One of the first things you notice about Tavern on La Grange is how colorful it is: hot pink and indigo lights wash walls in a neon watercolor effect, and the bottles behind the bar are backlit with red and fuchsia. Murals of art deco-style buildings and figures give the room another added pop. Pasta and steak dishes are among the menu's crowning achievements, along with the likes of lobster tail and lamb chops. People fill the restaurant's spacious, kaleidoscopic dining rooms throughout the week to take in bistro-style meals, drinks, or one of the establishment's periodic events. Those evenings are just one part of what the restaurant's owners hope makes Tavern on La Grange "a quality dining experience and community meeting place."
N'awlins Crab House charms taste buds with southern snacks and seafood steeped in Cajun and creole culinary traditions. Diners can investigate three menus as they search for edible pearls in oysters on the half shell ($15.95/dozen). Crawfish creole sates veggie cravings with tomatoes, celery, and colorful peppers ($15.95), and marinated sirloin medallions ($15.99) reward carnivores by supplementing USDA Choice beef with a half-dozen prepared-to-order shrimp. Guests may customize the Captain's platter ($23.95) by pairing snow-crab legs and a broiled lobster tail with poached, sautéed, or charbroiled prawns. Growing po boy sandwiches devour catfish, blackened mahi-mahi, and other seafood staples ($8.95–$13.95), emerging from the kitchen with crunchy batter exoskeletons and the power to lure mermaids into timeshare seminars.
Beyond an ornate blue-and-white exterior, groups of family and friends celebrate any number of occasions over fresh Mexican seafood dishes. As birthday celebrants don sombreros and farmhands feed cogs to the mechanical bull, fork tines prod fresh lobster, fish tacos, and shrimp fajitas. Mariachi bands, DJs, and karaoke crooners also send music notes sailing through the dining room’s archways, as the 60-ounce Margarita Tsunami complements a whole red snapper doused with hot sauce. Meanwhile, live singers, magicians, and colorful cultural acts ensure eyes and ears feast as thoroughly as bellies do, during theme nights and shows that occur every Wednesday though Sunday.
Greg Burhop doesn't hesitate when asked what makes his seafood shops different. "Our stores don't have that fishy fish smell," he says. As soon as fish starts to smell like fish, he explains, it's no longer fresh, a condition Greg and his father, Jeff, studiously avoid by keeping their shop stocked with just-caught, never-frozen goods. They do this by going right to the source—wholesale distributors in Alaska, Hawaii, New England, and as far away as Australia. Their connections with these distributors stretch over the course of Burhop's 85-year history, which started when Greg's great-grandfather, Albert "Pops" Burhop, founded a wholesale-seafood business. When locals started offering him money and moon rocks in exchange for the prized cuts of fish, Pops decided to cut out the middleman.
Today, Greg proudly reports that many of his loyal customers are transplants from the East and West Coasts, where fresh seafood is easier to come by. Ironically, Burhop's gets fresher stuff than many stores on the coasts do, thanks to Chicago's central location, which enables quick shipping from both ends of the country. In the shop, customers can watch as the four or five workers at each store skillfully prepare custom-cut fillets and caviar busts of Admiral Nelson. A series of online video tutorials hosted by Greg himself teach home chefs to prep mouthwatering lobster tails, tuna burgers, and more.
With its lapping waves and watery vistas, Lake Michigan makes for a decent approximation of the much larger Atlantic Ocean, where Jeff Mazza feels most at home. Still, the owner of New England Seafood Company Fish Market could not shake a feeling of homesickness when he relocated to the Midwest. "Sitting on a deck eating some fried clams and some lobster rolls, that's every weekend pretty much. That's the stuff we miss and couldn't really find too much out here," he told ABC7’s Hungry Hound.
Rather than pining away and writing novel-length emails to the family dog, Mazza reflected on what he missed the most about New England and put together a plan. Soon enough, he and his brothers had opened a restaurant and market and were busy importing seafood freshly caught in the Atlantic’s waters. Today, their menu includes baked haddock, pan-seared crab cakes, and the aforementioned fried clams and lobster rolls of Jeff’s youth. The lobster rolls—with their cold lobster meat, buttery seasonings, and buns imported from Boston—seem to have won over the most local fans. Serious Eats recently described them as "the purest, simplest version" of the sandwich found in Boston or Chicago.
When entrepreneur Harold Pierce opened the first Harold’s Chicken Shack on Chicago’s South Side in 1950, his chefs fried chicken as it was ordered, filling customers' empty hands with baskets of fresh, piping-hot chicken in 12–15 minutes. Today, the chain of 62 restaurants peppered across the Midwest and Southwest continues the old tradition of rewarding patience with astonishingly delicious chicken. The long-standing shop specializes in a simple order—breaded chicken fried in a rich mix of vegetable oil and beef tallow for a home-cooked flavor. Chefs prep the chicken Chicago style by pouring a dash of sauce over the basket, which soaks into the white bread and crinkle fries that come with every order. Marked with the famed emblem of a cook chasing a chicken with a hatchet, the restaurant has saturated the city’s consciousness, earning a mention in Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, an appearance in Kanye West’s music video Through the Wire, and its own chicken hologram projected over the skyline. Serious Eats sums up citywide sentiment for the chain: "When the words 'fried chicken' are uttered in Chicago, it’s a fair bet that the name Harold’s Chicken Shack will usually follow."