Unlike the original Al's on Taylor or Johnny's in Elmwood Park, which tend to run utilitarian operations (no seating, extra charge for giardinara, no cheese for you), the folks at Max's are fun. The parking lot of this West Rogers Park classic beef and burger institution is littered with a herd of rusty steel cattle sculptures, and when you walk inside, the interior walls boast a whimsical mural of the Chicago cityscape. Overhanging the door is beat-up vintage metal sign for "Max's drive-inn" that advertises Polishes for 35 cents and beef for 40 cents. If only it were 1957.
Max's offers dogs, burgers and the deep-fried usual suspects. It has no problem bucking convention by offering cheese on its tender and moist Italian beef. Max's giardinara, a melange of red peppers, garlic and sport peppers bathed in oil, sits in plastic tubs on the counter, free for the taking.
The beef is good, but you really come to Max's for the Ghetto Fries, $2.89, a cardboard basket of crisp, thick-cut fries topped with Merkt's cheddar cheese, Italian beef gravy, onion slivers, sweet barbecue sauce and the aforementioned giardinara.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Michael Nagrant