Fine Filipino Cuisine to Da Max!
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When he started his own cafe in 1945, Maximo Gimenez never could have envisioned the global reach his food would have more than six decades later.
A Stanford University-educated teacher, Gimenez opened Max’s Restaurant in Quezon City, Philippines, after soldiers he had befriended during World War II kept coming over to his house for drinks. The cafe initially served chicken, steak and beverages, and the soldiers grew fond of the signature chicken that was — and still is — tender, juicy and crispy. Max’s became known as “the house that fried chicken built,” and the rest, as they say, is history. The restaurant expanded with chain stores across the Philippines, and eventually found its way to the United States.
“Chicken was one of the items he offered to guests, and it became so popular that (Max’s) turned into a restaurant as a result,” explains Maly San Luis, managing director of Max’s in Hawaii. “That’s how the restaurant became famous: the chicken. Since then, especially in the past 20 to 30 years, the menu has expanded to include a full assortment of Filipino offerings.”
Max’s of Manila, as it is known abroad, has seen its popularity in the Islands continue to grow at its Dillingham Boulevard and Waipahu locations. Customers pack the house for a wide assortment of favorites, including the ever-popular fried chicken, cooked in its signature secret recipe.
San Luis sat down with Dining Out during a recent bustling lunchtime at the Waipahu restaurant to share a bit of insight into what keeps customers buzzing about Max’s.
DO: How would you describe the origin of Max’s cuisine as a whole?
San Luis: You have different regions, as with any cuisine, and I would describe Max’s as being more central, as is Manila. It’s a combination of Chinese, Malay and Spanish — that’s what Filipino food is. There are a lot of stir-fry dishes, but some of the ingredients are from Malay, and you have some Spanish touch to it — the same way the history of the Philippines came about (with multiple cultural and ethnic influences).
DO: What has helped make Max’s so successful here in Hawaii?
San Luis: It helps to have such a huge Filipino population, but we’re also offering something different from what is usually available. Most of what is available is the regional cuisine with more of a Northern (Philippines) influence, and (Max’s) offers open, inviting food options to those who may not be accustomed to the ethnic delicacies.
DO: What are some of Max’s most popular offerings?
San Luis: Of course, we have the chicken ($7.95 for a half chicken, $13.50 whole) that has become popular around the world. The Bicol Express ($13.95) is crispy pork belly served with a spicy, creamy sauce. Also, the Sinigang ($8.95-$9.95 for regular, $14.95-$16.95 for large) that is the tamarind-based sour soup and a staple in Filipino cooking, and it comes with various meat choices. There is even a version made with miso that comes with mahi mahi in it.
DO: With such a strong Filipino population here in the Islands, how has Max’s been received thus far?
San Luis: It’s been wonderful — better than we expected. We’ve gotten a lot of support in terms of acceptance as well as people choosing to host parties here. We’ve become a party central. In general, it’s a family-oriented business, and it’s a good way for the younger generation, who is just being introduced to Max’s, to experience native cooking from back home.
DO: Describe Max’s potential for hosting parties and large gatherings.
San Luis: At the Waipahu location, we can fit up to about 185 people and at Dillingham, we can accommodate up to 150. We also have smaller private rooms at both locations that can fit parties from 25 to 35 people for anything from corporate presentations to meetings and family gatherings. Get 25 of your closest friends and family together — for Filipinos, that’s natural!
DO: Are there any upcoming specials that customers should be on the lookout for?
San Luis: This year, worldwide, it’s the 66th anniversary of Max’s. Every year we try to do something on the anniversary date, which is Oct. 18, and this year we’re offering half off the Max’s Chicken on that day. The special is good for that day, and is available for both dine-in and takeout orders. In the past, we’ve run various specials, and the chicken goes like crazy. It’s our way of saying thank you.
DO: Do you recommend any specific dishes for those looking to try Max’s for the first time?
San Luis: We do have Combo Meals (ranging from $5.75 to $9.50) that come with chicken, and other choices — whether it’s pancit or lumpia. So, they can try out a variety of different items. Also, in conjunction with the Haunted House next to our Dillingham location, we came up with a Snack Pack ($5.50) available after 5 p.m. through the rest of this month at that location only.
Max’s of Manila
- 801 Dillingham Boulevard
- Honolulu, HI 96817
- 94-300 Farrington Highway Suite F-1
- Waipahu, HI 96797
- (808) 951-6297
- Open daily
- 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
- 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
- Monday – Thursday
- 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
- Fridays and Saturdays
- 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.