The best ethnic food is often the most difficult to find. So each week we'll spin the globe and search for a new other-worldly spot to expand our eating horizons around the Valley.
This week we visit Vietnam & China at Maxim Restaurant.
It's easy to miss the washed-out sign for Maxim in a strip mall just north of Osborn on 19th Avenue, but the Vietnamese/Chinese spot is a must-visit spot for fresh, filling and inexpensive lunches and dinners for culinary adventurers and timid alike.
I used to frequent now-defunct Pho Bang on Camelback where good pho was served with an unsavory attitude. At Maxim, the staff is pleasant and friendly, the food is consistently good, and two people can leave stuffed to the gills for significantly less than $20 (including tip).
Authenticity-rating: Maxim is as authentic as you want it to be. There are daily lunch specials starting at $4.95 that are standard Chinese restaurant fare and come with soup, an egg roll and rice. But there's also an extensive binder featuring pho (rice noodle soup), egg noodles, rice dishes, seafood options and some items featuring parts well-suited to our Just Offal feature.
(Note: If you order the "variety" of meat in your noodle soup, don't be surprised to see tripe and tendon.)
Read what to order at Maxim after the jump.
What to order: Start off with Cha Gio (aka crispy egg rolls, $2.50) filled with either shrimp and pork or chicken and vegetables. Both come with a side of romaine lettuce and fresh herbs which you use to wrap up the steaming rolls, then dip them in the small bowl of fish sauce.
Pho (pronounced fuh) Tai ($5.95) is a traditional noodle soup, made with a rich pork broth, rice noodles and rare slices of meat that cook in the steaming broth. It's accompanied by a plate a fresh herbs (mint, basil and cilantro), lime, jalapeno and loads of bean sprouts, which can be added to your liking.
Other favorites on the menu, Bahn Xeo ($6.50), a Vietnamese pancake filled with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts. On it's own, the basic pancake is not all that flavorful, but wrap it in fresh lettuce, herbs and dip into fish sauce (with a little chili paste) and it's amazing.
Ban Cha Gio ($5.50) combines crispy egg rolls, vermicelli rice noodles and chopped lettuce and veggies with a sweet fish sauce. For an extra dollar, you can add slices of barbecued pork.
Not sure about any of it? The waitstaff (which are often the owners) are generally helpful in assisting with menu selection.
The ambience: Like most Vietnamese spots in town, Maxim's decor is pretty bare bones: linoleum floor, no-nonsense tables and chairs, an array of condiments (sriracha, hoisin, hot chili paste) on each table and random photos of specials on the wall. Background music is a never-ending stream of bad (yet amusing) retro redos. As unremarkable as the ambience may be, it is (importantly) quite clean.
Vegetarian-friendly: While true vegetarian options are slim, the beef-averse can have noodle soups made in a vegetarian broth as opposed to the traditional beef or pork made with fried tofu.
Read what the folks at Yelp had to say about it.
Maxim Restaurant is located at 3424 N. 19th Avenue, open from Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Know of a good ethnic restaurant we should check out? Let us know in the Comments section below.