Max’s of Manila, Glendale.
(Screenshot from Google Street View)
In the Philippines, everyone has an opinion of Max’s of Manila. The restaurant has been around in some form or another since 1945, touting the history of Maximo Gimenez and his relationship with US occupying forces during the second world war, a group of which convinced him to open up his first shop. Now that a second and third generation have taken over the operation, second and third generations of families are coming to enjoy the fried chicken and everything else.
This branch opened almost fifteen years ago in downtown Glendale, a busy area of town close enough to the epicenters of Filipino populations. There is little fanfare for the place outside of this group, but walk in on any day or evening and you will see it is a hugely popular spot for groups of friends and family. As it is in Metro Manila, Cebu, or any one of its over 100 locations in the Philippines, Max’s is a destination for happy times.
While the signature dish of Max’s is indisputably their fried chicken, the success is ultimately based on the combination of this with a full menu of traditional Filipino foods like lechon kawali ($15.99, above), fried pork belly. This beloved dish is handled with real precision here with an almost unbelievably thick and crispy exterior layer. While the meat inside is juicy and delicious, be careful biting down as that crust can mangle the more tender parts of the mouth.
The sauce typically served with lechon kawali is called liver sauce, but this ends up being one of the last tastes that you find in it, especially when paired with the crispy pork. It is mostly sweet and slightly sour, from brown sugar and calamansi juice, respectively. The combination is great, although you can easily eat the succulent pieces of meat all alone if desired.
Even if you are dining here alone without your Filipino family and friends, Max’s makes it easy to try a few things with their chicken combo meals. Max’s fiesta plate ($13.99, above) includes a leg quarter of fried chicken, rice (or fries), and a fresh or fried lumpiang ubod. It also comes with the essential garlic vinegar sauce, which beats out the banana ketchup or worcestershire sauce that they recommend for the chicken, and a side of small dessert.
The chicken once again is extra crisp on the exterior with incredible crunch, while still juicy inside. The lumpiang ubod is a flaky egg roll made with hearts of palm, pork, shrimp, and crabmeat. That dipping vinegar was actually meant for this, but no one is looking. To further the garlic experience and make sure no vampires (or humans) approach you for the rest of the night, upgrade the plain white rice to the garlic version.
Since you obviously have not had enough fried and gluttonous food already during this meal, grab the turon a la mode ($5.95, above) to finish things off. Turon are lumpia made with bananas, joined on this plate by mais keso ice cream. Anyone reading Spanish can sound this out to corn and cheese, which sounds a bit odd for ice cream but is marvelous. The combination is undeniably right.
Wash everything down from the start with a tall glass of calamansi juice ($4.50, below), much sweeter than the fruit juice would be alone, but so good as a beverage. There is a reason this Filipino citrus is so ubiquitous in the country.