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Jan 15, 2010 12:19 PM

Best Chicago Seafood on a Budget?

My boyfriend is turning 30 in a few weeks, and I'd like to take him out for his favorite- seafood. I want to spend $250 at the most, including a drink or two for each of us. Suggestions on great Chicago seafood?

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  1. Catch 35 is lovely, great for seafood and within your budget.

    1. And for a more casual night out, try Glenn's Diner, home of the 1/4-lb shrimp and all-you-can-eat crab legs on Tuesday nights.

      1. $250 will buy you dinner for two including moderate alcohol anywhere in Chicagoland except for the "temples of haute cuisine" like Alinea, Charlie Trotter's, etc., which number under a dozen. So your stated budget restriction is not much of a restriction at all!

        The best traditional seafood restaurants in the Chicago area include:

        Shaw's (Chicago/River North and Schaumburg) -
        Hugo's (Chicago/Gold Coast and Naperville) -
        Catch 35 (Chicago/Loop and Naperville) -
        Fulton's (Chicago/River North) -
        Mitchell's (Glenview) -

        However, if you're looking for a bit more upscale experience, there are restaurants that are really more along the lines of contemporary American, casual fine dining that specialize in seafood dishes. These give more of an upscale experience that might be appropriate for a birthday celebration. Specifically:

        Spring (Chicago/Wicker Park) -
        Oceanique (Evanston) - (see website for coupons)

        All of these accept reservations on

        7 Replies
        1. re: nsxtasy

          Nice recs. I agree with most, except for Fulton's. Can't STAND that place.

          Catch 35 is my absolute fav, with McCormick & Schmick's a close second (just a block or two from Catch 35 too). Can't go wrong with either place. Oceanique was also fantastic, but pricier than the aforementioned, if memory serves.

          1. re: sis2catbat

            Oceanique, which is indeed fantastic (I've been there maybe a dozen times and it has always been superb) can be expensive, but it really depends. They often offer specials, like their $20 lobster on Wednesdays. They will be participating in the Chicago Originals Restaurant Week Jan 18-31, with three courses for $29.10, and even when there isn't a restaurant week, they offer a 3-course prix fixe menu for $42 Mondays through Fridays. If those 3-course deals don't work for you, you can use the $25 coupon on their website. They also have no corkage Mondays. So although you CAN spend quite a bit at Oceanique, there are plenty of options for avoiding it too.

            My worst meal in all of 2009 was at McCormick & Schmick's (Skokie location) and I've been trying very hard to forget it ever since.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              My absolute worse meals, yes several work related, of 2099? McCormick & Schmick. My boss makes us eat there after every quarterly sales meeting. Just dreadful

              1. re: nsxtasy

                I've only eaten at McCormick & Schmick in Baltimore and DC. The Baltimore one was pretty darn good. DC was bland and under-seasoned on some dishes, very competent with others.

                I've always thought that national chains were pretty consistent, but this one ain't.

                One suggestion for travelers on a budget. Order a few appetizers. They do them well, and you'll get a good meal for a bit more than an entree.

                I would not recommend it for a birthday dinner at all. It's an after-work joint more than fine dining.

                Your advice about Oceanique was spot-on. It's been a pleasure to see even fine-dining spots coming up with creative ways that allow the hoi polloi to have a bit of luxury in hard times. My jaw dropped when I saw the $20 lobster special, which they advertise on their window. I was at the sushi joint next door, but would have changed plans had Oceanique been open.

                And it is a beautiful place.

                1. re: Pete Oldtown

                  I was getting worried I was starting to think I was the only one who thinks McCormack and Schmick was mediocre - I have been to a numbe rof them around the ocuntry and all were about the same - mediocre

              2. re: sis2catbat

                I second Catch 35 - I also think it is the best seafood in the city - For something different but it is not strictly seafood is the Rick Bayless restaurants - I have always fond their seafood dishes to be excellent -

                1. re: weinstein5

                  Weinstein brings up a good point. Most restaurants offer seafood options. And the really good restaurants usually do seafood really well, even if they don't specialize in it. Bottom line: You don't have to choose a seafood restaurant to get great seafood.

                  However, there's nothing wrong with the good restaurants that DO specialize in seafood, either, and it's a way to narrow down choices.

            2. Thank you everyone for the suggestions-- I'm leaning toward Oceanique or Shaw's.

              1 Reply
              1. re: dallarose23

                Just a bit more info to help you decide... Oceanique and Shaw's are really two different kinds of places. Oceanique is an upscale (but casual) bistro type restaurant, with fine service, a nice wine list, etc. The menu is very creative, and they do a remarkable job not only with seafood, but also with sauces, soups, and desserts. It's small, occupying two narrow storefronts. It's an independent, chef-owned (Mark Grosz) restaurant. Shaw's is part of the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group. It's designed to resemble a classic New England seafood restaurant, somewhat noisy and boisterous. It's rather large. The menu items are more conventional and less unusual. The menus on their websites will give you a better idea of what they offer. Both are good at what they do, but they are very different.

                Hope this helps you make your decision!

              2. This is kind of a trick question. You do not have to go to a "seafood" restaurant to get seafood. In fact, you will not find the best seafood there. Now first let me say, for $250 you could almost get away with doing the prix fixe at L2O if you keep the drinking down. I say allow for an extra 50 bucks and go to the best. Or go with Spiaggia, NoMi, Everest, TRU etc etc. And Oceanique is one of my absolute favorite places, but for 30th birthday I would pick something top tier. You can even go to Topolobampo! But please do not go to one of those crab nugget serving disasters, that would be a complete waste of time, money and a special occasion.