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May 2, 2004 09:17 PM

Mai’s on Clement

  • m

During our last heat spell, I stopped by Mai’s for a bowl of barbecue chicken and imperial roll bun for a cooling lunch. While I used to patronize the branch on Union Street before it closed, this was my first time to the Clement Street location.

The 5-spice chicken had been one of my favorite orders, and the de-boned leg atop the fine rice vermicelli was equally good. A bit more done than it should be, but still carefully seasoned, moist and tender with a nicely browned and crisped skin. The imperial roll was quite formidable with larger than usual girth. Packed tightly with all kinds of goodies, the wrapper was well-bubbled and airily crisp. The vermicelli were de-starched somehow and hardly stuck together at all. A nice touch was that they’d been broken into smaller lengths so that it was easy to mix them with the salad on bottom of the bowl and pick up just a mouthful in the chopsticks. The nuoc cham dipping sauce/dressing had a big dollop of chili sauce in the center, giving it a spicier kick than many.

I had a lemon soda, and was pleased that a pot of hot tea was also served. Total was $10 and change, inclusive.


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  1. w

    Interesting to see that was your first time at the Clement Street location, as that's the only one I've ever been to. Next time you're in the neighborhood, check out their hue style (hot and spicy) beef noodle soup pho -- very tangy, hot, and they use noodles that more closely resemble spaghetti in firmness and texture -- overall thicker and rounder than the thinner rice vermicelli. Makes a refreshing cooler punctuation to a hot summer day.

    2 Replies
    1. re: wedgeheadjunkie
      Melanie Wong

      Actually, I've been to few places on Clement, since I'm so close to Chinatown and the Tenderloin.

      The bun bo hue sounds tempting. I've linked my last taste of this specialty, from a place in Oakland, how does it sound compared to Mai's?


      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Thanks for the suggestion on the Oakland restaurant. The version you describe sounds similar to Mai's -- but only in terms of the broth flavor redolent of beef and chicken, vermicelli and the cilantro, and onions -- both yellow and green. In terms of meats, the Mai's version is nowhere near the "riot of flavors and textures" that stemmed from the pork blood and steamed pork roll -- the Mai's version lacks these and is much more "simple" in that sense. I love it precisely for this simplicity. The pork definitely has the chewy and fatty character that makes this soup such a standout when properly prepared.

    2. Mai's on Clement has always been one of my favorite restaurants in the city, even though I always get the same things. The "Must have" dish for me is the "Bun Hoi Barbecued pork"...Superb slices of perfectly seasoned and grilled meat atop a sectioned "pancake" of super fine rice noodles with a generously heaping side plate of lettuce wraps, mint, basil, pickled garlic, carrots, cucumber etc. The imperial rolls are tops in my book, and I'm always astonished as I peer across the street at the lines outside Burma Superstar from one of a number of always available tables. Many years ago they changed ownership, but was told by the (always incredibly sweet) staff the the Original chef remained. I think he's been there for over twenty years now. This place is a San Francisco treasure!

      1 Reply
      1. re: J-Toe
        Melanie Wong

        Thanks for telling me about the vermicelli "pancake" is a favorite of mine too and not seen that often.

        Prices are low at Mai's too.

      2. thanks for the tip! It just so happened that I was on that block of Clement when my belly started to rumble. I stopped in and had myself a nice big bowl of bbq-ed pork, imperial roll, and rice vermicelli. So good! I could eat that until the cows come home :) Enjoyed my complimentary pot of tea and the warm, friendly service as well.

        2 Replies
        1. re: missmobtown

          I went for lunch too, as the prospect of good imperial rolls was too much for my stomach to ignore.

          Though I realized once I went that I had stumbled in there accidentally several months ago for dinner.

          Anyhow, I had the imperial rolls and the bbq pork rolls. MMMM!!! And, I must note, the bbq pork rolls are more than enough for two people for lunch. *burp*

          1. re: Celeste
            Melanie Wong

            Yes, the portions are bigger here, I think. I took half the piece of chicken home with me, and it was a nice snack.