Mai Bun Mee
850 S. State St.
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
P: (801) 575-8888
I’m a staunch advocate of Oh Mai, Salt Lake’s finest purveyor of Vietnamese comfort food. My wife and I eat there at least once a week–though now that the weather is getting colder, I may need to gradually increase my pho consumption. When I heard that the success of Oh Mai’s two stellar locations had generated enough momentum to open a sister restaurant called Mai Bun Mee, it was a moral imperative to check the place out.
Those familiar with Oh Mai’s menu will recognize a similar culinary theme at Mai Bun Mee–the restaurant boasts a wide variety of bahn mi, traditional Vietnamese sandwiches on a French baguette, along with some rice and noodle bowls. Much like the trendier atmosphere of the restaurant, the menu appears to have been crafted with some more accessible options to diners who are unfamiliar to the world of Vietnamese sandwich-crafting. One thing that today’s conscious eater will appreciate is the wall adjacent to their menu which provides an exhaustive detailing of what menu items are gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian–it’s nice to see an eating establishment offer a proactive approach to dietary needs instead of rolling their eyes when asked to be accommodating.
Mai Bun Mee’s sandwich menu is vast, and surprisingly varied. Sandwiches can be ordered with fish, chicken meatballs, beef, or with veggies. It’s the kind of menu that begs you to try everything on it at least once. For our inaugural journey, my wife ordered a sandwich called the Fisherman ($6.98), which is a seared tilapia sandwich topped with mango slaw, cucumber, and garlic aioli. The tilapia was juicy and fresh, but I found that the other elements of the sandwich didn’t really pop as much as I was hoping. Tilapia and mango slaw is a match made in heaven, but the flavor combo wasn’t quite there. I also preferred the baguette at Oh Mai, which is a bit crustier on the outside, whereas the baguette here lacked the crunchy bite that I have come to expect from a bahn mi.
I ordered the Curry Noodle Bowl with Chili Lemongrass Pork ($7.48), and got that sucker slathered in their Hot Red curry sauce. There was a slight mix-up with my order–these things happen at new restaurants, and it was cheerfully rectified by a manager, who brought my order herself. The Curry Noodle Bowl is a comfy mix of rice noodles, taro, julienned carrots, and bean sprouts and they do not skimp on the sauce. The inclusion of taro instead of potato was interesting–the texture was more smooth and yielding than the traditional root veggie. As it should be, the sauce was the shining moment of this dish. It was indeed hot, but not too hot so as to burn away that earthy, coconut-laced flavor of a good curry. Delicious as it was, the curry flavor overpowered any remnants of the pork’s chili lemongrass seasoning, but the meat was tender and plentiful–plus pork always goes well with curry.
Overall, Mai Bun Mee feels like a well-thought out concept. It has the trendy design and easy service that is present at chain restaurants like Zupa’s or Rumbi, but it offers a menu that most diners will find intriguing without feeling alienated–not to mention the fact that it’s locally owned and operated. It’s definitely worth a visit.