My No-Fail Late-Night Order at Mai's

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It starts out innocently enough. With a long day spent squinting at a computer screen behind us and the glistening sun beckoning us to one of Houston's many patios, we find ourselves letting loose at a happy hour with friends. Fast-forward a few buckets of beer and a handful of increasingly sloppy games of bags later, and we realize we've gotten a little too loose and have completely "forgotten" dinner once again. Enter Mai's -- the land of post-party misfits in dire need of some grub.

And excellent grub at that. While some may have their woes with the midtown Vietnamese restaurant, I love it each and every time I visit (and yes, that includes non-intoxicated meals). Perhaps, though, that's because I know what I like -- and I get it every single time.

You probably should, too, because it's freaking fantastic.

We start with an order or two of canh ga chien -- salt and pepper fried chicken wings -- for the table. They come six on a plate, so I suggest splitting with one other person if you plan on splitting at all. Trust me, you'll want at least three of these babies.

The fried chicken is expertly crisp and juicy, seasoned heavily with garlic, salt and black pepper, and served on a bed of hot and sour peppers and onions, which I scoop onto the wings before going in for the kill.

I'm always craving another bite, but I know I have to save room for the bo luc lac -- Mai's signature garlic beef made with filet mignon (pictured above). Hunks of tender and succulent still-pink filet peek out from the stir-fried garlic, onions, red bell peppers and jalapeño blanketing a bed of crisp lettuce, red onion and tomatoes. I add in stir-fried mushrooms, asparagus tips and sometimes broccoli for good measure.

Oh, and did I mention the garlic cloves are fried whole so that they turn into what I can only describe as butter? Yeah. The whole thing is served with steamed rice (I choose brown) and a tart vinaigrette that I take turns battling my fiancé over (we share the meal when it's a late-night dine because, well, we don't hate ourselves that much).

We always leave bellies full and happy as clams -- possibly because we're still slightly buzzed, but mostly because Mai's was just that good.

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