Manila style

Max’s Restaurant at Maui Mall dishes up authentic cuisine of the Philippines

Max’s Restaurant branch manager Judith Tomas (seated) is presented with lunch by Chef Erick Buono (left) and chicken processor Edwin Cadungog. Max’s Restaurant photo

Filipino cuisine is known as “Southeast Asian soul food,” and these days it’s growing by leaps and lumpias in the islands and on the Mainland.

Max’s Restaurant at the Maui Mall in Kahului takes its cue from the landmark Max’s of Manila restaurant that goes back more than 70 years.

“It all started back in 1945, with Maximo Gimenez,” says Maui branch manager Judith Tomas. “His niece, Ruby, was the creator of a chicken recipe so popular with American GIs during World War II, that everyone told them they should open a restaurant.”

Max’s of Manila did open — to wide acclaim. Then last year in February, Max’s Restaurant opened here as the 15th store in the franchise. Since then, two more have popped up in Canada and San Diego.

The Philippines has more than 7,000 islands with various styles of food representing each region. Max’s is inspired by the Tagalogs of central Luzon.

Tsunami fried rice is served all day and night. Max’s Restaurant photo

Most of the sakadas, or Filipino laborers, who were brought in to work Hawaii’s sugar plantations were from the Ilocanos region, so Max’s also serves dinuguan meat stew and other northern dishes to please numerous Maui residents who are their descendants.

But let’s get back to Max’s famous fried chicken. Even Colonel Sanders would salute the secrecy surrounding its recipe of herbs and spices.

“Only two people know that secret chicken recipe,” says Tomas, a veteran in Maui’s hotel and restaurant industry. “It’s a proprietary item and a company in L.A. makes the spice blend for us.”

The chicken is marinated in these signature seasonings and then fried to golden doneness by chicken processor Edwin Cadungog, who signed a contract never to divulge the secret and whose main job is to cook the chicken. Choose from half or whole birds.

It’s accompanied by achara, or pickled papaya, and French fries. Dip the poultry and the fries into banana ketchup with a little Lea and Perrins worchestershire sauce and Tabasco to your liking.

Kare kare is a savory meat stew in peanut sauce. Max’s Restaurant photo

Besides Max’s chicken, popular dishes include pancit with egg or rice noodles or a combo of both; crispy lechon, or pork belly; pinakbet, or vegetable stew; and crabmeat fried rice. It also debuted breakfasts recently.

For instance, Max’s Tsunami fried rice is a mountain of applewood smoked bacon, Portuguese sausage and shrimp mixed with jasmine rice, sweet or longanisa sausage vinegar, kamaboko fish cake and green onions.

“We have seven different loco mocos,” says Tomas. “The deluxe is two scoops of jasmine rice, corned beef hash patty, kalua pork, brown gravy and two eggs; and we have kalua pork with all of the trimmings.”

Two different kinds of pancakes are featured, including the ube, purple with sweet potatoes served with special coconut syrup mixture. A Filipino favorite breakfast is the bangsilog platter of marinated boneless milkfish with scoop of garlic rice and two eggs. The best part is, breakfast is served all day and night from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Ditto for lunch and dinner favorites.

“If you feel you want chicken in the morning, go for it,” says Tomas. “Hot soup, go for it. We have also been doing a delivery service for a few months and with the quality of the food it’s a good deal.”

Max’s fried chicken has been famous since the original eatery opened in Manila in 1945. Max’s Restaurant photo

There is a minimum charge of $25 for your food and a $2 delivery fee. Max’s delivers everywhere in Central Maui from Wailuku Heights to Waiehu.

“We deliver the whole menu, whatever you see we can bring you. Master Chef Erick Buono cooks crispy pata, kare kare and bulalo — all tedious to make. And I believe that we have the best recipes.”

Catering is also big at Max’s and you have free use of the room for two hours as well as free use of the sound system. Choose from half and full pans; set menus or all-you-can-eat buffets (for more than 50 people). And don’t forget to cool off with some halo halo.

Max’s at a glance

• Where: Located at 70 E. Kaahamanu Ave., in Kahului at the Maui Mall.

Halo halo is Filipino version of shave ice. Max’s Restaurant photo

• Hours: Open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout.

• Delivery service: With a minimum order of $25, plus a $2 charge, Max’s will bring their cuisine to your door in Central Maui.

• New breakfast: Seven, count ’em, loco mocos will tempt you from morning to night along with fluffy pancakes, boneless milk fish, kids combos and more.

• Catering menu: For your wedding, birthday and work functions, Max’s can accommodate 120 people with packaged and set menus and buffets, the latter for 50 or more.

• For delivery, take-out and catering: Call 419-6784 or visit