Max’s World Cafe: Rapture in Issaquah

It’s easy to miss, even as you’re driving slowly along Front Street in Issaquah looking for it. The storefront is just a sliver, which also describes the very tiny space inside, taken up by four small tables and a skinny counter with stools. Don’t let any of that fool you. Max’s World Cafe is world-class cuisine. The food would befit the finest restaurants of Seattle, but Issaquah is where Chef Edna Noronha has chosen to serve her customers. The restaurant has been in operation since 2010, collecting a loyal clientele ever since. The menu is broad but there is a definite influence from the cuisine of Goa, India.

Chef Edna, as her customers like to call her, judging from the cards and letters posted on a bulletin board, hails from Goa. She also graduated from the Culinary Institute of America as valedictorian of her class in 2006. She is the one who takes your orders and, once served, will gladly talk about the provenance of her food, none of which has touched additives or preservatives of any kind. Everything is made from scratch, including three hot sauces and spice blends, the former available for sale and the latter, likely soon. The cooking of Goa is represented on the menu by its distinctive Indian, Portuguese  and Arabic influences. The menu is small and the prices are somewhat high, no doubt because of the quality ingredients and careful and labor-intensive preparation that she invests her food with.

My wife and I decided to eat at Max’s after a musical performance at Village Theatre, directly across the street. Because I had eaten and loved the African Portuguese Chicken on a previous visit, I recommended to my wife that she order it. The chicken, deboned with skin left on, is marinated for days in a piri piri marinade before being grilled. The result is nothing short of perfection (☆☆☆☆), as moist a chicken breast as I’ve ever had. The chiles in the piri piri sauce sneaks up on you, complemented with flavors of smoked paprika, red wine vinegar, garlic and spice blend. Perfectly grilled, the chicken is an exceptional combination of crispiness and succulence.

African Portuguese Chicken
African Portuguese Chicken

I order lamb only when I eat out because I don’t make it at home. Today’s special was Lamb Shanks. Bar none, it was the best lamb entrée I’ve ever eaten (☆☆☆☆), the kind of lamb that falls off the bone with the slightest nudge, the result also of days of marination and slow roasting for 8 hours. It was topped with cilantro pesto. The lamb itself is grass-fed and hails from Australia. Amazing, incredible stuff.

Lamb Shank
Lamb Shank

Normally, we don’t get dessert except on special occasions. But, with our incomparable meals just completed, we wondered if the magic could strike again with something sweet. Chef Edna suggested Sticky Date Cake served with vanilla ice cream. To think of it as cake in the usual sense would be a mistake for it was more like a cake pudding darkened with date sauce. It appeared to be dense at first sight, but it was moist and just sweet enough. On top was poured a most delicious caramel sauce, intensely buttery, a perfect complement to the cake and two small scoops of exquisite vanilla ice cream. This was an outstanding dessert (☆☆☆☆).

Sticky Date Cake
Sticky Date Cake

Chef Edna told us that she plans to move the operation to a new restaurant around the corner, possibly next year, that will seat many more people and serve breakfast besides. She’ll change the menu at the current location to serve food at a lower price point. If the quality of her lunch and dinner menus is any indication, I venture to say the new Max’s should contend for the best breakfast place on the Eastside.

I’ve never given the highest rating to everything we’ve eaten at one meal. This is the first time. The food was, in a word, rapturous.

Max’s World Cafe
212 Front St N
Issaquah, WA


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