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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 to the posh. 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. Portsmith, in the dana hotel, does New England seafood with an upscale finesse. 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.  All you need to say after a meal of soulful Spanish influenced seafood at mfk is "gracias." When the occasion calls for something special, Mako offers a civilized, meditative evening of up to 25 bites of the most pristine fish in the world. 

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


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Housed on the ground level of Eurostars Magnificent Mile in the busy River North neighborhood, Portsmith is a New England-inspired eatery serving memorable riffs on seafood classics - for example, the signature fish 'n' chips is made with Alaskan halibut (as opposed to cod). The $20 prix fixe lunch offers a choice of clam chowder or charred avocado; fish 'n' chips or seafood-enhanced salads; and petit fours. Add a bevy of seafood to any salad from Alaskan King crab to pan-seared halibut. Executive Chef and Partner Nate Henssler does magical things with even the pedestrian fried oyster by using squid Ink panko and siding the hot little number with oyster basil aioli. Dinner brings a raft of shared plates like scallops and sunchokes dotted with pistachios and herbs and stunningly flavorful mains like tandoori style half lobster and shrimp, scallops, mussels, calamari and clams swimming with campanelle pasta.


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Fulton Market


Located within sister steakhouse Swift & Sons, Cold Storage aims its harpoon at seafood and its efforts result in towers of shellfish with oysters, scallop ceviche, clams, mussels, shrimp, and lobster. The space feels a bit like one of the old ice storage rooms that populated the Fulton Market neighborhood up to just a few decades ago. Chef Chris Pandel steers this light-filled ship that offers a compact yet nonetheless alluring menu. You won't find 10 items under a "Tins" list anywhere else: sardines, spiced mackerel, Razor clams, cockles and baby eel are among the good-for-you delicacies bathing in olive oil, brine, escabeche or tomato sauce. Peruse the raw bar or try a Nashville Hot Shrimp Basket, trout Almondine, a warm crab roll and nice steamy bowl of smoked lake fish chowder redolent of bacon. Try Pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky's Coffee and Donut Sundae, a mix of donut and coffee ice cream with coffee fudge sauce garnished with baby donuts and sprinkles.


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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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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.




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.




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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Lake View


Aiming to replicate what one can feast upon in seaside eateries along the coast on Spain, mfk fills a void in the vast restaurant universe that is Chicago. The consecutive Michelin Bib Gourmand-winning restaurant serves bold, Spanish-influenced seafood that sings with soul: suzuki crudo with a squid ink tostada and guacamole; crunchy prawn heads that you'll soon covet again; and Cantabrian salt-cured anchovies with butter and lemon zest asking to be placed on bread and torpedoed into your mouth. There's grilled shrimp and a hearty dish filled with shellfish and toasted capellini noodles all perfumed with Spain's favorite spice, saffron. There's one dessert - buttery Basque cake filled with pastry cream and adorned with almond crumble. Be sure to save room. Executive Chef Alisha Elenz received the award for Jean Banchet's Rising Star Chef for 2019, too.




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.




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. Steelhead Trout is another au courant menu item and GT's doesn't disappoint enlivened by soy-ginger, sesame, frisee and pecans.




For unique cuts of fish fêted with luxe ingredients, get to Mako in the West Loop. You'll be steeped in a dreamy dining experience at the omakase den. The star of this show is acclaimed sushi chef, B.K. Park, so be sure you reserve a seat at the 12-seat sushi bar to catch the action. The menu is delivered after the meal, so each bite a lovely surprise but count on melt-in-your-mouth turns of sea gems like abalone (braised in house soy); King Crab with uni miso and A5 Wagyu butter; seasonal selections of nigiri and sashimi; a square of sea bass with crispy skin and charred frisée; soy marinated saltwater eel; and a seasonal handroll with colorful fresh fish peeking out the cone of nori. The parade of seafood is delivered at a serene pace amid the understated decor with splashes of ocean design elements.


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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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