There are many reasons why I love Chicago, but the one at the top of the list is because of all the delicious, unique places to eat here. And I love my job for paying me to go eat at those places and tell you all about them.
Hawaii has been on my must-visit list for years, but so far, the closest I’ve gotten to the Islands of Aloha was during my trip to Aloha Eats (2534 N. Clark St.). Like Hawaii, Aloha Eats is a bit tricky to get to. It’s almost one mile from either the Diversey or Fullerton Brown Line stops, and there’s no easy bus route to take from those stops, but it’s worth the hike.
A surfboard sign out front beckons you into the small, counter-service restaurant. There are four big menu boards boasting an array of different plate lunches and snacks (and what may be the cheapest burgers in the city).
There’s not much seating, and the place ranges from super slow to super packed, regardless of the time of day. The walls are decorated with framed posters and paintings of Hawaiian landscapes and hula dancers.
If you’ve been wondering what a “plate lunch” is, no worries, you’re probably not alone. A plate lunch is similar to a Japanese bento box. It’s still the go-to meal in Hawaii, born out of lunch wagons that served day laborers on the islands way back in the day. The traditional plate includes an entrée (usually a protein such as chicken teriyaki or barbeque beef), a scoop of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad (the stuff with the mayo).
Plate lunches are meant to be hearty — to fill you up and keep you working for the rest of the day — but after my trip to Aloha Eats, I kind of just wanted to nap.
I tried the chicken katsu mini plate lunch ($6.55). The word “mini” is apparently used as a joke in Hawaii, because I opened my box to find two huge, breaded, fried and sliced chicken breasts and generous scoops of rice and macaroni. I ordered the mini portion because I wasn’t that hungry, but I could barely put a dent in it and can’t imagine finishing more than half even if I was hungry.
The chicken was perfectly fried, with a crispy breadcrumb coating and a tangy and sweet katsu dipping sauce. The macaroni salad and rice didn’t have much flavor on their own, but they’re meant to be eaten as palate cleansers or combined with the meat, and in that sense they were great.
I also tried the Spam musubi ($5.75 for two) and Hawaiian BBQ Chicken ($6.55 for a mini plate).
Spam has a bad rap in the mainland United States, but in Hawaii, it’s a staple eaten for all meals of the day — spam and eggs for breakfast, spam sandwiches for lunch, spam loco moco (another kind of plate lunch) for dinner. I’ll admit that even I was iffy when I first tried it, but it really just tastes like any other kind of ham, especially when it’s grilled or fried.
Spam musubi is like a weird American sushi. A thick block of sticky rice, flavored with a dash of teriyaki sauce, is the bed for a slice of grilled spam, all of which is wrapped in a thin strip of nori (dried seaweed). Aloha Eats’ version of the dish was authentic and tasty, but it needed a bit of soy sauce to kick up the flavor.
The Hawaiian BBQ Chicken doesn’t come with a side cup of sauce like the katsu plate, but the meat itself had enough flavor cooked into it that all my worries about flavorless chicken were soothed after my first bite. The meat was tender and the portion was just as huge as the katsu plate, which automatically makes it a winner in my book.
Verdict: If you’re in the mood for something unique, or you’re just craving some really dynamite comfort food, head over to Aloha Eats. Bring a group of friends and make a day of it by walking around Lincoln Park or going to the zoo after. The filling meal will keep you satisfied all day and you’ll still have leftovers to bring home.