From poké tuna to pupu platters, the Windy City has a new taste for the tropics.
Aloha Poké Co. tempts with a variety of custom-made bowls.
Get out your grass skirts—Hawaiian cuisine is Chicago’s latest foodie sensation, with three island-inspired new restaurants taking the dining scene by storm. What’s with all the hula-hoopla?
“People are eating lighter, and it’s very fresh and seasonal—it’s healthier,” notes chef Ryan Wombacher of Parker Restaurant Group, whose Wicker Park spot Mahalo (1501 N. Milwaukee Ave., 708-328-3091) features a menu ranging from multiple takes on the trend’s go-to dish, poké (soy-marinated chopped seafood, typically tuna), to “pupu” (appetizer) favorites like Spam meatballs and coconut shrimp.
Poké is also king at Chipotle-style concept Aloha Poké Co. (131 N. Clinton St., 312-877-5336), whose owner, former Hogsalt Hospitality mixologist Zach Friedlander, makes the most of a 13” x 8” stall at the Chicago French Market to satisfy lines of lunchtime visitors craving his custom bowls.
And for “Food Buddha” and Chicago restaurant vet Rod Aglibot, the Hawaiian fare at his FireFin Poké Shop (10 S. LaSalle St., 312-754-0609)—brimming with intriguing offerings like albacore and snow crab plus bases like purple rice and gluten-free noodles—is no mere trend.
“It’s part of my fabric,” says the chef, who lived on Oahu until the age of 11. “Poké is one of the first dishes my dad taught me to cook,” he reminisces. “I didn't know what wasabi was until we moved to California, because we would eat tuna with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and sesame. That was it."