The middle of the country wasn't always such a great spot for seafood, but these days, it's plenty easy to ship fresh seafood straight from the coasts. Add in bounty from the lake, and Chicago is a surprisingly great hub for seafood. From $1 oysters to lobster rolls to traditional offerings at steakhouses, these are our favorite seafood restaurants in Chicago.
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Best seafood restaurants in Chicago
Our go-to spot for seafood, Shaw's Crab House is a Chicago classic. For a more refined experience, sit in the dining room, though we'll be over at the lively oyster bar, getting down and dirty with cleanly shucked oysters (half off each day from 4-6pm), cracking open crab claws and dunking lobster tails in butter. The menu also includes a terrific lobster roll, bound up with the barest hint of mayo, and sushi and sashimi. Pair your seafood feast with a local beer or a glass of Chablis, which goes perfectly with oysters.
Before going to the Angry Crab, some advice: Wear clothes you don’t mind getting messy and bring lots of booze. You’ll probably have to wait for 30 minutes to an hour, but once you’ve cracked open a beer, it’s not so bad. Especially because the wait is worth it—huge, spice-encrusted crabs and tender, plump shrimp wallowing in garlic butter are must-orders. Order more than you think you need and get messy.
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 smoked shrimp, trout and sable, which are always on offer. You’ll see folks sitting in their cars eating their picks out of paper bags, a quintessential part of the experience.
Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz—the restaurateurs behind Girl & the Goat—are behind this seafood spot that’s raised the profile of chef Giuseppe Tentori. The food coming out of here would make any cook a star. Sunfish ceviche sparkles with acidity, an oyster po'boy gets crunch and piquancy from peanuts and kimchi, and Nueske's bacon adds depth to clam chowder. Stop by the bar for oysters and cocktails if nothing else.
Part fish market, part restaurant, New England Seafood Company serves up the best lobster roll in town. It's simply dressed, with a tiny bit of mayo, plus butter on the side. The sweet crab roll, creamy clam chowder and perfect fried shrimp are also worth ordering, and if you don't want to eat at the picnic tables, you can take seafood home for later.
The cozy oyster bar within Swift & Sons is a fun spot to order lots of fresh seafood. Order a $5 draft beer or glass of wine, then order rounds of oysters, brimming with brine, and nuggets of sweet crab, carefully extracted from the shell; or get it all in a seafood tower. An order of sardines, accented with salsa verde and served with saltines, is a simple, yet completely satisfying dish.
Lincoln Park’s Oyster Bah is the latest spot to deliver freshly shucked oysters, fat crab legs and shrimp cocktail. The sister restaurant to Shaw’s Crab House, Oyster Bah nails the classics, though it’s the innovative dishes, like a crisp half-snapper, slicked with Thai chili sauce and served on the bone, that we’ll return for as soon as possible.
“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 more than 40-year-old subterranean spot. Stake out a table in the tiny Christmas light–strewn room, and start 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 smelts, perch, frog legs, clam strips and fat shrimp. And if you’re looking to crack some crab, splurge on the massive, meaty king legs.
For years, Bill Dugan has run an "occasional" restaurant out of his seafood shop, the Fish Guy. Now he's given the clean and bright space a renovation, converting one fish case into a dining bar and adding a few permanent tables in front. The food has also taken a step up, with a lobster roll that does the quality of the product justice and a clam sandwich packed with big, meaty fried clams and ramp pesto.
With its small menu of simple but elegant seafood dishes, a dinner (or Sunday brunch or lunch, if you're lucky to work nearby) at mfk. is a welcome break from fancy plates and elaborate combinations of ingredients. Here, boquerones come piled with peppers and fennel on a grilled baguette; tender octopus is grilled on the plancha and a plate of fried shrimp heads elicits jealousy from neighboring tables. At mfk., the kitchen proves that less is more.