Ask owner Tommy Wang about the inspiration behind his popular Wicker Park eatery and it will become quickly evident that it was borne out of a love affair with his parents' cooking. Growing up, Wang developed a deep appreciation of traditional Chinese dishes, having spent numerous hours eating and learning to cook at his family's suburban restaurant, Tien Tsin. As an adult (and years after the restaurant closed), Wang lamented the lack of quality Chinese restaurants outside of Chinatown and longed to take his father’s cooking talents and refine them to a more modern level. This sparked the idea behind MAK, a health-conscious, fast-casual twist on his beloved childhood fare.
Ashley and I were invited to stop by the restaurant for a chat with Wang, and even more importantly, to sample a veritable feast of his family-inspired modern Asian dishes. As soon as we walked in, we knew we were in for a treat, as it smelled *amazing* in there (we later learned it was from the sweet and spicy sauce that is used on several of the most popular appetizers). As part of the more health-conscious twist, all meats served at MAK are free of hormones, antibiotics, and steroids; the majority of produce is also locally sourced. Even better, the restaurant uses no MSG in their dishes. MAK also takes the time too cook everything fresh, which isn't always the case in the fast-casual market.
Chicken Wangs: chicken lollipops with sweet & spicy sauce. These frenched and glazed wangs are one of the most popular dishes (along with the most aptly named - not only do I love a good word play, but also wang is just a fun word to say) for good reason. The chicken was crisp and perfectly seasoned with a nice amount of heat that built quickly.
Veggie Falafel: made with edamame & chickpeas. Made with the same delicious sauce, these falafel were just as spicy and messy (in the best way possible) as the wangs. Ashley and I both loved the addition of the edamame, as not only did it give the falafel a unique twist, but also it worked to keep the insides extremely soft and moist, contrasting with the crunchy outside.
MAK serves a variety of alcohol, including wine, beer, and the most adorable mini bottles of cold sake.
How cute is this Gekkeikan Cap-Ace Sake?! Adorable, delicious, and convenient FTW!
Blistered Green Beans. These beans were crunchy, saucy, and perfectly scorched (my favorite side dish of the afternoon!). Ashely loved these beans as much as I did and we may have even had a mini chork war over the last of them. ;-)
General MAK Shrimp: lightly fried, tossed with a spicy and tangy glaze, and served over a bed of quinoa. My favorite side dish was served along next to my favorite entrée; Wang proclaimed these shrimp to be "similar to general tso’s, but better," which was definitely a perfect way to describe them! We ordered a medium level of spice (all dishes are customizable) and eventually added some of their house-made hot sauce (because we just couldn't resist trying it). Holy deliciously tangy & juicy shrimp!
MAK Beef: steak stir fried with scallions in special sweet garlic sauce. The combination of this tangy, vinegary cabbage slaw and the savory, garlicy beef was completely on point. If you're a fan of kimchi, you definitely should try the slaw!
MAK Eggplant Skillet: lightly fried eggplant tossed with bell peppers and onions in a savory sauce
As soon as Wang mentioned he wasn't a fan of eggplant, but loved this particular dish, we knew we had to try it (as neither of us are partial to eggplant ourselves). While I can't say I'm now a bona fide eggplant lover, I will say that this was definitely the best I've ever had. I also loved the completely addictive cucumbers that were served on the side.
Tangy Chinese Bean Sprouts. Out of all of the dishes we tried, these bean sprouts were probably the most traditional. While they don't make the prettiest picture, they're most definitely packed with flavor!
You can try all of this deliciousness and more at MAK: 1924 West Division St., Chicago, IL.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.