Kansas City Max’s

Near New York City’s Union Square, there used to be a famous restaurant and bar called Max’s Kansas City. In the wild and crazy pre-Reagan years between 1965 and 1981, the hangout attracted Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Lou Reed and scores of other celebrity hipsters. But will local artists, musicians and hipster wanna-bes make the scene at Kansas City’s new Max’s Noodles & More (1728 Main Street)?

Owner Max Chao thinks so. That’s why he opened his eclectic restaurant in downtown’s vibrant Crossroads District instead of in Westport, where he successfully ran the New Peking Restaurant from 1987 to 2002. Chao sold the family business — which his parents had started as the old Peking Restaurant at 36th and Broadway — last year.

“If you had asked me fifteen years ago if I’d ever think of downtown Kansas City as a possible restaurant location, I would have called you crazy,” he says. “But there’s so much happening down here now, the timing seemed right.”

A family friend, landlord Oliver Abnos, convinced Max and his wife, Kim, to take over the unattractive space formerly occupied by a Vietnamese restaurant called Kim Mai.

“We pulled down the drop ceiling, and there were two more false ceilings after that,” Chao says. “And all the cheap paneling! We were ripping out walls for days.”

The result is a strikingly beautiful single dining room painted in soft violet with dove-gray carpet and nineteen brand-new tables — and a shiny new bar without any booze. Chao says he’s going to apply for a liquor license soon, but right now he’s serving soft drinks, hot tea and Vietnamese-style coffee alongside his Vietnamese- and Korean-style noodle bowls (“In real ceramic bowls from Japan, not plastic,” Chao brags). The menu also features Thai, Chinese and Chinese-American dishes, including that famous Missouri innovation called Springfield Cashew Chicken.

There’s also Max’s own specialty beef dish (marinated in ginger and garlic and sautéed with green onions) and a pork chop marinated in Asian spices overnight, then dipped in rice-flour batter and pan-seared.

Downtown residents have been stumbling in since the restaurant opened on March 3, but one of its closest neighbors has become an active supporter. “We had only been open for three days, and Bazooka’s ordered big carry-out orders twice,” Chao says. “I think this is going to be a great neighborhood for us.”

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