Ambiance, Price, & Clientele: Yes, those are rusty bars on the windows. Downtown Dallas businessmen love this place despite its questionable* façade, so there are lots of fancy cars parked out front during lunchtime (at least one of those hatchback-y Porsches). Mai’s is quick, it’s cheap (though the aforementioned businessmen would pretend not to care about that since outward displays of frugality are frowned upon in Dallas), and their food has lots of flavor and texture.
What to order: Their menu looks complicated, and it is indeed complicated. Their clay pots are under “Vietnamese Specialties” and “Co’m Chay-Vegetarian,” and they’re truly excellent. I get #66A - the tofu curry clay pot, my husband gets #44A - the chicken curry clay pot (don’t forget the ‘A’ part or you’ll miss out on the curry and the broccoli).
How to eat it: When your steaming clay pot arrives you’ll be tempted to dig in right away, which would be a huge mistake. You may go ahead and eat a few of the vegetables, tofu, and/or pieces of meat that are on the very top, but don’t disturb the rice that’s busy fusing** to the bottom of your clay pot. Just have a glass of the wine you brought (yes, it’s BYOB…classy.), wait for 6.5 minutes, and then stir it all up – you won’t regret it.
*Check out their large, sparsely-populated fish tank from the 80’s. **I’m not sure if ‘fusing’ is the correct culinary term, but something great happens at the bottom of that clay pot.