Brad Parker sure likes themed concepts: Last summer, the Parker Restaurant Group founder brought East Coast beaches to town with River North’s The Hampton Social (353 W. Hubbard). Then he opened a swinging ’60s live music venue, called The Bassment, in the space downstairs. Now, Parker brings the Hawaiian tropics to Wicker Park with Mahalo, a casual Polynesian-Asian eatery that opened earlier this month.
Much like its Hamptons predecessor, Mahalo embraces all things beachy, with wicker hanging chairs, turquoise wood floors, white-washed walls, palm tree- and pineapple-printed wallpaper and a 1,000-square-foot rooftop patio, complete with surfboards perched on the walls, straw umbrellas and vibrant, multicolored chairs.
“After I opened The Hampton Social, I realized that we had created a niche within the Chicago dining scene by transporting guests to a vacation destination right here in the Windy City,” Parker says. “I took that opportunity to combine the poke [raw fish salad] trend, my love for Hawaii and my niche of creating destination restaurants and just went for it.”
Here’s what else to expect at Mahalo:
A twist: Don’t come to Mahalo expecting traditional Hawaiian fare. “We don’t classify our cuisine as authentic Hawaiian,” Parker says. “Rather, we are fusing classic Hawaiian dish compositions and ingredients with mainland twists.” Case in point: the Royal Loco Moco ($24), a short rib braised in a banana leaf and served with a teriyaki reduction, sweet purple potato purée and a fried egg on top.
Don’t miss: The menu section dubbed Big Island Pokes offers fresh fish like spicy tuna, tako (or octopus) and shrimp, all served with crispy fried wontons. But Chef Ryan Wombacher’s masterpiece is the Spam meatballs ($24), coated with a sweet chili tomato sauce. “In Chicago, we love meatballs, and the meatball is popular in Hawaii,” Wombacher says. “We take ground beef and pork and add the Spam, which serves as flavoring.”
Final sip: The cocktails are meant to mimic those found in the tropics, with favorites like the Mahalo Mai Tai ($13) — crafted with Plantation 3 Stars rum, house juice mix, Giffard triple sec, Coruba dark rum and Demerara syrup — and the classic Island Piña Colada ($15), made with Caña Brava rum, pineapple juice and Perfect Purée coconut.
Seal the deal: Share a slice of the island life: The check comes with a Mahalo postcard. Write a cute note to a loved one and the servers will mail it for you.