Fin-atics get their fix at Chicago's best seafood restaurants



Seafood is hard to do well at home and it's best to buy fish fresh and prepare it that night, neither undercooking nor turning it into a Dr. Scholl’s shoe insert. Good luck with that after a long day at work - or just rely on any of these sea faring eateries.

What's your go-to? Oysters, the bracing bivalves that Casanova called  “a spur to the spirit and to love“ or a comforting platter of fried perch sided with potato pancakes and cold one? 

Chicago claims a bevy of strictly seafood eateries that range from the messy (Lowcountry) to the posh (Truluck's).  For large portions and BYOB, get to Boston Fish Market and oyster and crab lovers land trophy sized love at Shaw's Crab House Chicago. We love our Lake Michigan but you can get shellfish plucked from the ocean less than a day ago at places like Hugo's Frog Bar and Fish House and Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab.  Since Chicagoans don't have an accent at all, we like to rib or northeastern pals by asking them to "pahk the cah" so we can hit up Oyster Bah in Lincoln Park.   

Let's drop our lines and see what we catch!



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GT Fish and Oyster


 

You'll see expected items, Hamachi crudo, a rotating mix of fresh oysters and perfectly seared scallops on Giuseppe Tentori's menu, however, you're likely to hear people note that they "were the best hamachi, oysters and scallops" they ever ate. Even something as typical as clam chowder gets a surprising spin served in a jar and accompanied by homemade oyster crackers. It's a small plates format but certainly sharable so you can try a satisfying assortment at the 115-seat modern seafood eatery without smoking the debit card (unless you're doing caviar service). Everyone's crazy about tuna poké these days, and GT's is perfection, but don't overlook a smoked fish platter, and bright numbers such as Green Tea Soba Noodles with shrimp, kimchi vinaigrette and tobiko. Monkfish is another au courant menu item and GT's doesn't disappoint escorted by saffron rice, shellfish ragout and Toulouse sausage.


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This classic dinner club style restaurant with a vaulted ceiling, crisply pressed tablecloths and dark wooden furniture is appropriate for a biz lunch, a refuel after shopping or even a special occasion. Partner of the famous Joe's Stone Crab in Miami, the River North venue features a selection of fresh seafood, wet and dry aged USDA Prime steaks and its piece de resistance - Florida Stone Crab Claws - flown in from Joe's own fisheries and served with mustard sauce. Seasonal specialties include bone-in halibut and Nantucket Cape scallops and you can get even more of a whiff of Miami Beach with items from the original Joe's Stone Crab such as grilled tomatoes and fried chicken. Pair it all with a glass or bottle from a wine roster of more than 450 varietals.


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Lake View


 

Choose to visit the seafood boil concept in Lakeview or the South Loop for a recreation of a sweet family trip south when you'd stop for a bag o' seafood after a day of swimming in the ocean. Belly up to the picnic table with your mallet and appetite to chow down on your protein choices: shrimp, mussels, Snow or King crab legs, and seasonal crawfish, Dungeness crab or lobster. Pick a sauce and heat level, add-ons like potatoes, Andouille sausage or corn on the cob and even some tasty extras like jalapeno cornbread, garlic noodles, pickled veg or crab hush puppies. Everything is cooked just right: potatoes are not mushy and cornbread is moist, beignets authentic, sizable mussels, fresh tasting shrimp. It's messy, delightful and delish.


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Lincoln Park


 

There are only a couple ways around cooking our own fish issues: move to a picturesque fishing village on the Mediterranean or head to Oyster Bah where you can get classic seafood dishes and fish from around the planet presented to you. The Original Seafood Roll does a New England lobster roll one better with Maine lobster, King crab, shrimp, celery and mayo tucked into a buttery bun. There's fish 'n' chips, Seattle style barbecue salmon, "wicked fresh" calamari and lots of modern seafood items such as poke and sesame tuna tacos. You'll find lots of bright, seafood-friendly wines by the glass plus handcrafted cocktails like a Boardwalk Punch or a Cape Cod with housemade cranberry juice. Indulge at brunch or lunch from 11am-2pm on Fridays and 10:30am-2pm on Saturday and Sunday. Fried oyster Benedict or smoked trout frittata anyone?


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Choose the intimate downstairs dining area or the upstairs' oyster bar with house-infused spirits, local craft beer, small plates and snacks, and a range of options from Big Eye tuna poke to lemongrass shrimp tacos and mini lobster rolls. Downstairs, Chef's Three-Course menu at $39 is a good deal: choose one soup or salad or a shared app (Lobster Bisque and Salmon Carpaccio and Shrimp Ceviche among the choices); main dish of salmon, lobster tail or a filet; and a dessert. "Today's Fresh Fish" includes fresh caught daily and never frozen items from small, quality fisheries and networks. It could be rainbow trout from Canada or salmon from the Bay of Fundy. Devon classics include shellfish cioppino, seared Georges Bank scallops and a seafood mixed grill. Try not to eat too many of the warm biscuits served before your meal. Premium steaks, too, for the diehard carnivores.


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It's not unusual to see a line snaking out of the restaurant portion of Boston Fish Market, the largest processor of salmon and whitefish in the midwest. It's nothing fancy: stand in line to place an order, take your number and be glad you've snagged a table (there's outdoor seating when weather allows). Service is speedy, prices are reasonable and the menu is enormous: pound or half-pound breaded fish comes with coleslaw, fries and cocktail or tartar sauce. Try wild Gulf shrimp, Lake Erie perch or smelt and Lake Superior whitefish. In addition to sandwiches and salads packed with seafood, there are char broiled seafood dinners (with roasted vegetables and wild rice) like Louisiana style catfish or gumbo; swordfish Vesuvio; Scottish salmon; Chilean sea bass;, Alaskan jumbo crab legs; Gulf grouper; clams steamed in white wine; Zuppa Di Pesce. Explore the market and take some seafood home.


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Supposedly, legendary lover Casanova ate 50 raw oysters every morning as an aphrodisiac. Shaw's Crab House has been the authority on the briny bivalves with the sexy rep for years with its annual Oyster Festival. Not your thing? Shaw's offers plenty of other choices you'll be crushing on when you open the menu: lobster, sushi, King crab, and a boatload of seasonal swimmers from Atlantic Yellowfin tuna to Ecuadorian Mahi Mahi. Enjoy bubbles by the glass, a sturdy Manhattan and desserts big enough to share. Shaw's famous red raspberry pie with its pure, intense flavor should fuel some fervor even if you don't slurp oysters. Live music, mostly blues, entertains in the oyster bar every Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday night and weekend brunch is the bomb for seafood fans.


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Chicagoans proved they don't need tasteful surroundings to go gaga for seafood - just tasty seafood. When Aloha Poke opened in the French Market, it was an instant hit. Fresh, fast and flavorful bowls of quality raw ingredients are packed while you wait and the result is satisfying, healthy and filling food you want to eat again and again - hence, the lines and three more locations in Chicago and it's expanding across the country. Choose little, big or kahuna size, a base of white or brown rice or greens, then poké - tuna, slamon or tofu naked or sauced. Add ingredients and sauces or better yet, go for one of the House Bowls like the Volcano with seaweed, edamame, ginger, tobiko, jalapeño and chili ponzu sauce.


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About 30 years ago, there were shrimp and fish shacks dotting the industrial parts of the city offering blue and white collar workers a quick oil-stained brown bag of hot fried fish chips, shrimp, clam strips, perch and a plastic container of slaw and hot sauce. It was cheap, delicious and they're almost all gone. Bringing us to Lawrence's Fish and Shrimp established more than 60 years ago on Canal Street with a parking lot full of folks gobbling hot shrimp in their car. The interior has been spiffed up but you can still get large, popcorn, coconut and lightly breaded shrimp; whole catfish or strips ; perch; fish chips; frog legs, oysters; clam strips; scallops and more in full and half orders. There's also chicken and sandwiches plus slaw and sides. Grab a soda, lemonade or even a bottle of beer to wet the pipes.


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Doing for seafood what Gibson's (next door/ same owners) does for meat lovers, Hugo's Frog Bar and Fish House is always a sure thing. Think you're "meh" about crab? Hugo's Alaskan king crab bites will become your new culinary crush. Go uppity with Holland Dover Sole filleted tableside; old timey Chicago with Shrimp de Jonghe; or simple via planked Lake Superior whitefish. Newer fresh entrees include grilled Faroe Island salmon with sweet potato chimichurri; pan-seared Hudson Canyon sea scallops; and a featured dish - Alaskan red king crab mac & cheese. Oyster happy hour ($1 oysters) continues to be a hit so it's no wonder that Hugo's uses more oysters than any other restaurant in the Midwest. Oysters are flown in daily and sent to Hugo's the next day, so most have been out of the water for less than 24 hours before being shucked at the Rush St. restaurant.


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Meet Jacky Runice

Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky

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