Chicken is one of those culinary ingredients that different cultures like to take and make their own. In the Glendale area alone, there are at least three restaurants whose claim to fame is their unique succulent poultry: Max’s of Manila, Al Wazir Chicken and Tigeorges’ Chicken. I put them head to head in a battle of the ethnic chickens, if you will, and following are the results.
I have eyed Max’s of Manila for a long time. It’s that pretty, wood-sided Filipino restaurant you see as you exit the Galleria on Broadway. Inside, long tables host happy groups of eaters under cheerful lights. But I’m here for the take-out. Special parking spaces for to-go customers make this an easy task. As I’m heading to the car, a customer sees my bag and says, “Oh yeah, that’s what I always get. It’s all about the chicken here.”
I see why. The skin is a crispy brown, the meat juicy. It’s the result of steaming the small spring chicken in bay-leaf-scented water, then giving it a salty seasoning rub and deep frying the whole bird in hot oil. Here’s the fun part: Pulled-off chunks can be dipped in the house banana ketchup for a sweet-salty treat. The half-chicken dinner ($9.95) is enough for one and comes with rice (I recommend the potent garlic rice) and salad or the Filipino soup of the day.
The chicken at Al Wazir is a whole other entity. This is the type of Armenian chicken for which Glendale is famous. Their half-chicken dinner is $4.99 with pita and garlic sauce. But most hungry folks get the two-chicken family special with green salad, rice, pickles, hummus, pita and garlic sauce for $19.99. These scrumptious full-size birds seasoned with Mediterranean spices rotate for hours in front of gas flames. Al Wazir’s garlic sauce is milder and creamier than at other chains, and its hummus is heavenly. It may take a little longer than, say, Zankou, but the owner is delightful and the portions are large.
Now Tigeorges’ Haitian restaurant is not technically in Glendale, but it is definitely worth the drive. On Glendale Boulevard just south of Echo Park Lake, stepping into Tigeorges’ (it’s pronounced “Tee” and means little George) is like going on a mini-vacation to a Caribbean island. The first thing you see and smell is the iron rotisserie covered in gorgeous golden chickens turning over a pit of gently burning avocado wood. The wood imbues the meat with a smokiness that is totally unique and not overpowering.
The meat is succulent, never slimy. The accompanying homemade Ti Mali sauce is transcendental. It looks a little like tapioca in a thick broth but tastes like garlic and island heat. It has the miraculous ability to not mask the flavor of whatever it’s put on, but to amplify it. And you’ll want to put it on everything — the fried plantains, the incredible red beans and rice, the pikliz, a lightly pickled cabbage slaw, and the acra (ah-KRAH), fried croquettes of taro, zucchini and herring. The half-chicken dinner here costs $15.95 but it comes with all of the above. The whole chicken meal for four is $21.95 and is available to-go only.
The winner of the battle? I’d say Tigeorges’ by a beak. But it really depends on the eater’s mood. Will it be sweet and crispy (Max’s), juicy and garlicky (Al Wazir), or smoky and hot (Tigeorges’)? In any case, you’ll win.
LISA DUPUY has written about food, travel and entertainment for more than 25 years. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.
Max’s of Manila, 313 W. Broadway, Glendale, (818) 637-7751
Al Wazir Chicken, 1219 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale, (818) 500-1578
Tigeorges’ Chicken, 307 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 353-9994