St. Louis, and those pots produce an expansive array of Vietnamese and Chinese delicacies, including specialties like their famous selection of pho and some tasty variations on the classic bahn mi sandwich. Not only is the restaurant popular among area diners, but many of the area’s best chefs list Mai Lee as one of their top spots to hang out when they’re not in their own kitchens.

The success of Mai Lee comes from a combination of working hard and a commitment to creating the best food possible, according to self-professed  “restaurant dude” Qui Tran, Lee’s son, who now leads the team. He also says that being in some good company has helped as well.

“I think St. Louis is such a great food city,” he says. “Everyone is elevating the food scene here and we’re just proud to be a part of it.”

After three decades, the folks at Mai Lee will be opening a second eatery, a noodle house that’s slated to be open for business some time this summer. No doubt it’ll be a chip off the old block, and one more step in the family’s story of success.

Pick up your copy of the Good Vibes issue at Mai Lee today.

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