By Candice Macalino
Special to The Post
Max's Restaurant is a Filipino institution dating back to 1945 when owner, Maximo Gimenez, began entertaining US troops stationed in Manila by serving them a taste of their American homeland with fried chicken, steaks and drinks.
His juicy, tender and crispy chicken soon became legendary with the American troops and Filipinos that Maximo began introducing more local dishes distinguishing Max's as the the cuisine of the Philippines.
With over 145 branches in the Philippines, Max's long-established franchise is now becoming a household name outside the Filipino shores with locations expanding into the US, Canada and the Middle East.
A year ago, Max's opened its first Vancouver location bringing the familiar Filipino flavours to many expatriates living on the West Coast.
Excited and curious to experience childhood comfort food my parents fondly remember eating, we went together to taste Max's signature fried chicken and other Filipino favourites.
Located on Kingsway, Max's is tastefully decorated with modern dining furniture and enlarged vintage photos of restaurant locations from the Philippines.
For our first dish, my parents surprisingly ordered a non-traditional Filipino appetizer, cauliflower puffs.
Intrigued that they opted for an entirely new menu item, I was actually eager to try the crispy veggie fritters when they arrived to the table.
The cauliflower puffs were like a Filipino twist on the Indian pakora (fried vegetables battered in chickpea flour).
Coated in a sweet "special sauce" and topped with julienne carrots and green onions, the soft cauliflower florets wrapped in a crunchy golden batter, were pleasantly light and tasty.
Max's is touted as the "restaurant that fried chicken built", so in addition to three other quintessential Filipino dishes, I knew we had to order their famous fried chicken.
The chicken's non-battered, crispy skin and tender flesh are best dipped in the Jufran banana sauce.
It was "sarap-to-the-bones" (delicious-to-the-bones) and I can now understand the cult following for Max's fried chicken.
The chicken sisig, usually made with chicken livers, was a mixture of diced chicken breast and its crispy skin, onions, garlic, celery and chilli served on a sizzling hot plate.
I enjoyed the contrast of the crunchy chopped celery with the tender chicken and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice helped to brightened up the plate's flavours.
The pinakbet is a popular Filipino vegetarian dish made with bagoong alamang (shrimp paste), okra, string beans, eggplant, squash, bitter melon, pork and shrimp.
It may require an acquired taste to appreciate the uniquely flavoured salty bagoong alamang and bitter melon but I believe the pinakbet is worth trying especially accompanied with steamed rice.
My favourite was the classic pork binagoongan.
The tender cubes of pork were coated in a rich, sweet and salty bagoong alamang sauce and paired nicely with the chopped fresh tomatoes and grilled eggplant.
It was refreshing to see genuinely friendly service that comes from the heart and suggest dining at Max's during the weekdays for breakfast, lunch or early dinner to avoid the rush of Filipino patrons.
Max's ability to balance fast-food and traditional home-cooking flavours has an appeal that extends beyond its devoted following and hope their growing international franchise continues to offer a taste of the homeland to Filipinos and non-Filipinos aboard.
For more restaurant recommendations, food photos & Filipino recipes, visit Candice's Cusina at www.candicescusina.com
3546 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC
CAULIFLOWER PUFFS $5.99, MAX'S FRIED CHICKEN HALF ORDER $9.49 OR FULL ORDER $14.99, PORK BINAGOONGAN $11.99; PINAKBET $9.49 AND HALO-HALO $5.99.