A busboy told Hair Balls that the fire "started in the back" but everyone was able to quickly evacuate the building.
The damage seems most severe on the second floor of the place, which for years has been the subject of various theories about what exactly happens up there. The restaurant itself, on the ground floor, seems in better shape, but smoke and water damage will still be significant.
The Year of the Tiger did not begin well for Mai's. Which sort of contradicts this description of 2010 from a Chinese astrology site describing what the animal symbolizes: "This courageous and fiery fighter is admired by the ancient Chinese as the sign that keeps away the three main tragedies of a household. These are fire, thieves and ghosts."
Two out of three ain't bad, we guess, but don't tell that to Mai's fans.
Update: Our Blake Whitaker reports that "at least half the roof" has collapsed, and firefighters have set up a safety perimeter about 20 feet from the building with no one allowed inside it, in case the walls collapse, too.
More photos of the damage are below.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.