Where do you go when you need a towering stack of magical ube pancakes? Max’s Restaurant, of course. Located in the Maui Mall where Dragon Dragon used to be, Max’s knows ube pancakes and Filipino cuisine. Cathy Ferrer, the restaurant’s manager for operations in North America, told me about Max’s history.
“We are a 70-year-old brand,” says Ferrer. “The history of that fried chicken, it started in 1945. The owner’s full name is Maximo Gimenez. He was an educated Stanford teacher, and he befriended some American GIs because it’s World War II in 1945. Then he would make a feast for them. Since chicken is a very popular dish in the U.S., he would always prepare fried chicken. So that is when everything started.”
Back in the day, Gimenez enlisted his wife Mercedes, and his sister-in-law Felipe, niece Ruby and her husband Claro. Ruby created the chicken recipe that’s still made today. They opened a restaurant on Roxas Boulevard in the Baclaran district of Paranaque. Now Max’s has more than a hundred restaurants in the Philippines, plus restaurants in North America and the Middle East.
“Max’s is number one in the Philippines,” says Ferrer. “We became so popular because of the fried chicken. So that is our number one product.”
The fried chicken is tender and juicy on the outside and crisp on the inside. There is no batter. I prod Ferrer for details, but she’s close-lipped on the preparation and spices. It’s their international trade secret.
“The fried chicken is still the same recipe as in 1945,” she says. “There is no other version, it’s the original recipe from 1945. One whole chicken is processed in secret ingredients for an hour, then it’s tender. Then afterwards it’s fried whole. The skin is on it, no batter, and it’s served whole or in half.”
Max’s menu is huge. They serve breakfast starting at 7am and go until 10pm. The rice and noodle menu is especially extensive. They have egg and rice noodle versions of pancit, and thick and thin noodle versions as well. They have jasmine rice, steamed, garlic rice, crab fried rice, tsunami fried rice and adobo fried rice on the breakfast menu. Their addictive lumpia shanghai is their most popular appetizer. This tasty tiny egg-roll inspired fried treat is hard to stop eating. In fact, I even ordered them with my ube pancakes.
It’s no surprise that here in Maui, we order more adobo than fried chicken.
“Chicken is not an original Filipino food,” says Ferrer. “But our tagline is ‘The House That Fried Chicken Built,’ so that’s what we’re famous for. Here in the U.S., the most popular dishes are the adobo. We don’t have the usual lumpia. Our lumpia has pork, carrots and celery. It’s a Filipino appetizer. The wrapper is a regular wrapper that you use for an egg roll.
They also have lots of great soups. I like their sinigang, a tangy tamarind soup that you can order with shrimp, pork or bangus. But I’ve been eyeing their beef soups, bulalo and nilagang baka–they’re next on my must-try list. Max’s has a section of veggie and side dishes like chop suey, heart of palm egg roll, pinakbet, laing, ensaladang talong, asparagus tofu, laing tilapia and bangus, but you could order these as your mains, too.
Of course, Filipino cuisine is famous for their meats. Max’s offers lechon kawali, chicken and pork adobo, crispy pata, kare kare, dinuguan, embutido, inihaw and bistek. On the sizzling menu they have sisig of pork, chicken, bangus or sizzling tofu.
Max’s also has a great kid’s menu and plenty of traditional Filipino sweets.
“We have the dessert we call Halo halo–it’s our most popular dessert,” says Ferrer. “In English it literally means ‘mix mix.’ So there is shaved ice, ice cream, different sweetened beans, flan and a lot of milk.”
Their breakfast menu has seven different loco moco, omelettes like the tortang talong and ham and cheese, egg and garlic fried rice combos, kalbi ribs and a breakfast burrito. They also have pancakes and French toast.
“If you want something authentic, you go to Max’s,” says Ferrer. “We believe this brand brings cuisine to the next level. We retain the same quality and service for 70 years. How we prepare food is like eating from your mom’s house. It’s really made with love.”
To help you navigate the menu they have combo meals, set-meals for parties of more than 10, take-out and delivery. You can check them out online at Maxsrestaurantusa.com
70 E. Ka’ahumanu Ave., Kahului
Photos by Sean Hower