While the nearest ocean is hundreds of miles away, Lake Michigan puts Chicago on the map as a prime destination for fresh fish. From divey shrimp shacks and fast-casual fish eateries to seasoned steakhouses, we’ve still got plenty of options when it comes to finding lobster, crab, shrimp, mussels, oysters, and everything else that looks funny on dry land. Whether you’re looking for fried, pan-seared, smoked, grilled, broiled, or raw dishes, these are the 20 best restaurants in Chicago to get your seafood fix.
West Rogers Park
What you’re getting: Dungeness crabs (and crawfish, shrimp, and mussels) by the pound with Cajun seasoning
Some friendly advice about this little, Cajun-style seafood joint in Rogers Park: even if you’re wearing the lobster bib, things will get sublimely messy. The BYOB restaurant serves up some of the freshest seafood in the city (think giant, spice-encrusted crabs and plump shrimp immersed in garlic butter) ordered by the pound. Everything will arrive at your paper-covered table tossed together in a big plastic bag with your choice of heat level and spice -- lemon pepper, garlic butter, Cajun, or all three mixed together “maniac!” style. No plates or utensils necessary. Just dig in with your bare hands and start crackin’.
What you’re getting: Blackened daily catch Powerbox (quinoa and wild rice blend over chopped fresh spinach with herbs and lemon) with spicy peanut cilantro slaw
The premise at this fast-casual fish shack with outdoor seating across from Millennium Park is simple: pick your fish (like the rotating blackened fish of the day, or salmon and whitefish staples) then pick your style. Straight up, on a "subbie," or in tacos, a salad, or a Powerbox loaded with quinoa, the menu options are fresh, well-prepared, and some of the healthiest quick meals around (lest you dig into a pile of its tasty tots). Like the fish, you’ve got decisions to make for your tots: Classic, Truffle Parmesan, and Buffalo Bleu.
What you’re getting: Alaskan king crab legs served chilled
Shrimp and scallop ceviche, ahi tuna tartare, colossal lump crab cakes, seared sea scallops, oysters on the half shell, stone crab, Anchor Steam-battered halibut, jumbo Alaskan king crab legs, and lobster tail are all on this River North steakhouse’s menu for you to feast like a king.
What you’re getting: Clamwich with meaty fried clams and ramp pesto
By turning one fish case into a dining bar and adding some tables, Bill Dugan has been running an “occasional” restaurant out of his Fishguy seafood shop for years now. In addition to plenty of fresh seafood options by the pound to-go, customers can dine-in with pan-roasted Cape Cod mussels, a fried clam-packed sandwich, fish tacos, “really big shrimp” in an anisette and crab butter sauce, and a killer Cape Breton lobster roll for lunch.
What you’re getting: Angry Lobster Roll (regular or junior) with chilled Maine lobster, spicy mayo, giardiniera, and butter drizzle
There’s a reason for this food truck’s long line: it doesn't skimp on the lobster. Four ounces of fresh, plump Maine lobster wedged between a soft, burger-style bun instead of the traditional, split-top hot dog bun (which translates to more buttery surface area) is indeed “your Maine source of happiness.” Grab a regular size for $15 or a junior size for $8 to-go.
River North; Schaumburg, IL
What you’re getting: Quarter Oysters
Down some of the Windy City’s finest oysters at this seafood and sushi spot at half the price from 4-6pm daily. Sample a variety of both East and West Coast bivalves and crack open crab claws from the bar or in the more formal dining room. In addition, its comprehensive Sunday brunch spread includes lobster mac and cheese, hot and cold crab legs, caramelized bacon, decadent French toast, and a hearty meat-carving station.
What you’re getting: Cantabrian salt-cured anchovies with lemon zest served atop butter bread
Straightforward seafood dishes like salt-cured, lemon-spritzed anchovies draped over slices of buttery bread, and made-for-two platters like “Cataplana” cobia collar with clams and shrimp paired with a glass of txakoli will prove that less is more at this Spanish-style eatery. Reminiscent of dining in a seaside fishing village, the menu at this bright, garden-level spot named after legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher is uncomplicated and delicious. In fact, its only dessert, a Basque cake that goes well with espresso, is not to be missed.
What you’re getting: Shrimp Jibarito
This Humboldt Park joint is on our list of the top 10 shrimp shacks in Chi, and might also be an excellent late-night fried-food contender since you can dine until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. While you should definitely try the massive fried shrimp po-boy, the off-menu Shrimp Jibarito is a sandwich you won’t want to pass up. Crisp, fried plantains with a sauteed shrimp filling are made to order for an impressively balanced jibarito.
What you’re getting: Shrimp po-boy
For a quick bite, this Chinatown seafood spot has garnered a loyal following with its Gulf-imported catches since the 1950s. The thicker-style breading on the addictive fried shrimp and fish offerings makes this a go-to restaurant for quality, fast seafood that's available 24/7.
What you’re getting: The Fish Bowl
This Italian-style seafood joint flies in fresh seafood daily, and its menu features a giant bowl of mussels, clams, calamari, langoustines, and saffron in a tomato leek broth. Next on the bucket list would be its New England lobster roll or the Chilean sea bass with prosciutto, sage, lentils, and arugula pesto. And did we mention its teamed up with Bang Bang Pie Shop for its biscuit supply?
River North and West Loop French Market
What you’re getting: The Gold Coast Lobster Roll
While its Gold Coast location is now a soon-to-be casualty of building demolition, it's still got the River North (BYOB, by the way) and West Loop digs inside the French Market. The quick-service lobster roll eatery serves authentic New England rolls with a twist, including Indian, Asian, Mexican, and Greek varieties. If you’re missing the newly closed shop, you can always get the Gold Coast-style lobster roll with lobster, blue crab, shrimp, and truffle mayo in River North.
What you’re getting: Tuna poke with Asian pear, taro root chips, and a shio koji ginger dressing
At this old-style riverside tavern with a mermaid mural painted on the ceiling, you’ll want to get shareable plates of tuna poke, savory crab empanadas, and charbroiled oysters, along with the seafood linguini with scallops, smoked trout, mussels, and crispy okra in an Old Bay cream sauce. Buying a half-dozen oysters between 4-7pm on Mondays will get you another half-dozen free. Stick with the theme by ordering a Dirty Pearl martini garnished with an oyster.
What you’re getting: Fried smelt fish
This family-owned and operated establishment that’s been open since 1917 has been serving medium-breaded and fried shrimp and Great Lakes smelts that can be popped in your mouth with ease, just like French fries. Order with a side of clams and hush puppies...
What you’re getting: Oyster po-boy sliders
This fine-dining seafood establishment by the restaurateurs behind Girl & the Goat is one of our 20 most romantic restaurants in Chicago AND features one of the best dishes your hangover desperately needs right now. Spend too much time with your hot date over several rounds of expertly crafted Dark & Stormys at the oyster bar, and you might be coming back for round two the next day for its hangover-zapping oyster po-boy sliders.
What you’re getting: Pasta alla chitarra with smoked octopus and beef lardo
The nautical-themed eatery from the Scofflaw and Slippery Slope guys executes refreshing small bites like oysters ($1 from Sun-Thurs, 10pm to midnight), smoked parsnips with squid ink purée, gin-cured salmon, and BBQ fish collars. For a heftier option, move to the pasta alla chitarra with smoked octopus, beef lardo, black pepper, and red wine as a main course. It also slings seafaring cocktails like the Harpoon Fizz with rye, Cappelletti Aperitivo, lemon, and honey, as well as a gin-based White Negroni with Carpano Bianco and Suze liqueur.
What you’re getting: Smoked or fried shrimp
This family-owned smoke shack fed hungry day laborers of Chicago’s once-thriving steel industry, and a trip down to the historic waterfront today still offers the quintessential seafood eating experience in a paper bag. The little white box at the base of The Blues Brothers bridge churns out fried and oak-smoked shrimp, salmon, trout, catfish, and sable -- all of which you can eat while gazing out at the river barges from the hood of your car.
What you’re getting: Taste of Maine sampler (1/2 lobster roll, 1/2 crab roll, 1/2 shrimp roll, and two crab claws with a soda, chips, or slaw and a pickle)
Luke’s doesn’t overdo its delicious, lobster-packed rolls with a heavy mayo or celery base, which is what differentiates its chilled sandwich from all the other restaurants hopping on the lobster-roll bandwagon. But why settle for just the traditional lobster roll when you could go big with one of each type of roll it offers, overflowing with lobster, crab, and shrimp, plus two crab claws to boot?
What you’re getting: Baby Spanish octopus a la plancha with spicy red pepper coulis
With quirky touches to emulate (or mock) a fish shack, DMK’s seafood outpost dishes up ocean classics with a modern twist. From standard oyster po-boys and lobster rolls, to perfect pieces of rainbow trout and sweet, buttery shrimp, and fennel-and-chili-spiced octopus a la plancha, it serves it all wild caught. With “sea sippers” like the “Three Hour Tour,” a double-rum, guava, and lime concoction, you’ll need at least three hours of imbibing on the patio. Follow up with a slice of Mindy Segal’s Key lime pie.
What you’re getting: Fish tacos
This seafood joint has weekly dine-in specials like $2 Tuesday (think fried pollock tacos with cabbage, pico de gallo salsa, and spicy mayo, paired with lobster bisque and Miller Lites/Bud Lights for just $2 apiece) and an all-you-can-eat fish fry on Fridays for $10.95. The seafood and buns are flown in from Boston daily, plus you can grab fresh seafood from the market for later.
What you’re getting: Glenn’s catfish po-boy with cornmeal-encrusted catfish, tartar sauce, and red onion on a French loaf
For reasonably priced seafood, this neighborhood restaurant doubles as a fresh fish market specializing in offerings like seasonal catch-of-the-day specials, cornmeal-encrusted catfish po’ boys, “Crabster” Alaskan king crab rolls with hearty portions of hot, seasoned crab, and New England clam chowder with bacon. Even the Belmont Ave seafood salad is loaded with smoked trout, king crab, shrimp, and mussels in the shell.
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Nicole Bruce is a contributing writer for Thrillist Chicago and is down for an all-you-can-eat fish fry any Friday. Follow her on Twitter at @nicoleabruce.
1. The Angry Crab5665 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
2. Brown Bag Seafood Co.340 E Randolph St, Chicago
3. Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab60 E Grand Ave, Chicago
4. The Fishguy Market4423 N Elston Ave, Chicago
5. Shaw’s Crab House21 E Hubbard St, Chicago
6. mfk.432 W Diversey Pkwy, Chicago
7. Joey's Shrimp House1432 N Western Ave, Chicago
8. Lawrence's Fisheries2120 S Canal St, Chicago
9. Joe Fish445 N Dearborn St, Chicago
10. Pearl Tavern180 N Wacker Dr, Chicago
11. Troha's Chicken & Shrimp4151 W 26th St, Chicago
12. GT Fish & Oyster531 N Wells St, Chicago
13. Sink | Swim3213 W Armitage Ave, Chicago
14. Calumet Fisheries3259 E 95th St, Chicago
15. Luke’s Lobster134 N LaSalle St, Chicago
16. Fish Bar2956 N Sheffield Ave, Chicago
17. New England Seafood Company Fish Market3341 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
18. Fahlstrom's Fresh Fish Market1258 W Belmont Ave, Chicago
This BYOB Cajun spot serves up some of the freshest seafood in the city (think giant, spice-encrusted crabs and plump shrimp immersed in garlic butter) ordered by the pound. Your food will be delivered via large plastic bag plopped down on your paper-covered table -- no plates or utensils necessary.
This fast-casual seafood joint has a 3-step ordering process. First, you pick your protein, whose options range from the daily catch and crispy shrimp to grilled chicken and lobster specials. Then you choose from one of five formats: sandwich, salad, tacos, straight up, or the quinoa-loaded "Powerbox." Finally, add a side, which is usually from the tater tot or coleslaw camp. The place is minimalist and well-priced, and given its affinity for brown bags, perfect for a grab-and-go lunch.
At the Chicago offshoot of the Miami-based Joe's Stone Crab, jumbo Alaskan king crab legs, oysters on the half shell, and shrimp & scallop ceviche are all on the menu. Although the seafood is incredible, don't overlook the steak -- or the fried chicken. Joe's has an Art Deco vibe that fits with its Miami roots, and the interior is power lunch-meets-steakhouse with black leather chairs and wood-accented walls.
Fishmonger Bill Dugan is behind this fish market in Albany Park. The market has all the fresh fish you could expect from a seafood emporium, but it's most well known for its tiny restaurant, Wellfleet. The sit-down eatery has a small and tasteful menu made up of the market's seafood selections, and you can always expect to find crab cakes, a daily fish burger, and a Nova Scotian lobster roll made with just the right amount of mayo.
This upscale seafood restaurant with locations in River North and Schaumburg, IL is split between a sophisticated dining room and a more laid-back oyster bar. Shaw's overall speciality is American seafood, and it's got killer crab cakes, lobster rolls, and seasonal fish entrees, plus surf and turf dinners. It also serves sushi and sashimi. The oyster selection changes daily, but all the oyster-producing regions of the country are represented on the menu (Virginia, Washington, Massachusetts, etc). The interior is classic and old-school -- it's like a steakhouse but fishier.
This seafood-focused restaurant transports you to a coastal Spanish fishing village with its simple, rustic dishes. Small plates range from light Cantabrian salt-cured anchovies served atop butter bread, to hearty, deep-fried manchego and speck-stuffed croquettes with a roast garlic aioli for dipping. And with the kitchen open to midnight on Friday and Saturday, you can treat yourself to a true Spanish-style dinner.
This Humboldt Park resto's name says it all. But in addition to their tasty shrimp, you can also order up cold beer, and dine in until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays.
This Chinatown seafood spot is open 24/7 and their shrimp has earned them a loyal following, using a traditional, thicker-style breading that rivals just about any other resto around town.
Joe Fish flies fresh seafood in daily and pairs it with craft beers, fine wines, and signature cocktails. This Italian-inspired seafood joint has amazing clams, but the lobster rolls are a must-try dish.
The pearl Tavern comes to us via restaurant developer Adolfo Garcia who has taken on the task of bringing old-style Chicago back to well, Chicago. Expect fresh seafood and oysters galore at this charming establishment.
First opened in 1917 (!), this is one of the best shrimp spots in the city as far as both atmosphere and quality goes. Try their medium breaded shrimp that's fried to a golden perfection every time for a more than reasonable price.
Helmed by Michelin-starred chef Guiseppe Tentori, this fine dining restaurant in River North is the place to go for anything seafood-related. GT serves fish shack-style eats like lobster rolls, fish and chips, and oyster po' boys alongside way more luxurious items like caviar and seafood towers. The beautifully-designed space includes a date-worthy oyster bar and a private dining room with a whale mural. Though Friday and Saturday nights are GT's peak hours, the restaurant has stellar weekday lunch and weekend brunch service.
From the good people that brought you the gin-focused Scofflaw and the dance-ready Slippery Slope, nautical-themed Sink|Swim proves its seafood game is on point with affordable yet refreshingly inspired offerings like a shrimp toast tea sandwich and monkfish liver torchon. As for the digs? Charming, with whitewashed walls, teal tufted seats, and framed ocean-themed paintings hung along the perimeter.
It's no wonder Calumet Fisheries, on the far south side of Chicago, was featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. Open since the 1940s, the family-owned seafood shack is one of the only smokehouses left in Chicago that smokes fish naturally over a wood fire. It offers an endless variety of smoked fish -- from salmon, sturgeon, and white fish to trout, catfish, and shrimp. Not to mention, its fried stuff is pretty good too.
Based in New York, Luke's Lobster is a fast-casual seafood shack chain that pays homage to founder Luke Holden's home state speciality: Maine lobster rolls. Though the butter-and-mayo-coated lobster rolls are the house speciality, the menu also features crab and shrimp rolls plus extras like clam chowder and grilled cheese. Like the rest of Luke's outposts, the Loop location is counter-serve with a few tables and window seating.
DMK's seafood concept, with outposts in Lakeview and Navy Pier, reimagines the quintessential seafood shack by taking inspiration from both New Orleans and New England. Expect east and west coast oysters, lobster rolls, po' boys, and gumbo, plus s'mores and oyster shooters and cocktails. The Lakeview location has bar and booth seating, as well as a seasonal patio.
Founded by two Massachusetts born-and-raised brothers, this Lakeview seafood joint is part fish market, part counter-serve restaurant. The menu features the greatest hits of New England seafood, all of which is flown in from Boston daily. The lobster rolls are a must-try, as are the fish tacos (made with cod, shrimp, or lobster) and fried whole belly clams. The space is simple and sparse with blue-checkered tablecloths and chalkboard menus. Daily specials and craft beers are available if you're dining in.
For nicely priced seafood and a casual, laid-back vibe, look no further than Fahlstrom's, a bright storefront with cereal mascot-themed chalkboard art and vibrant blue accents throughout. Though it specializes in fish offerings like a cornmeal-encrusted catfish po’ boy, New England clam chowder with bacon, and rotating catch-of-the-day specials, Fahlstrom's actually does really great burgers and meatloaf sandwiches, too. And thanks to a "breakfast anytime" menu, featuring omelets, pancakes, and more, you can even get your BFD (breakfast-for-dinner) fix.