One of the benefits of living in Albany Park is certainly the diversity in food and culture. While gentrification continually creeps its way into this northwest side neighborhood, Albany Park still keeps plenty of secrets in its boundaries. One a hot day bordering on triple-digits, I stopped by Lawrence Fish Market to take in the scenery and wait for some under the radar sushi.
Inside Lawrence Fish Market, you’ll find the charm and glitz befitting an Albany Park butcher shop with its mopped over tiles and disorganized random assortment of boxes throughout the shop. Being nearly 100°F out, I fully expected to wait out the ten minutes for them to roll together sushi in near swamp-like humidity. Stepping in, I was greeted with a blast of cold air coming from the cooling system and various vents throughout – the cargo here is fresh and precious, and Lawrence Fish Market does its best to protect it!
I filled out for an order with a spider roll, rainbowl roll, tuna maki, unagi nigiri and some ika nigiri all for under $20. The waiting game began and I took my camera to take a better view of the classic mini-van back seat that serves as a chair for waiting patrons. The front display case was filled with plenty of salmon, white fish, tuna, and fearsome deep purple octopus tentacle. Lawrence Fish Market is rumored to supply some of Chicago’s sushi restaurants and I’ve definitely seen some people leaving the fish market with over $300 in fish. Soon the ten minutes were up and I was loaded with a giant heavy box of sushi to take home.
The sushi lover in me always enjoys a trip to Lawrence Fish Market no matter how long the wait. You can always call ahead and order from the menu, but there’s always the charm of sitting down and taking in the view of the fish market. With certainty, you’ll find some of Chicago’s freshest sushi without watching your wallet go up in smoke. If you are looking for a great place to supply your party with sushi, make sure to check out one of their $20 or $50 platters that will leave your guests wanting more.
Below is a Yelp review that I wrote after my first visit, I can honestly say that my opinion’s still unchanged: top notch and delicious!
“In the sushi world there are polished wooden floors, fountains in the background, ambient lighting, smooth light brown wooden tables, bowls of miso soup waiting and bento boxes. Hot towels greet you with a starter appetizer salad dish and music plays in the background while you sip on a Kirin or Ichiban. Nope, forget everything you’ve ever learned about sushi dining when you got to Lawrence Fish Market. Here you will find all of the trappings of the local Albany Park butcher, cracked tiles that have been muddied and mopped, muddied and mopped time and time again that you can’t tell if the tile is worn out or just plain dirty.
The dingy state of the store front would likely send most people scurrying for the hills and crying about why they have ever listened to Yelp and stepped foot in this place. But this is Albany Park you must remember and not all things are what they appear in this secretive, magical neighborhood. Boxes lay all about disorganized, poorly stacked, half open, or open and folded shut again while the two tables in the middle of the waiting room sport the largest bag of shrimp chips that can be sold to the general public basking in the overhead lights, open and ready to eat if you so dare.
Even I did not dare touch the shrimp chips on the tables as who could tell how many hands have dipped into the bag or if it was the owners’ own personal stash of shrimp chips that they put on the tables only because there was barely any room behind the counter? Upon arrival two women, a man and a very small toddler were patiently waiting for sushi. I grabbed a menu and quickly scanned it only to have my eyes light up with glee, the tales spun by the Yelpers were true! Sushi heaven I had dropped into!
After making a quick series of slash marks on my order sheet that a samurai would appreciate, the order was quickly relayed to the backroom where one elder sushi chef diligently worked on roll after roll while his younger apprentice dabbled at the craft as well. Hands were washed very often and orders on the telephone kept coming in. Spicy tuna, uh-huh, unagi no problem, rainbows, caterpillars, and dragons flew from the telephone to the paper to the cash register to the kitchen only to be reincarnated into fresh sushi forms.
The group waiting received their goodies and marched out triumphantly, as I jealously watched and waited. While waiting I nodded at the minivan seat serving as a waiting seat. In the glass case of the fish counter I saw a giant octapus tentacle that was big as my forearm and could be used as a weapon if the right situation presented itself. Bright orange salmon for $19 a pound and a healthy looking tuna was glaring red at me for $32 a pound. The freezer turned on in the background and a frosty mist filled the giant refrigerators carrying various groceries for those willing to make sushi themselves at home.
In the corner wall was a lacquered wooden portrait of Jesus while on another fish counter stood two large bowling trophies and one golf trophy with Korean characters that I was unable to decipher. In the middle of the room also stood a bowl of tangerines and behind the table was a television that wasn’t turned on and magazines and various newspapers littered the table with four or five chairs situation against the two tables mashed together in the middle of the room.
The clock behind the counter let me know that time was passing by and I was slowly taking in all of the detail. Fifteen minutes passed by and a giant container was being arranged and I was shown my dragon roll, rainbow roll, spicy tuna roll, and crunchy salmon roll all decked out in the strongbox of sushi. The register rang up for $19.31 for twenty six pieces of rolls and I walked out protecting my sushi strong box as I would guard Harold’s Chicken Shack’s finest.
At home, I wanted to take a picture of all of the food but could not resist. The chopsticks were unleashed and bright pink ginger was laid out across my wall of sushi. Every bite was a miracle and my mind wondered how it was such that so grimy and dingy a place could manufacture such sushi of superlative quality and flavor in such a short amount of time for basement bargain recession prices.
You can forget everything you’ve learned about sushi dining once you step into Lawrence Fish Market. It’s take out only and if you can’t deal with that or the wait or failed to call ahead, then get on out of the line and let me get my hands on this sushi. Lawrence Fish Market personifies Albany Park’s no nonsense, no frills attached dedicated workmanlike demeanor of its Northwest side location. Now excuse me while I fantasize about my next trip to my new favorite sushi joint.”