“I’m just from a typical American family,” Qui Tran likes to say. But the story of how the chef came to set up shop in St. Louis is anything but run-of-the-mill. Tran’s family came to the United States from Vietnam, escaping Saigon in 1978. A few years after immigrating, his mother, Lee, opened a restaurant, Mai Lee. “She started out selling Chinese food because that’s what people would buy,” Tran says. But she soon added Vietnamese dishes, adapting family recipes to local ingredients. A week after changing the menu, a restaurant critic stopped by and wrote a glowing review. “We’ve been busy ever since.”
In July 2017, Tran opened Nudo House in the Creve Coeur neighborhood, which is full of chain restaurants. He’s dedicated to growing the footprint of St. Louis’ independent restaurant scene, which is marked by supportive friendships among the city’s big-name chefs and a strong sense of community.
At Nudo House, Tran and chef Marie-Anne Velasco employ French, Japanese, and Vietnamese techniques to create updated takes on classics, turning, for example, a family pho recipe into the Banh Mi Pho Dip, a sandwich stuffed with braised beef, silky chicken liver pâté, and carrot pickles, with a side of beef broth for dipping. Like its maker, it’s anything but typical.