The tiny dining room and bright round sign outside Max’s World Cafe might mislead passersby into thinking it’s just another lunch spot on Front Street in Issaquah.
Unbeknownst to them, they’re missing out on a gem that has local foodies lining up.
They might also overlook Chef Edna Noronha, who graduated top of her class from the nation’s most prestigious culinary school, Culinary Institute of America.
She celebrated Max’s first year this June.
Raised in Goa, India, Noronha’s cooking sticks true to her Portuguese and Indian roots. Her mom still makes her curry powder, a collection of 26 spices.
She’s a perfectionist about the taste of her food, but so low key she uses her silver valedictorian prize bowl for jellybeans.
In addition to a couple curries, she offers a take on British Colonialism – fish and chips with a thin batter that offers crispness without hiding the fresh Alaskan cod.
“I want to feel the fish,” Noronha said.
She couldn’t help but add some heat, a pinch of cayenne in the tartar sauce.
The fish tacos are built in layers. The dry cabbage is topped with a creamy white dressing slightly sweetened with honey. She uses just enough of her house-made hot to warm the mouth and bring balance to sweet and sour.
The menu is filled with signature dishes, some she’s carried from her childhood.
For dinner, try the African chicken with piri sauce. She leaves the skin on the boneless chicken breasts, keeping it moist. It’s blackened on a grill and finished boneless chicken breasts, keeping it moist. It’s blackened on a grill and finished off in the oven.
Watch out for the “hot” piri sauce, unless you need something to clean out your sinuses.
All of the puff pastry is made in house, making her pastries fluffy and flakey. Try the one stuffed with chicken curry, it’s like a hot pocket made in heaven.
The menu also has some Asian dishes.
It’s surprising that she can have such a diverse menu, and execute everything so well, said Norma Rosenthal, a regular at Max’s. “We haven’t found a single dish there that we didn’t love.”
Issaquah has a lot of chain food options, but it doesn’t have many chef-owned restaurants, she said. “It’s one of those hidden treasures that people just don’t know about.”
Most customers take their orders to go, but there are three small tables and a bar facing the street.
She also has a selection of local beers and Portuguese wine.
Noronha’s Portuguese influence comes from Goa, which was once colonized by Portugal.
Growing up watching American film, she decided as a girl she was going to America. One of 11 children, her siblings laughed at the thought.
She was working in Dubai, when she earned a student visa to study business in California.
Noronha married soon after graduating, and stayed in the country.
Still swearing that her mother is a better cook, she says her pallet was first developed when her mom continually asked her to taste food.
She chose a career in business and got a job working in credit collections, when she began bringing in food for her coworkers. It was so tasty, they asked her to cater an event.
She then realized her greatest pleasure is making people full and satisfied, she said. “It’s like a mother cooking for her kids.”
She was in her mid-40s, when she decided to go to culinary school.
“I told my mom, I have to do it. I only have one lifetime,” she said. “I’m in the greatest country in the world, you go after your dreams.”
She worked at a couple nice restaurants after graduating, before asking her husband to buy her a place. They purchased Remmy’s Catering three years ago.
She opened Max’s in the storefront of Remmy’s a year ago, but kept the large kitchen for catering.
The cafe is named affectionately for her German Shepherd, she said. “He taste’s all my food.”
Max’s World Cafe
Where: 212 Front Street North, Issaquah
Open: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-8 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday
African chicken from Max’s World Cafe is marinated in house made piri sauce, which gives it a little kick of heat.
Chef Edna Noronha coats fish with a thin batter for fish and chips. Max’s World Cafe offers foods from around the globe.