Lent is a time for sacrifice and cleansing, which incidentally means a huge uptick in fish consumption. Fortunately, dining in Chicago affords ample opportunities to chow down at fish-centric restaurants without sacrificing flavor.
Kinmont (419 W. Superior St.)
The latest fish-focused spot to open in Chicago is Kinmont, and it also happens to be the city's first entirely sustainably sourced seafood restaurant. Fish come from near (the Great Lakes) and far (not the Great Lakes) for dishes small and large. Start with some oysters before diving into marinated mussels, crab legs, and cobia crudo, followed by heftier portions of grilled sturgeon, whitefish chowder, squid ink spaghetti, and the catch of the day.
GT Fish & Oyster (531 N. Wells St.)
Perhaps the chicest seafood spot in town is GT Fish & Oyster, a nautically themed eatery that looks like it could host a mermaid fashion show. The refined cuisine is courtesy of acclaimed chef Giuseppe Tentori (nee of BOKA), who puts his own novel twist on everything from lobster rolls and crab cakes to oyster po' boy sliders and fish tacos. It's a fancied step up from the norm, but a welcome upgrade indeed.
Shaw's Crab House (21 E. Hubbard St.)
For a saline taste of Chicago history, Shaw's Crab House can't be beat. With a city location and a Schaumburg location, the River North Shaw's serves as a bastion of reliable, seafaring comfort in a sea of hot spots. There are two ways to approach Shaw's: veer left into the main dining room and find yourself immersed in a polished, vintage-y parlor reminiscent of a ballroom on the Titanic. The expansive menu ensures there is something for everyone, including the sushi-phile, the oyster-obsessed, the lobster bisque brigade, and of course, the crab-lovers. The other way to approach Shaw's is by dining and drinking in their low-key, boisterous oyster bar, where the atmosphere always feels like a down-home party, but with top-notch food.
Fish Bar (2956 N. Sheffield Ave.)
Fish Bar is the rare restaurant the toes the line between dive-y shanty and contemporary class-act. It nails the middle ground to a tee with its mix of casual, beachy decor that actually makes you feel like you're dining oceanside in San Diego, and its assembly of pristine seafood and fish, sourced fresh every day from the finest purveyors. So you can feast guilt-free on fish sliders, "crabby patties," calamari, Mexican shrimp cocktail, blue crab gumbo, and crispy smelt.
Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House (1024 N. Rush St.)
The name sounds like something out of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, but the premise is a lot less zany, albeit no less fun. Fine seafood and fish make landfall at this raucous Gold Coast standby, offering a sense of nostalgia and comfort with its antiquated motif and a sense of energy with its buzzing crowds and frenzied atmosphere. It sets an apropos pace for digging into coriander-seared tuna, spicy lobster cocktail, oysters Rockefeller, clam chowder, blackened salmon sandwich, lake perch, and loads more. Ahoy!
Nico Osteria (1015 N. Rush St.)
Just around the corner from Hugo's is another seafood-focused restaurant, this one a tad more upscale. Nico Osteria comes from one of the most revered restaurant groups in the country, One Off Hospitality, comprising the ground floor of the Thompson Hotel and dealing in meticulous Italian seafood. Expect masterful, ninja-like preparations of crudo, the most tender octopus you've ever tasted in your life, Dungeness crab, vermouth-splashed mussels, lobster-strewn spaghetti, salt-crusted branzino, and other stunners.
Photos: Kinmont, Chelsea Ross (GT Fish & Oyster), Shaw's Crab House, Fish Bar, Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House, Nico Osteria