Mai’s, one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in Houston, caught fire Monday morning. There is extensive damage on the second floor, the roof has partially collapsed, and there is smoke and water damage on the first, dining room floor.
According to the Houston Press, the fire department has set up a perimeter 20 feet from the building, and no one is allowed inside the building for fear that the walls will collapse. No one appears to have been hurt.
Mai’s first opened in 1978, and in its current incarnation has become one of the favorite night spots in downtown Houston. Mai’s is owned and operated by Mai Nguyen, the daughter of the two original owners, Phim and Phac Nguyen. Mai’s lays on Milan Street in Houston’s downtown, with a parking lot within walking distance, and more recently, a train station within five blocks, which is about a five to ten minute walk.
What caused the fire, which is said to have started in the back of Mai’s, is as yet unknown. Mai’s many fans and patrons are also wondering when and if Mai’s will be rebuilt and reopened for business.
This writer can personally testify to the culinary glories that Mai’s has had to offer. Many has been the time that he has settled down to a table with family and friends, slurping happily on a big, steaming bowl of pho tai along with a spring rolls dipped in the salty, spicy fish sauce on the side. The service at Mai’s in Houston has always been impeccable and courteous.
There are other Vietnamese restaurants in Houston. Vietnam’s in the Heights and Vietopia on Buffalo Speedway come to mind. These are fine establishments to be sure. But Mai’s was the first and in many ways the best, opening as it did within three years of the fall of South Vietnam to the Communists.
Vietnamese cuisine cannot be confused with Chinese, though it has influences from Vietnam’s larger and populous northern neighbor. There are also some French and Thai influences. Vietnamese dishes tend to be spicy, at least to the western palette. This writer likes pho, a soup that is brothy, cooked with beef, chicken, or pork, with rice noodles, and leavened with green herbs and jalapenos, the last likely a Texas improvement.
If Mai’s in Houston reopens, and one devoutly hopes that it does, this writer will certainly be among the first to raise a glass and enjoy food that has become as Texan as barbeque and Tex-Mex.
Sources: Mai’s Web site
Mai’s the Photos, Richard Connelly, Houston Press, February 15th, 2010