The Best Seafood Restaurants In Chicago

The best spots for eating things that probably aren’t from Lake Michigan.
The Best Seafood Restaurants In Chicago image

photo credit: Christina Slaton

As much as we like to delude ourselves, Lake Michigan is not an ocean. That said, there are some spots in Chicago that manage to convince you that you’re closer to the Atlantic than to Gary, Indiana. Whether you’re looking to achieve your annual fresh oyster quota, sit down to a “nice piece of fish” for dinner, or eat your weight in fried shrimp, there's a restaurant for you on this guide. And if what you really want is sushi, we have a guide for that, too.


photo credit: Andrea León


Wicker Park

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsBYOBKidsStrollersWalk-Ins
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Alegrias is on a stretch of Ashland teeming with mariscos restaurants. You might wonder: What makes this West Town spot stand out? Is it because it’s BYOB? Or is it the charmingly chaotic nautical decor and a goofy shark painting ushering you to the upper level? Yes to all of the above. But our love for this place is primarily because of the incredible seafood—like a platter of prawns swimming in a buttery Nayarit sauce, or an entire stuffed lobster crammed with so much tender seafood it’s obscene. Bring a group of your hungriest friends to one of Chicago's best restaurants and get to work cracking and peeling.

Not only does this New Orleans-inspired spot have the best po’boys we’ve encountered in Chicago, but it’s also a blast. The spacious counter-service restaurant has live music and a full bar—order a not-too-sweet hurricane. Along with the aforementioned po’boys (like fried shrimp or the Peacemaker made with fried oyster and roast beef) the menu has other classics. There are plates of fried catfish and a rich, spicy seafood gumbo served with a little crab claw poking out of it. We'd like to think it's beckoning us to order more food.

photo credit: RPM Seafood



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At this point, RPM (of Steak and Italian fame) is synonymous with consistent food, excellent service, and giant booths. RPM Seafood rounds out the trifecta. This spot focuses on seafood (of course) and there’s the added bonus of eating in a space that feels like a shipping magnate’s yacht. You’ll see a steady parade of seafood towers go by, but don’t let them distract you from ordering the smoky and spicy charcoal-grilled black bass. Besides the food, the biggest draw of RPM Seafood might be the large riverfront patio and one of the nicest views in Chicago.

Originally from Miami, Joe’s has officially become a Chicago classic, too. This location does a great job of highlighting its signature stone crabs within an otherwise traditional steakhouse menu. You’ll find all the steakhouse sides you’d expect (there’s a whole section devoted to potatoes and creamed spinach), along with seasonal fish and shellfish. Joe’s proves there’s no better way to do surf and turf than stone crabs and steak.

Tanta's Peruvian menu incorporates regional specialties such as anticuchos and classic cebiches, but it also represents influences from Peru’s largest immigrant populations, specifically China, Japan, Spain, and Italy. That’s why you’ll find things like anticuchero nikkei alongside chaufa aeropuerto and garlicky octopus. Everything is great, so the best strategy is to come with a group to try as many dishes as possible.

Skip the fancy seafood restaurants with the white tablecloths and the overpriced lobster tails. Instead, hit up Half Shell, a tiny little basement bar that looks like Bad Santa meets Christmas Vacation, all year round. So you might be surprised that they have excellent seafood, and some of the best crab legs in Chicago (cold and steamed). Post up at the bar that's decorated with multicolored string lights, order some beers, and get oysters, shrimp, or fried frog legs, too. Just note that it’s cash only.

photo credit: Jade Court

This spot is Permanently Closed.

We’re here to help simplify your life: get the dumplings at Jade Court. There are only four types, but they’re all delicious. Both the shui mai and shrimp dumplings are plump and juicy and have perfectly seasoned pieces of shellfish packed into a pleasantly chewy wrapper. The long menu also has a variety of seafood dishes like salt and pepper shrimp, plus lobster and dungeness crab that can be prepared 10 different ways. 

Diego is a low-key drinking spot that calls itself a dive bar, but is actually a great Baja-inspired mariscos restaurant in disguise. There are perfectly fried tostadas that come topped with the expected (tuna, avocado) and the unexpected (spicy macaroni and shrimp salad). The ceviche is thick and sweet, with coconut milk and lime complementing the tender chunks of snapper. And for the seafood-averse, there’s an excellent steak burrito and a thick burger so smoky and juicy, it's singlehandedly doing its part to end the smashburger trend.

Even though MFK sits below street level on Diversey, it’s one million times more zen than a Lakeview garden unit. This small seafood spot specializes in coastal Spanish food, but the simple fish dishes—like the suzuki crudo with fish flown in from Japan twice weekly, or the rotating whole fish special—are what shine here. Dim lighting feels like you’re perpetually eating at sunset, and the small space makes for a cozy environment that’s perfect for light snacks at the bar or a weeknight date.

Since opening their doors in 1946, this little family-run seafood market has developed a loyal local following—and that following should also include you. Besides selling high-quality fresh, frozen, and smoked seafood (plus some fun merch), Hagen’s will deep fry a variety of fish, crustaceans, and shellfish on the spot. Everything has a light breading and somehow manages to stay juicy, like the excellent fried clams and calamari. The crispy fish filet sandwich is also a winner, and a lesson in simplicity—just flaky whitefish, tomato, lettuce, and tartar sauce on a toasted roll. It’s what a Filet-O-Fish aspires to be.

Hugo’s is a fish house that shares a kitchen with its turf counterpart, Gibson’s. Both restaurants cater to Gold Coast socialites, out-of-towners, and anyone else willing to spend a lot of money, but Hugo’s feels more energetic, with live music, a crowd for Happy Hour at the bar, and a typically full dining room. And yes, you can order off the Gibson’s menu, but this isn’t the time for steak—go all in on the surf, whether that’s a silky piece of Chilean sea bass, or oysters and Alaskan king crab legs. And, since this is technically a frog bar, dabble in the frog legs. There’s a 100% chance you won’t like them without garlic butter, so don’t hold back.

Shaw’s is one of those places that you probably know about but don’t often choose for dinner. The longstanding River North restaurant is basically the seafood equivalent of a steakhouse, and you’re most likely not planning on dropping that kind of money regularly. But it’s still fun, and it’s still really good, and it’s always a reliable place to take the family. Load up on oysters and crab legs, or really anything involving fish. Also consider sitting in their oyster bar for a more casual setting.

Any meal involving bibs and tabletop garbage cans is a good one, but it’s especially great at Two Fish Crab Shack. This Cajun seafood boil spot offers “curated” combo bags, or you can build your own with things like lobster tails, crawfish, and mussels. All the seafood is fresh and cooked perfectly, so trust your instincts—especially if your instincts are telling you to choose the “3 The Chi-Way” sauce (a combination of cajun, garlic butter, and lemon pepper flavors) plus add-ons like a potato and corn. There are plenty of fried options too, in basket and sandwich form.

When it’s -11 degrees outside and you’ve just spent an hour digging your car out of two feet of snow, one thought likely occupies your mind: “I wish I were on a beach right now.” And then that thought gets extended further: “Maybe that beach is on Cape Cod? And maybe I’m enjoying a fresh lobster roll while watching dolphins play off the coast?” Ok, that last part might be just us. But whenever you’re hankering for clams or lobster, check out Fish Bar. It’s like the offspring of a New England fish shack that spent some time in New Orleans. Lobster rolls are the obvious move, but what we really like is the Satchmo Po’boy with fried shrimp and crawfish on a bun.

Flip straight to the back of the menu at Ocean Grill & Bar in Chinatown. That's where you’ll find a whole section of delicious Vietnamese seafood dishes that'll make you want to give each clam a pat on the back, oysters with scallion oil and crispy onions a round of applause, and crawfish in rich garlic butter a key to the city. Oh, and there’s also 19 different preparations of snails, too. Just be ready to do some work—digging into snail shells takes some finesse, patience, and being OK with drops of tamarind sauce or spicy lemongrass broth on your shirt.

Lawrence’s is an old-school 24-hour seafood spot on the Canal Street bridge that’s been open in Chinatown since the ‘50s. And Lawrence’s is all about fried seafood, which makes it a very particular place you want to visit. You’ve got to be in the mood, which is kind of a rule when it comes to eating a ton of crispy battered sea creatures. Large fried shrimp are their specialty, but oysters, clam strips, popcorn shrimp, and catfish are all appropriate choices. And if you’re not in the mood for fried food, the seasoned peel n’ eat shrimp is delicious.

Lowcountry is a casual seafood boil restaurant, and the South Loop outpost feels like a backyard party, complete with picnic tables, fake trees, astroturf, and a great playlist of early ‘00s hits. It’s a counter-service spot, but you can sit in a separate section if you want a server (and easier access to the bar). Either way, choose from a variety of shellfish and sauces, and soon after you’ll get a bag of buttery, garlicky seafood delivered to you. It’s messy—but watching the people at neighboring tables fighting with a crab shell makes it worthwhile.

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