Hagen's Fish Market
5635 W. Montrose Avenue, Chicago IL 60634 (map); 773-283-1944
The Short Order: Fresh seafood, whether freshly fried or gorgeously smoked.
Want Fries with That? Of the fried options, the fries don't really stand out.
Want Ketchup? Nope, just their zippy tartar sauce.
During my visit at Hagen's Fish Market, a man walked in with a rather large trash bag full of fish. He casually tossed in on the scale, said he'd like it smoked, and then walked away. This may seem a little odd for just an average fish market—but Hagen's isn't a traditional fish market. Sure, they sell fish, but they're really good at cooking it too. That's precisely why I, and the man with the trash bag, were there.
The longer I was there, the more at home I felt. It's the kind of fish place I dream about, a place to buy top quality fish, cooked to order. They have an advertisement saying they'll smoke your fish. It's obviously not an empty guarantee. There are no tables inside at all, and only a couple of picnic tables outside. Since it was dark and cold, I ate in my car.
Hagen's, much like previous Standing Room Only feature Calumet Fisheries, specializes in smoked and fried seafood for take-out service. But that's really where the similarities end.
While Calumet was located on the edge of a bridge in what amounted to an industrial park, Hagen's sits quietly in the northwest Chicago neighborhood of Portage Park. It's mostly just a glorified fish market that has been open since 1946. You can buy whatever fresh fish you'd like and be on your way—but I was there for immediate satisfaction.
Up first was the fried fish sandwich. The fish fillet is on a squishy white bun that can't even begin to contain it—it hangs a good three inches off the side. The only topping is a smear of tartar sauce, which has a heavy pickle bite. That's it. There are no extraneous vegetables or sauces to muck up this guy. It'd have to stand up for itself.
Luckily the fish is slightly crunchy from the batter and surprisingly light inside. I'm genuinely surprised because most fried fish sandwiches are greasy and heavy, yet this one actually tasted light. I could have downed two of these guys had I not picked up a bunch of other things.
To my amazement, the fried oysters were even better. Now, I'll be honest and admit: I'm not much of a fried oyster guy. I love the fresh slurp of shucked raw ones. Frying always felt like a genuine waste of such a beautiful ingredient. But following a lead I found in the great Chicago food website LTH Forum, I decided to give them a chance. They are not even on the main menu. But when I asked, the nice man helping me didn't even bat an eye.
They don't exactly look pretty. But they have a thin, crispy exterior, and when you bite through, you unleash the juices inside. They literally pop in your mouth like some seafood Gusher. It may not be the most refined use for oysters, but they are strangely addicting.
I settled on two of their smoked fish options. I definitely had to try the smoked lake trout because they were so incredibly cheap. I also picked up the "Smoked Salmon Candy" because the name was so silly. The smoked lake trout was tender, slightly fatty, and haunted with smoke. It was really delicious. The Smoked Salmon Candy had a definite sweet glaze, that along with the smoke, almost tasted like bacon.