The Absolute Best Seafood in Chicago
Look no further for the best lobster, crab, salmon, octopus, and more in Chicago.
As oceanic as it may look, Lake Michigan is in fact not an ocean. But Chicago doesn’t let its lack of salt water hinder its proclivity for world-class fish and seafood. Despite the fact that the Midwest city is nowhere near any place where fresh lobster, mussels, and oysters naturally exist, you can find all of those things in abundance anyway—from high-end surf & turf temples to low-key classics slinging smoked sable and shrimp ceviche tostadas. Be it grilled, skewered, fried, or piled high on a luxe seafood tower like some sort of bivalve Jenga, there’s so much fresh fish here you’d think you were in Boston or Ibiza. So the next time you’d like to trick your taste buds into thinking you’re on a yacht in Spain, these are the 13 best seafood restaurants in Chicago that’ll scratch that nautical itch.
When one of the world’s most famous chefs teams up with one of Chicago’s powerhouse restaurant groups, big things happen. Indeed, José Andrés partnering with Gibsons Restaurant Group to bring outposts of Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar to Chicago was like Batman joining forces with Superman—but the results are far more successful. While Bazaar Meat skews more turf than surf, adjoining Bar Mar in the Bank of America Tower features a seafood-centric menu of decadent small plates, vibrant Spanish influences, and a healthy dose of gastronomic whimsy—like smoked oysters with apple mignonette air and the fish-shaped Everything Bagel Airbread, filled with cream cheese espuma and draped with smoked salmon. As evidenced by the chic motif, which includes a huge octopus sculpture dangling from the ceiling, this is the kind of see-and-be-seen place to dine lavishly, which can be accomplished via mini caviar cones with cauliflower crème fraîche and gold leaf.
Any restaurant willing to name itself after celebrated food writer MFK Fisher really sets a high bar for itself—a bar that is Lakeview's pint-sized mfk. handily leaps with flying colors. The cozy, colorful garden-level restaurant keeps things simple and shareable with a curated menu of nautical snacks, Spanish-influenced plates, and a few heartier portions, like a burly bowl of chewy fideo noodles tangled with shrimp, smoked pork, and mussels. The tapas-like bites are its bread and butter, though. Refreshingly simple and pure, dishes like bass crudo on squid ink tostadas, salt-cured anchovies on buttered bread, and a fluffy Spanish tortilla with creamy salt cod brandade are the kinds of things that Fisher would be proud of. The space is small, and fills up quickly, so snag a reservation.
One of the quintessential old-school restaurants in Chicago, Calumet Fisheries has been smoking fish and seafood from the banks of the Calumet River for the better part of a century. Endearingly rustic and casual, the shack-like eatery looks utterly preserved in time, with the same enduring loyalty that it’s maintained since its earliest heyday as a fishy staple for South Deering’s once-thriving Scandinavian population. The tried-and-true icon, run by the Kotlick-Toll family, still marinates its fish overnight before baking it and wood-smoking it in its on-site smokehouse—everything from catfish and eel to rainbow trout, sable, plump shrimp, sturgeon, and herring. The cash-only counter-service joint doesn’t take reservations or have any seating to speak of, so prepare for a finger-licking and fragrant feast in your car. It just feels right.
Shaw's Crab House
If the ocean had a Now That’s What I Call Music-style roundup of the greatest hits, it would look a lot like the menu at Shaw’s Crab House, a longstanding bastion of seafood in all styles and cuisines. It’s the kind of place where you can slurp oysters (or get them Rockefeller-style, bubbling in Jarlsberg cream), gorge on grand shellfish towers, eat your weight in sushi, and bob for clams in a bowl of chowder. Drawing inspiration from across the country, and across the globe, the menu takes a something-for-everyone approach that offers various price points and flavors in a dining room—and casual oyster bar area—that feels like vintage Americana at its most polished. For the ultimate spectacle, opt for the Alaskan king crab dinner, which serves the massive steamed crab with Caesar salad, creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, and chocolate layer cake for dessert.
Glenn's Diner & Seafood House
In the Venn diagram of cereal and cioppino, Glenn’s Diner is a perfect circle. One of the most adorably unusual seafood spots in Chicago, the casual diner has the look and feel of a roadside stopover for pancakes, French toast, and omelets—but it just so happens to also have a seafood focus and an abundance of fresh fish at affordable prices. This means you can have your cake and eat it too. Or in this case, have your cereal (the restaurant has dozens of nostalgic varieties lining the shelves like trophies) and eat a cornmeal-battered shrimp po’ boy too. With so much variety—from hollandaise-slathered catfish plates and cioppino to crab cake “burgers” and lobster fettuccine alfredo—Glenn’s is one place where classic comforts take many forms.
Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab
A veritable palace of surf & turf at its most decadent and refined, Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab takes every ingredient in its title with utter seriousness and diligence. That means going to great lengths to source only the finest—like its namesake stone crab, plucked one claw at a time from the Gulf of Mexico before being boiled, chilled, and dunked in aioli. And that’s just the tip of the seafaring iceberg here, where the laundry list-style menu runs the gamut from buttery crab bisque and charred octopus to lobster pasta and salmon au poivre.
El Barco Mariscos
Amidst a sea of Mexican-style seafood joints in West Town, El Barco Mariscos stands out—and not just because the restaurant is shaped like a boat with a pirate figurine in front. Beyond its eclectic decor, the Mexican mainstay is held in high regard for its shareable, budget-friendly portions of zingy seafood cocteles, bright caldos (aka soups) swimming with shrimp, octopus ceviche, fish empanadas, and queso fundido loaded with shrimp. The fact that you can savor such a feast at an affordable price point, whilst dining in a wood-filled room decorated with fake swordfish and sharks, is just icing on the cake.
With a menu and a motif befitting its ritzy Gold Coast address, Nico Osteria takes an Italian approach to its upscale seafood menu. Located on the ground floor of the posh Thompson Hotel, the date night-worthy spot has a particular penchant for pristine crudos—like a plate of whisper-thin snapper slivers dotted with caviar—and Mediterranean entrees. Selections rotate seasonally, but items like whole branzino and picture-perfect salmon filets are par for the course, with current summery accompaniments like rapini and zucchini with the branzino and cucumber-fennel salad and smoked yogurt with the salmon. The perfect overlap of Nico’s seafood and Italian influences is the grouper carbonara, which adds pieces of meaty fish to a medley of toothsome noodles, pancetta, asparagus, preserved egg, pecorino, peppercorn, and fennel.
GT Fish and Oyster
While GT Fish & Oyster may look fancy (with the pedigreed chef, Giuseppe Tentori, to match), this is one seafood restaurant that isn’t above having a little fun. Because what could be more fun than $185 worth of Osetra caviar, or seafood towers stacked with the entire cast of Finding Nemo? Whether seated at the polished oyster bar, or in the dining room alongside a whale tail mural, it’s an apt place to splurge on everything from chilled crab claws and raw oysters to salmon poke and seafood cavatelli. GT also does a bang-up job with refined riffs on classic seafood comforts, like a loaded lobster roll with barbecue chips, garlic-marinated fish tacos with crunchy chicharrones, and fish & chips with meaty Atlantic cod and dill pickle remoulade.
Brown Bag Seafood Co.
Taking a customizable approach to fast-casual seafood, Brown Bag Seafood Co. has grown into a thriving collection of restaurants throughout Chicago and beyond. And that’s a testament to the rigorous quality of the fish and seafood—gussied up with whimsical accompaniments and served at shockingly affordable prices. The decor is reminiscent of a modern fish shack, with plenty of nautical knickknacks to gawk at while lunching. Like a choose-your-own-adventure, the customizable menu allows guests to pick their fish—everything from rockfish and salmon to curry fish cakes—and then choose their format, be it a salad, sandwich, tacos, or a Powerbox loaded up with brown rice, quinoa, and wheat berries. Or you can opt for a pre-designed staple, like a salmon salad or a buttery lobster roll in a toasted New England-style bun with truffle parmesan tater tots.
Seafood doesn’t get any chicer than this swanky riverside icon, a multi-level hot spot owned by local celebs Bill and Giuliana Rancic. And while you’ll likely need to have a celebrity income to comfortably dine here, it’s well worth the expense for some of the highest quality—and unabashedly glam—seafood in the Midwest. We’re talking full-blown caviar service with all the traditional accompaniments (blinis, crème fraîche, egg, shallots, chives, and Amalfi Lemon—gang’s all here), Washington oysters with zesty yuzu granita, escargots-style scallops with lemon hollandaise, and artful plates of meticulously arranged prawns in olive oil. Still hungry? Try the 24-ounce bone-in swordfish rib-eye, and wash it all down with a $3,500 bottle of 1971 Dom Pérignon.
Like a cheeky, casual, and hip fish shack, Lakeview’s Fish Bar takes a playful approach to its regionally inspired seafood fare. It’s the kind of funky, vaguely New Orleans-themed eatery where you can chow down on shrimp and sausage gumbo, grilled salmon BLTs, parmesan-dusted calamari, and crispy shrimp sandwiches. For something at once quirky and delicious, try the Crabby Patty, a blue crab cake sandwich with Old Bay mayo and a side of tater tots. Best enjoyed at the central bar overlooking the kitchen, it all pairs perfectly with a cold beer or any of their fruity rum-splashed cocktails.
Quality Crab & Oyster Bah
For a prime taste of New England at its most nautical, Quality Crab & Oyster Bah is the closest you’ll come to the real deal without having to deal with the Boston airport. The dark, cozy, multi-level Lincoln Park restaurant feels like dining in the hull of a snazzy ship, with lots of polished wood, checkered tablecloths, and all the maritime parafernalia you could ask for, with oars, fake fish, and boat motors doubling as wall decor. Come hungry, ‘cause portions are substantial, with plates, bowls, and buns overflowing with clam chowder, creamy blue crab dip, and Alaskan king crab legs. As the name implies, crab takes a rightful starring role, best exemplified by the chilled blue crab fingers (basically the fanciest fish sticks) with mustard sauce, and seafood rolls that augment lobster with king crab and jumbo shrimp in a decadent mayo-based medley. Finish with their famed triple-layer coconut cake.