The cuisine of the Philippines shouldn’t be one of the most distant, exotic or under-represented types of food in Las Vegas, but that’s the way it seems. Last year the Las Vegas Sun reported the Filipino population in Clark County is more than 86,000. And while there are Filipino restaurants sprinkled around the Valley, they don’t attract much interest from non-Filipino eaters who are more likely to experiment with other Asian or Latin cuisines. Maybe the arrival of Max’s will change that.
Newly opened in a former Lone Star Steakhouse across the street from the Clark County Library, Max’s is a long-successful family restaurant chain from the Philippines that has expanded to California and, in recent years, taken hold in other North American cities like New Jersey and Ontario, as well as the Hawaiian islands. It specializes in fried chicken, which is always good news to me, and plenty of other hearty, homey dishes that look and taste like they were prepared in a friend’s home. This makes sense; every time I’ve asked any local where to find the best Filipino food in town, the answer is always the same: “My house.”
Max’s incredibly crispy, non-breaded fried chicken is the perfect portal into this soulful, satisfying cuisine. A half-chicken combo meal ($11.95) is a ton of food, all the best parts of the bird with soup or salad, rice or fries and a caramel bar for dessert.
My experience with Filipino food is minimal, but what I’ve absorbed at Max’s feels like a funked-up version of Hawaiian food. You’ve got your delicious fried proteins, like crunchy, fatty lechon kawali pork belly ($12.95), and then you’ve got your simple carbo-sides like the vaguely Chinese pancit canton ($8.95), egg noodles with vegetables, shrimp and other stuff. The funky difference is that the other stuff might include chicken livers or gizzards. There’s daing na bangus ($12.95), fried milkfish in vinegar and garlic, and kare kare ($13.95-$21.95), a thick peanut stew with oxtail, pork hocks and peppery, almost sweet annatto.
There is a rough-edged quality to this food that’s not for everyone, I suppose, but this kind of simplicity makes me want to eat more and more. Rich with tamarind, the sour and savory soup sinigang won me over a bit more with each bite, thanks to giant floating chunks of bok choy, whole chili peppers and juicy head-on, shell-on shrimp. It’s clumsy, but it’s good.
If it’s too adventurous, take refuge at dessert with icy halo-halo ($5.50), a shaved ice-condensed milk hybrid with all manner and color of fruity, fun toppings. I’m not sure who’s going to eat at Max’s, but anyone could enjoy this wild frozen treat.
Max’s 1290 E. Flamingo Road, 433-4554. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.