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Far from the ocean but close to prime Great Lakes fishing grounds—and blessed with the world’s second-busiest airport—Chicago is home to a handful of dedicated fishmongers who are maniacal about freshness and diversity of product. Pork and beef may still be king here, but you’d never know it inside these shops.
A famous name in the Chicago area for 81 years, Burhop’s has three suburban locations under two different owners. Jeff Burhop carries on the family tradition in Hinsdale and Glenview; at the latter, he also runs a wholesale operation that sells to the Wilmette store and other retailers. All three shops offer a sizable selection of appealingly fresh fish and shellfish in spotless surroundings, plus an array of prepared foods, including fine dips and soups. Consider stopping in this summer for a piece of marlin, which offers many of the same pleasures as top-quality tuna at a fraction of the price. Burhop’s stocks it regularly year-round. 14 Grant Square, Hinsdale, 630-887-4700; 1413 Waukegan Rd., Glenview, 847-901-4014; both, burhopsseafood.com. 1515 Sheridan Rd., Wilmette; 847-256-6400, burhops.com
CAPTAIN ALEX SEAFOOD
The product is fresh and the prices are reasonable, which more than makes up for the occasionally less-than-helpful service. The underpopulated case might contain only walleye pike, whitefish, halibut, salmon, and shrimp; but the captain is a wholesaler, so if there’s something else you want, take a look at the big board behind the counter and ask. 8874 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles; 847-803-8833
DIRK'S FISH AND GOURMET SHOP
Even the folks Dirk Fucik fondly refers to as “East Coast snobs” have to admit the man knows his stuff. Yet the attitude here is as democratic as the selection is wide ranging: the only thing seafood novices have to fear is expanding their horizons. So whether you’re looking for live crabs, halibut cheeks, peerlessly fresh $35-per-pound yellowtail, or just a piece of salmon, there’s no better option than Dirk’s. The quality may not always come cheap, but the friendly staff tosses in a few lemons with each order, a holdover from Fucik’s days with the Burhop’s empire. 2070 N. Clybourn Ave.; 773-404-3475, dirksfish.com
THE FISHGUY MARKET
Compared with its dingy surroundings on a heavily industrial stretch of Elston Avenue, this bright, airy outpost brings to mind a West Loop art gallery. And standing under the skylight, contemplating a slab of Columbia River sturgeon, a fillet of sushi-grade tilapia, or a silvery whole John Dory, you can feel yourself relaxing. More wholesaler than retailer, owner Bill Dugan has been selling to the likes of Blackbird and Charlie Trotter’s for years. But the New England native and former Californian is a neighborhood shopkeeper at heart, always ready to strike up a conversation or offer advice. During retail hours, the store, seemingly staffed by culinary-school renegades, also operates a quasi fast-food operation on the side, whipping up outstanding grilled and fried fish sandwiches based on what’s available. Call a day in advance for a lobster roll. 4423 N. Elston Ave.; 773-283-7400, fishguy.com
FOX & OBEL
At Fox & Obel, “they have what I call a white-tablecloth approach to seafood,” says Sean O’Scannlain of Fortune Fish Co., the market’s main supplier. A glance at the case shows what he means: massive fillets of Chilean sea bass, Caribbean red grouper, and striped bass gleam with a freshness normally witnessed only within walking distance of salt water. And check out the spotless lobster tank: crustaceans have never had it so good. Even if you couldn’t get everything else you need for a superb dinner while you’re there, this would still be a top Chicago seafood destination. 401 E. Illinois St.; 312-379-0111, fox-obel.com
L. ISAACSON AND STEIN FISH CO.
The odor wafting down the block toward Moto and Follia may not be auspicious, but this wholesaler-cum-retailer is actually fairly civilized and easy to navigate. Just pick up some plastic gloves and a bag and grab whatever looks good. On the whole-fish side, you might find fluke, rainbow trout, whitefish, and Atlantic porgy; among fillets, Gulf red snapper, skate, catfish, and cod. The store also carries a modest selection of mollusks. Signs helpfully note what’s been frozen and what’s fresh. Prices are low, and they will fillet. 800 W. Fulton Market; 312-421-2444
SUPREME LOBSTER AND SEAFOOD COMPANY
This venerable wholesaler’s trucks are a familiar sight to anyone who spends much time on area highways. But as residents of the western suburbs are well aware, Supreme also has a substantial retail operation. Not every fillet, steak, or whole fish shines the way others do at the best shops in the city, but with more than two dozen options on display, even the pickiest buyers will find something to their liking. Good variety of lake fish. 220 E. North Ave., Villa Park; 630-834-3474, supremelobster.com