A taste of the islands in Chicago

The legendary Trader VIC's re-opened its doors this week bringing back Mai Tai's and Pu pu platters to the Gold Coast.

It's not alone. There are a half-dozen Hawaiian-themed bars and restaurants in the area, all of which serve traditional food and drink with a friendly 'aloha.'

Images of Hawaii tend to fall into a few categories: tropical drinks and, of course, dancing, both of which are in abundance at Tiki Terrace, a Hawaiian-themed restaurant in a Des Plaines strip mall.

On the weekends, they offer dinner-and-a-show and the food is far from Cliche. Native taro root is cut into fries or used in salsa while poke - the Hawaiian tuna - is seared and plated with sauteed peppers and onions. Kahlua pork is roasted and shredded, paired with white rice and a side of macaroni and the Hawaiian kalbi features marinated and grilled short ribs.

"Many of the dishes are local dishes. Our chef is from Hawaii, he definitely knows the tastes and the elements that make for good local food," said Scott Zuziak of Tiki Terrace.

Haupia cake is dense, topped with fresh coconut and there are plenty of colorful drinks to match the atmosphere.

Speaking of drinks, that's all they've been making for the past 45 years, at the legendary Hala Kahiki in River Grove, South of O'Hare. With names like the Blue Hawaii and the Zombie, there are dozens of combinations here, many involving rum. Want to drink with a friend? Try the Volcano. And after a drink, check out the kitschy gift shop to pick up a lei or a tacky Hawaiian shirt.

In Lincoln Park, Aloha Eats offers one of Hawaii's favorite meals: the plate lunch.

"Plate lunch is what I like to call poor man's fusion. It's going be two scoops of white rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and usually like a main, meat entree of some kind. Because there's so many different ethnicities in Hawaii, it's a mishmash of all of those ethnicities contributing to the plate," said Ivan Lee, owner of Aloha Eats.

So there could be Japanese-inspired katsu - breaded and fried pork - but there could also be terriyaki beef, chicken and Korean-inspired kalbi, all on the same plate (over rice and elbow macaroni of course). Plus Spam?

"Because of the military presence, you have a lot of Spam, and it didn't get the stigma after the War was over, that it does here on the mainland; we consume more of it per capita in Hawaii than anywhere else in the world," said Ivan Lee of Aloha Eats Hawaiian Grill.

It's served musubi-style, grilled, then topped by a block of soy sauce-laden rice. Lee says like so many of the dishes natives eat, it's simple and hearty.

"Really affordable, large portions; very savory foods," said Lee.

Another spot for plate lunches is the Big Ka Hoo Na Hawaiian BBQ in downtown Evanston. Plus Roy's in River North, for a more upscale approach to island cuisine.

The Tiki Terrace 1591 Lee St., Des Plaines 847-795-8454 www.thetikiterrace.com

Hala Kahiki
2834 River Rd., River Grove

Aloha Eats, A Hawaiian Grill
2534 N. Clark St.

Also mentioned:
720 N. State St.

Big Ka Hoo Na Hawaiian BBQ
822 Clark St., Evanston

Trader Vic's
1030 N. State St.

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