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Seafood markets

Are there any great seafood markets in the Chicagoland area? I've tried Burhops and wasn't impressed. I also tried Fox & Obel, and it had a bad smell. I have not found large fresh seafood markets like there are on the West and East coasts. Any suggestions? Whole Foods is about as good as it gets for me, but I would like more variety. I've also tried large Asian marts, and again, if you can smell the seafood, it probably isn't fresh. I also worry about additives to certain shellfish to retain freshness.

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  1. Two good smaller places: Dirk's and New England Seafood.
    http://www.dirksfish.com/
    http://neseafoodcompany.com/
    For a larger operation than Whole Foods, try H Mart.

      1. The places mentioned in these previous topics are still around and worth checking out:

        www.chow.com/topics/321210
        www.chow.com/topics/418724
        www.chow.com/topics/477536

        1. Pssst ... we're not really on a coast, so don't expect to find anything remotely close to the major fish markets. We have more scattered specialty markets, primarily the ones listed below as well as The Fish Guy, but not all have everything on a given day.

          8 Replies
          1. re: ferret

            Thanks everyone for the replies, and @Ferret, that's exactly why I'm so frustrated with the seafood markets in Chicago. Nothing remotely as good as the coasts. I'll check out some of those places though.

            1. re: Tudor_rose

              Actually, the best fish markets in Chicago are every bit as good as the ones on the coasts; they may not always have quite as much of a selection, but it's as fresh as you'll find there. Often fish arrives as quickly by air as it does getting trucked to markets on the coasts. Some of the freshest seafood anywhere can be found in the middle of the country, especially in cities that are air cargo hubs, such as Memphis and Indianapolis (and, yes, Chicago). All you have to do is look at the best markets, here and elsewhere, without any preconceived notions, and you'll find extremely fresh seafood.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Never an issue of freshness, always an issue of variety. CNBC ran a feature on Whole Foods' purchasing model and they showed a wild salmon being delivered to the Roosevelt Road Whole Foods as quick or quicker than it would get to either coast. The other local vendors (Dirk's, Fish Guy, Isaacson, etc) have sourcing on the coasts that can provide them with product about as quickly. However, it's just not possible to find a "one-stop" source that compares to anything on either coast, which is why teh OP will never find a "great seafood market" in Chicago.

                1. re: ferret

                  No wonder I love Whole Foods fish. It's always fresh and never smelly. I've tried H Mart and Fresh Farms, and people tout their fish, but it always smells and doesn't taste that fresh. I just wish WF had more variety.

                  1. re: Tudor_rose

                    Uhh...I can buy LIVE FISH from certain markets, like some Chinese/"Asian" stores in the Midwest or in Indianapolis, and have it killed and cleaned in front of me. That's fresh. Yes, limited variety, but to say that *all* fish other than in Whole Foods is not fresh is incorrect. Most of the already-dead fish I find in various open-access markets here in Indy are by-and-large fine too with the occasional dud fish. Restaurants here have "private" sources (which are not something you can just "drop by" and pick up, true) which are indeed excellent.

                    Whole Foods in your area may be excellent, but WF locations elsewhere have been noted for having horrible seafood and fish.

                    1. re: huiray

                      I don't mean to say ALL fish other than WF is not fresh, I just haven't found the freshness myself elsewhere. This is why I asked the question in the first place. While you can buy fresh live fish at H-Mart, and other places, but the other (already dead) fish, to me, leaves much to be desired. I would love to find a place that sells fresh smelling dead fish, as well as live fish and lobster. I see places like this on the coasts, but haven't in Chicago. I hope they do exist, and I plan on checking some of these sites out that others have mentioned here.

                      I will say that Burhops also sells fresh (dead) fish, but their variety is pitiful, and they don't have live fish and lobster. Their prices are also way higher than WF.

                      1. re: Tudor_rose

                        You will find that the small places mentioned above don't have much variety, and a big reason is that they support sustainable fishing. Which I think is a good thing.

                        1. re: camusman

                          True, thanks for bringing that to my attention :-)

          2. After reading all the back and forth, I would have to say that Tudor_rose's best best if Dirks or The Fish Guy. Fish Guys offers half-price specials on tuesdays on many varieties of fish and there are decent sales over the weekend on seafood.

            1. After McGowan's in Glen Ellyn closed, we started going to Isaacson & Stein.... and love it! We've go about once a month & stock up. The scallops are incredibly sweet & just melt in your mouth. If you go on a Saturday, just make sure you get there well before 1:00. They start taking the signs on the fish bins around 12:45, so unless you know your fish well, it can be hard to figure out what some of them are.

              2 Replies
              1. re: wineaux

                I did not weigh in here and let me preface this response with the qualification that my family owns (and I worked in for years as a kid) a large commercial fish distributor in the Detroit Area. As such, my experience leads me to usually get my fish from Whole Foods. The reason I say this is that they have created a very large network of sources that allow WFs in major markets to get the best catch that comes in. I know you're all about to cringe, but when I worked the packing line at our facility, the highest number of returns came from Red Lobster because they had the highest quality standards (more than some of the top restaurants in the Detroit, Cleveland and even Chicago markets). Granted the home of the scrumptious Cheddar Bay Biscuit would take smaller shrimp and lobster, they would demand the highest quality and since they were one of of our larger customers would get the best quality. Extend this to an operation like WFs and you will be getting some of the best quality even though not the largest selection.

                1. re: jbontario

                  Thanks for your insider view, jbontario. I think it is tempting for us Hounds to sit on padded foodie perches, and I sometimes cringe at predictable posts that repeatedly recommend the same handful of restaurants. I always appreciate the reasons for a recommendation, especially when they are more detailed than a personal preference.

              2. Drive to Fortune Fish & Gourmet, find the front door, ask for a salesperson to help you buy wholesale. They should help you COD, so bring some cash to pay, but they are the best in the city.
                Better yet, call first.
                Fish as good or better than either coast, I know for a fact.
                1060 Thorndale Ave
                Bensenville, IL (near O'hare)

                1. The offerings I found while in Chicago were mostly subpar. Though I've lived in California and Florida the other 30 or so years of my life. What passes for good seafood there is iffy at best. Whole Foods is your basic fish market you might find on a coast, but nothing special and a terribly small selection. Large seafood markets on the coast are about the size of a whole foods themselves. I just stopped buying seafood or eating out seafood while in Chicago after constant dissapointments. Honestly your best bet is to move if you are a seafoodie. The fresher by air to Chicago is also laughable. Yeah maybe if you are talking about purchasing it in the middle of a major city. However for people who live by the water you can just get out of the city and buy it straight off the boats as they come in or uh, catch it yourself. Is the demand that high for a variety of seafood in the midwest to begin with? I never met so many people while living there that just didn't really eat much seafood or considered Red Lobster a good restaurant.

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: grapels

                    I strongly disagree with what you have posted. You CAN find fresh seafood in Chicago, every bit as good as on the coasts (where I've also lived and still frequently visit). But it's not everywhere; you have to know where you're going, such as the excellent recommendations already posted in this topic. Fish is flown into Chicago (and other large cities) where you'll be eating it within 24-48 hours of it being caught - as quick as most places in big cities on the coasts.

                    Based on your comments, it sounds like you haven't lived here in many years, and haven't even tried our best fishmongers, like Dirk's or Isaacson, or our best seafood-focused restaurants, such as Shaw's, Oceanique, GT Fish & Oyster, Piccolo Sogno Due, New England Seafood Co., and MH Fish House, among others. You should come back and visit, try buying seafood at those markets, and try eating at some of those seafood restaurants. You'll find that there is plenty of outstanding seafood to be had, all over town - and it's every bit as good as on either coast.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      We'll just have to agree to disagree then. I thought Shaw's was terribly overrated, the crab cakes there especially definitely would not hold up on the coast and really overpriced. If you really think Shaw's is a great seafood place then I don't think you've had great seafood, I thought it was pretty average. I've been to the large seafood market on Fulton also. I'm just not impressed is all b/c the selection is so minimal. SF destroys Chicago in seafood, and it isn't even CLOSE to being as good. Def can not compare to Seattle either. I know less about the East Coast cities, so my views come from the West Coast, mainly LA, SF, Seattle and Florida w/ many visits to New Orleans, speaking of, Heaven on Seven is downright bad and not close to authentic. I lived in Bodega Bay for several years also, and it's also just laughable to think Chicago is comparable. You might find a few here and there that are comparable, but it's more of a comprehensive thing. Even in Atlanta, the Buford Highway Farmers Market has a way better seafood dept than anything in Chicago and technically it's not coastal, but closer. If it works for your palate that is fine, it just wasn't for mine. Chicago has great food though, for sure easily top 3-4 food city in the country, it's seafood offerings are really hit or miss and really limited though.

                      1. re: grapels

                        Within the past few years, I've eaten extensively at seafood restaurants in San Francisco, New York, Baltimore, Seattle, Florida (both coasts), etc. And yes, the crab cakes at Shaw's (and the chowder at GT Fish and the Dover sole at MH Fish House) are as good as any of them, and so is the rest of the seafood, at our markets as well as at our restaurants. I disagree strongly with everything you've said; it's not even *close* to true, IMHO. Now, I'm not saying that the seafood (or other food) is bad in any of those cities; they have very good seafood, and each does well in various other types of food as well. But the seafood you find here is every bit as good as in any of those other places.

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          How about outside major cities on the coast, major cities are NEVER going to be the freshest. Most restaurants on the coast you eat it within a few *hours* of it being caught, straight of the boat. Go to some small towns in Florida, Louisiana for instance. There are several places where you wait and the boat brings it in, you eat it within an hour. so 24-48 hour being flown in, then sitting it around... I mean still not that fresh. You don't even know what's on the menu yet until the boat comes in some places. Anyway, will just have to agree to disagree with you. The main good thing about major cities on the coast is the major fish markets, if you think there is anything like that in Chicago you just haven't been to them. To paraphrase Ben Franklin said, fish like people begin to smell after 3 days...I would like to think I have a good palate for fish, and just still disagree. When we used to go out on the boat in FL we would catch grouper, snapper, tuna and eat it right there on the boat with a little hibachi or slice it open and eat it raw with a little lime or lemon, it doesn't get any better and you don't need a high paid chef to cook it. Fish starts going downhill the moment it dies, doesn't matter if it is on ice or not, the eyes slowly start to glaze over. So unless it's swimming still like lobster or a few fish there is diminishing quality even in 24-48 hours plus however long it sits there after that b/c of less demand. Even if it is swimming, it's often not properly aerated and the salinity is off. The live fish, live shrimp, or whatever start slowly dying. I personally think there are degrees of places to get good fish right off the coast, for instance in Florida, it's realllly good between Pensacola,Destin, Panama City, Apalachicola but not so hot in other places. In California, the seafood selection is not that great in San Diego, but wonderful in San Francisco, or up in Seattle and along the Sound areas. But Chicago? Really? Chicago, 48 hours flying it in is fresh to you? And that is fresh is it gets at the top end restaurants? What about everywhere else in this great Chicago seafood scene... You really think it is just as good as "anywhere" on the coasts? Good selection? Got to be kidding me. People on the coasts can buy it right off the boat if they want to or catch it themselves.

                          1. re: grapels

                            I won't get into the argument about ocean fish, but you can get some pretty tasty fish out of the Great Lakes here in Chicago. For example, one local place, Boston Seafood Market, has trucks that take fish from lakefront docks of both Lake Superior and Lake Michigan and drive straight through to their operation in Des Plaines.

                            1. re: camusman

                              Hi Camusman, I agree with that now. As well as smaller lakes around there, especially if you get it yourself, good perch and trout. Wisconsin and Minnesota are of course filled with plenty of good fishing spots.

                              1. re: grapels

                                i was born in the Chi, raised for a decent amt of time on the east coast, and then moved back here with a stint in L.A., and denver, and abq as well. I agree with grapels for the most part although, really good ocean fish CAN be had here, just not with as much consistency across the board. And it's just the nature of it. It's not even really fair to compare, Chi is far away from the coasts. A SERIOUS seafoodie could very well be dissappointed here. Again, it's not that great ocean fish can't be found, it's just that you gotta pay seriously for it, and it still might not be as good as what you can regularly get for cheaper if you were much closer to the coast.

                                For the Red Lobster bit, tho, that's not really fair. There are ppl in every city, coastal or not, that think Red Lobster is great. I personally, do not know anyone in the Chicago area that likes that place.

                                Grapels seems to know fish seriously, and is not "dissing" Chicago, imo, it's just fact. Maybe I'm not prone to defend Chicago in this regard because of my time spent eating fish on the coasts, and I know the difference between average / good and exceptionally fresh. On the coasts, there is so much more exceptionally fresh stuff compared to here. Yes, we can get exceptionally fresh, just nowhere close to as consistently when you are AT the source. Great example,imo, is mackeral. Mackeral degrades VERY quickly, yet is pretty abundant, and there is demand for it here. Most of the mackeral I've had in Chicago is horrid. Once in a while, I'll try some that is immaculately fresh, and it is delectable (as it should be when fresh.) When I go to coastal areas, I gorge on Mackeral, because when you get it fresh, it is insanely good and cheap, but once it's over a few days old, it's just horrendous.

                                Our fish selections have DEFINITELY gotten better over the years, and by selections, I mean the selections of above averagely fresh fish, but it isn't really possible to have the same amt of exceptionally great (ocean) fish here.

                                1. re: grapels

                                  Hi gordeaux, yes I wasn't saying it can't be found whatsoever, but it has to be looked at comprehensively. It's pretty underwhelming, tha't's all. There are some good places, yes.. but the original question was there something comparable to the coasts, and I can't sit there with a straight face and say there is. I *love* chicago cuisine, it's underrated even in things like puerto rican/mexican that people largely think are better by the border. The best Indian food I've had is on Devon, despite that there are more indians in other locations. The best greek in the country, best polish in the country, etc etc. I could go on and on. Just the seafood offerings aren't that good, I don't see anything wrong saying that nor do I feel bad about it FWIW.

                                  I also love mackerel, good mild slightly oily fish, preferred smoke mackerel to salmon usually, used to go fishing for kings and spanish.

                              2. re: grapels

                                i, too agree with Grapels. No surprise here. We live 1,000 miles from the closest ocean. I don't care how quickly a catch gets iced and packed and shipped, it's not ever going to be as fresh as the fish that comes off the boats and into the kitchen. Nothing to defend about about that; it's just a fact of geography.

                                I am, however, leery of Great Lakes fish for the pollution factor. For that reason - and because I think it's really boring - I never buy whitefish from any of the Great Lakes.

                                There is perch or pike or other varieties that come from smaller lakes up north in Wisconsin or Minnesota that can we wonderful, but Great Lakes - no so much.

                                1. re: chicgail

                                  Actually, levels of pollutants in the Great Lakes have been steadily decreasing, whereas mercury pollution in inland lakes and rivers is much higher than expected.

                                  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/...

                                  http://www.epa.gov/glindicators/fisht...

                                  1. re: camusman

                                    I appreciate the update, causman, but the articles you cite, while they indicate some improvements, are not all that reassuring. Mercury may be some what better in GL fish, but my bigger concern has been PCBs.

                                    "It is important to note that the concentrations of this contaminant remain above the wildlife protection value of 0.16 ppm and the GLWQA criteria of 0.1 ppm. PCB fish advisories remain in place for all 5 of the Great Lakes."

                                    I'm afraid we're making a mess of everything, including the Great Lakes, the small lakes, rivers and oceans. More than a little disheartening to this resident of Planet Earth.

                                  2. re: chicgail

                                    Just like in math, the answer is "it depends." Are you going to get tuna that was fresh-caught this morning? No, but with the caveat that very few people do. The assumption that being on a coast gives you access to the freshest seafood possible only applies to what's available in local fisheries at that point in time. Chicago has access to nearly all of that on a same-day or next day basis. No, we don't get everything every day but it's ridiculous to think that we have to wait for a wagon train to deliver our fish.

                                    CNBC had a feature on whole foods last year that showed their fishing operation in Alaska. They employ a full-time expediter who inspects, approves and oversees the packaging and shipment to stores across the US. They showed fresh-caught salmon being cleaned and packed and delivered to the Roosevelt Road Whole Foods the same day.

                                    Paul Bartolotta has an Italian seafood restaurant in Las Vegas that gets daily shipments of Italian fish and shellfish. Each box has sensors that record any temperature fluctuations or excessive vibration that may affect the shipment.

                                    The point is, the global economy we live in allows for rapid movement of perishable items with a lot of attention to detail. The fish markets on the coasts sell fish that was caught that day in local fisheries or trucked in overnight from more remote locations. Replace "trucked in" with "flown in" and you can appreciate that Chicago has ready access to lots of very fresh fish.

                                    I had one of my best fish meals at a restaurant in Denver which is on no coast that I can determine.

                                    1. re: ferret

                                      >> Paul Bartolotta has an Italian seafood restaurant in Las Vegas that gets daily shipments of Italian fish and shellfish. Each box has sensors that record any temperature fluctuations or excessive vibration that may affect the shipment.

                                      I'm sure he has similar arrangements for the highly-regarded Milwaukee restaurants in his restaurant empire.

                                      1. re: nsxtasy

                                        I wouldn't doubt it. The point is that the romantic notion of "just off the boat" applies to a very small fraction of the fish available anywhere. Much of what you see in the massive fish markets on the coasts has taken more than a few hours to get there, being trucked in overnight from other locations. The idea that every fish you see in these markets was swimming in the ocean a few hours earlier is logistically impossible and misplaced.

                        2. I've found that the seafood vendor at the French Market generally is good. Whole Foods is a notch down. I lived in a coastal fishing village in New England and had recreational lobster and clamming licenses, so I'm pretty picky.
                          You can get good, tasty fish preparations in Chicago, but it is more expensive and harder to find. Part of the problem is that, except at the very best restaurants, I don't think that the people handling the fish even have a feel for what it is supposed to be. I often judge by the lobster tank -- it should be clean and look healthy. The length of the antennae of the lobsters is key -- if they are short, the lobsters have been in the tank a long time and cannibalize each other, chewing down the antennae. Lobster in the tank a long time will not be as meaty or flavorful. At Fox and Obel, I actually saw a dead lobster floating around a tank of short-antennaed critters -- yuck!

                          1. This may not alter your opinion on Chicago as a seafood hub, but check out this week's Bizarre Foods feature on Supreme Lobster. They run an impressive operation and get an amazing array of fresh fish to supply the city's best restaurants (Alinea/Next included).

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ferret

                              Similarly, there was a print article in Crain's on Fortune Fish Co. a week ago: www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130...

                              Their operation is equally impressive. They fly fish/seafood from 57 countries into O'Hare, and process more than 75,000 pounds a day in their nearby Bensenville facility, which operates round the clock. They supply to restaurants (e.g. Blackbird) as well as retail markets (including Whole Foods).