Bistrot Zinc Amid tony Gold Coast restaurants is this surprisingly authentic Paris-style bistro, complete with the day’s paper dangling from wooden rods and silver-plated egg stands beckoning hungry drinkers to the zinc-topped bar. Wine-steamed mussels and butter-drenched escargots sate shellfish lovers, while onion soup’s beefy broth and gobs of Gruyère satisfy comfort-food cravings. Steak frites is fine, but thin. If you’re craving red meat, opt instead for the peppercorn-crusted strip. 1131 N State St (312-337-1131). Brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch, dinner. Average main course: $20.
Calumet Fisheries This smoke shack was born when the steel industry was thriving and the area was populated by hungry day laborers. Set at the base of the famous Blues Brothers bridge, this little white box brings in customers from all around for deep-fried frog legs, smoked shrimp and sable, which are always on offer. You’ll see folks sitting in their cars eating their picks out of paper bags, an essential part of the experience. 3259 E 95th St (773-933-9855). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Half Shell “We close when we feel like closing” and “Nothin’ but cash, no exceptions” are among the oh-so-perfect-for-the-setting sayings we overheard in just one night at this 40-year-old subterranean spot. Grab a table in the tiny, Christmas light–strewn room, and start out with the “Mulligan stew” and an order of crispy calamari. For more fried goodness, have the “Thirty-Two Pointer” for an entrée—a crunchy pile of frog legs, perch, smelt, clam strips and fat shrimp. And if you’re looking to crack some crab, splurge on the massive, meaty king legs. 676 W Diversey Pkwy (773-549-1773). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $22.
Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House This seafood fave shares the kitchen of Gibsons Steakhouse and the slick tie-and-blazer crowd that loves them both. The room is full of dark wood, leather booths and career servers hoisting huge trays spilling over with king crab legs, giant Australian lobster tails and massive porterhouses. Old-school classics are prepared well; we like the frog legs with garlic butter, “clams casino” (baked clams topped with bread crumbs and bacon) and smoked salmon—heat-smoked rather than cured. 1024 N Rush St (312-640-0999). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $25.
La Sardine Devotees of Wicker Park’s Le Bouchon might tell you otherwise, but the bistro essentials at this sibling spot are just as tasty as those at the home base. The setting is much more open and airy than at Bouchon, but the rest of the package is pretty much the same: snails Burgundy in garlic sauce, plump mussels drenched in creamy white-wine broth, onion soup that tests even serious cheese-lovers’ thresholds, and simple bouillabaisse jam-packed with seafood. The wine list is half price on Mondays, and there’s a $25 three-course meal Tuesdays. 111 N Carpenter St (312-421-2800). Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $22.
Sixteen The stately dining room on the 16th floor of the Trump Tower is indeed impressive, but the close-up view of architectural gems like the Wrigley Building or Tribune Tower and the supremely polished, doting staff come at a price. The artistically presented food includes dishes such as clam, frog leg and snail risotto and loin of Red Fallow deer. Looking to impress a client or a date? This spot is for you. 401 N Wabash Ave (312-588-8030). Breakfast, brunch (Sun), lunch, dinner. Average main course: $45.