Real Filipino Comfort Food

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - October 27, 2010
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When Max’s of Manila opened in Waipahu Shopping Plaza just over four years ago, the response from the local community was so overwhelming that the chefs and wait staff could hardly keep up with demand.

“We could only open for dinner for the first few weeks,” says Max’s Hawaii vice president Maly San Luis. By the time a second Max’s opened eight months ago, San Luis and her team knew what to expect.

“Every Max’s opening generates a lot of excitement,” she says, smiling. “They are always highly anticipated events.”

Celebrating 65 years in business, Max’s of Manila is a worldwide operation with 120 locations in the Philippines and nine in the U.S.

With a clean, contemporary look, the Dillingham restaurant, the chain’s newest, is spacious with lots of room for large parties and family celebrations. Which is good to know, because when you go to Max’s, you shouldn’t go alone. Portions are large, side dishes are plentiful and there’s much to share on a menu that blends traditional dishes with contemporary favorites.

“Most of our customers are Filipino,” says San Luis, “but more and more local people are coming and finding out that they really like the food.”

There’s a lot to like, starting with the famous fried chicken. Originally Max’s began as a restaurant selling fried chicken, but now the focus is on popular Filipino dishes too, many of them familiar to anyone raised on Hawaii’s multi-ethnic diet. There’s pata, the traditional crisp and tender pork knuckle dish, pancit noodles and a variety of lumpia dishes. Rice dishes are numerous, with the garlic fried rice a big favorite. Kare kare, a peanut and oxtail stew, also is a popular choice at both locations. And there are dozens of soups, combination plates and complete set menus for large groups that should appeal to those looking to taste as many different flavors as they can.

And while the fried chicken is the dish that earned Max’s its name as the Filipino headquarters of comfort food, don’t go expecting anything like the American version of fried chicken with its deep-fried batter or mixture of dried spices. This one is marinated then quickly fried in just its own skin.

“It’s a secret recipe,” says San Luis of the golden, deep-fried chicken that has a juicy, moist interior and a thin, crisp skin that breaks off with a satisfying crunch.

The response to Max’s combination of hearty plates, reasonable prices and family-style atmosphere has been incredibly positive, and each week more new faces appear at the restaurants as word spreads about the accessible, enjoyable menu.

Look for news of a Thanksgiving buffet to break in the next couple of weeks - a perfect opportunity to try many of the restaurant’s signature dishes all at once. Just don’t go looking for mashed potatoes, squash and turkey. “We don’t really have Thanksgiving turkey in the Philippines,” says San Luis, “but we do have our famous fried chicken!”

Happy eating!

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