Best Vietnamese Restaurant

Mai Lee

St. Louis is blessed with exceptional Vietnamese cuisine. This year the nod goes to Mai Lee, one of the area's longer-lived Vietnamese joints. Start with the pho tai, the cheap-as-dirt beef soup that's a meal in itself. Mai Lee's version is as good as it gets, with plenty of fresh mint leaves, bean sprouts and jalapeño slices on the side. The goi cuon, a spring-roll appetizer of shrimp, pork, lettuce and vermicelli noodles wrapped in rice paper, is another standout. Add it to the pho and you've got a huge lunch (or dinner) for under $10. But don't stop with the standards. The underdone beef is the best in town. It's a relatively simple dish -- just slightly chopped steak that's cooked until the mooing stops. Mix with rice, drench in the spicy, garlicky sauce that comes on the side and you'll appreciate the fresh tomato wedges that cool the mouth just enough to allow another bite. If hot isn't your game, order the duck or chicken steamed in wine sauce. Or try something else. With more than 290 items on the menu, there's enough variety to please anyone. The only downside is the dining room, a cramped space that fills up quickly during the dinner hour, but the tight quarters are offset by service that's prompt and consistent. This place is crowded for a reason.
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