After the gumbo-filled glut of Fat Tuesday, Lent is an appropriate time to clean house, dietary speaking. Of course, that doesn't have to mean forfeiting flavor. This being Chicago, you've got a myriad of Lent-friendly options at your beck and call, and nothing fits the bill better than a fine fish-centric meal at one of the city's incredible seafood haunts.
Cold Storage (1000 W. Fulton Market)
The Boka Restaurant Group and B. Hospitality Co. collective hit a home run with their steakhouse Swift & Sons, but they made it a grand slam when they added an adjoining seafood restaurant called Cold Storage. More casual than the glamorous steakhouse next door, Cold Storage features the masterful seafood stylings of chef Chris Pandel, who puts his stamp on everything from seafood towers to octopus and fried smelt.
New England Seafood Company (3341 N. Lincoln Ave.)
While Chicago may not border the Atlantic, we can at least get an ample taste of it at New England Seafood Company, a casual eatery in Lakeview helmed by New England expats. As a New England native myself, I can attest to the legitimacy of this seafood market/cafe, both in nautical design and in flavor. You'll be hard-pressed to find better fried clam rolls and chowder in Chicago.
Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House (1024 N. Rush St.)
This Gold Coast crowd-pleaser is crowded for good reason. Sensational seafood and fish make landfall at this sceney Viagra Triangle staple, offering a sense of coastal Americana nostalgia and comfort with its classic decor and a pulsing energy with its frenzied crowds. It sets a fun pace for digging into pan-seared scallops, shrimp De Jonghe, king crab bisque, escargots, tuna poke, and sauteed frog legs. The restaurant also unveiled a new oyster bar last year, which is a mighty fine spot to slurp some fresh bivalves.
Nico Osteria (1015 N. Rush St.)
Morning, noon, and night, this Gold Coast gem serves some of the freshest, most stunning compositions in town. Which should come as no surprise, considering the caliber of talent behind the project in the Thompson Hotel. Between chef Erling Wu-Bower, pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky, and One Off Hospitality Group, the powerhouse collective has put together an Italian-accented, seafood-leaning restaurant like no other. Expect vivid presentations of dishes like scallops with Meyer lemon-Prosecco butter, grilled octopus with caviar aioli, lobster spaghetti, grilled swordfish with crispy bean salad, and lots more.
Kinmont (419 W. Superior St.)
One of the freshest fishy restaurants to surface in Chicago is Kinmont, a River North spot that also happens to be the city's first wholly sustainable seafood concept. Fish come from near and far for dishes, but the common thread is sustainable sourcing with a nod towards seasonality. There's lots to choose from here, with something for every appetite. Try Kinmont's unique fish "charcuterie" board, salmon sliders, or the lobster roll. Additionally, Kinmont is offering 50% off fish & chips every Friday during Lent.
Luke's Lobster (134 N. LaSalle St.)
For a taste of Maine in the Loop, Luke's Lobster is sure to satisfy. The East Coast transplant slings some of the best rolls (lobster, crab, or shrimp) in Chicago, served in incomparably buttery and toasted buns with a dash of lemon butter and mayonnaise. There's also clam chowder, crab claws, lobster grilled cheese, and a winter-only "tail and kale" salad with whole split steamed lobster tail on a bed of baby kale with quinoa, chickpeas, house-pickled red onions, and roasted pumpkin seeds. This may very well be the most wholesome seafood dish you'll find this Lenten season.
Shaw's Crab House (21 E. Hubbard St.)
The reigning godfather of seafood in Chicago, Shaw's Crab House has been a red-hot destination for all things oceanic for three decades in River North. The sprawling space contains a massive main dining room, which almost boasts the lavish feel of an ocean liner with its motif and menu filled with bisque, sushi, crab, and so much more more. Then there's the boisterous, casual oyster bar filled with music (and even occasional dancing), platters of oysters, and bracing drinks. No matter how you experience it, Shaw's is an experience you need to partake in one way or another.
Oyster Bah (1962 N. Halsted St.)
Incidentally, the folks who made Shaw's Crab House the local legacy it is just opened another seafood spot in Lincoln Park. This quirky, rollicking homage to New England is called Oyster Bah, and it's an absolute dream come true for seafood diehards. The space is fun, lively, and adorably thematic with its nautical accouterments. After ordering one of the killer cocktails, begin the onslaught of whole fried fish, lobster rolls, smoked trout dip, shrimp cocktail, fried clams, and New England stuffies, which are a glorious amalgam of quahog clams mixed with chorizo and celery.
The Angry Crab (5665 N. Lincoln Ave.)
One of the most surprising openings and restaurant success stories of the past year is this modest crab shack on the western fringes of Rogers Park. The premise is decidedly simple and straightforward: the Cajun-style seafood is served in bags on communal tables, where customers line up in droves to crack open spicy crab with their hands. There's also lobster, clams, crawfish, and shrimp, but the formula remains refreshingly simple. Be prepared to wait, because the dining room fills up quickly here, but it's definitely worth your while.
Header image: Oyster Bah, photo by Anjali Pinto
Body images: Cold Storage by Kailley Lindman, Kinmont, and Shaw's Crab House by Anjali Pinto