Chicago’s Best is a WGN television program that featured Hagen’s Fish Market as Chicago’s best seafood.
Click Here to watch the video.
The Beat Cop’s Guide to Chicago Eats
The Beat Cop’s Guide to Chicago Eats is a handbook for people in Chicago hungry for food that’s good, fast, and cheap.
I’m always amazed when I mention Hagen’s to people in my neighborhood and they’ve never heard of it.
Hagen’s has been smoking fish for over sixty years at Central and Montrose in Portage Park. For $1.85 per pound, they’ll hang your freshly caught fish in their cinderblock smokehouse and return them to you, transformed by the alchemy of oak smoke and gravity, into a divine treat.
What I love about Hagen’s is the fried shrimp cooked while you wait. I always wonder if shrimp are aware that some quirk of fate made them delicious and if they are pissed about that.
The store is dominated by the cooler loaded with shrimp and fish that you order by the pound. They fry it up and you get it in a paper bag, along with the sauce of your choice. There are no tables at Hagen’s — it’s all take out. If you’re on a beat, you have to sit out in the squad car in the parking lot and eat.
The prices for shrimp are about the same as what they are in a grocery store, and they change all the time. But they’re worth it. If you’re going to spend the money, might as well get good, really fresh shrimp.
The dazzling selection of freshly caught smoked fish may cause lesser humans to swoon. The smoked salmon steaks have been known to cause hearty New Englanders to kick themselves in the Chesapeakes for not moving to Portage Park so they can get some real fish. But the telling detail, the simple little truth that makes Hagen’s world class, is their hush puppies. Just as any great southern joint must be judged not by its fried chicken but its slaw, any good fish joint must be judged on the delicate tooth, the humid interior, the flaky, cakey, achy-breaky delight of its hush puppies. Hagen’s hush puppies are so frightfully superior, so addictively delicious, you will forget you came there to get some fish. Having scoured this great country in search of the best hush puppies around, I can confidently claim only Jacque Imo’s in New Orleans can boast a better pup — and they had to add garlic, alligator, and crawdaddies to get past Hagen’s hush puppies.
(Note: as this book nears publication, Hagen’s just started offering smoked salmon candy. Words fail me. What a sanguine grace causes a person to look at smoked salmon and brown sugar and think: this’ll work? There’s a special place in heaven for them and when I die? That’s where I’ll eat.)
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Click Here to read the rave review of Hagen’s Fish Market.
It’s the kind of fish place I dream about, a place to buy top quality fish, cooked to order.