A gigantic purple-flamed muscle car zoomed past us as we followed the scent of cooking fat to Frank’s Chicago Shrimp House. The restaurant–if a room with six deep fryers and a few fridges can be called a restaurant–has been unofficially named the best fried shrimp house in Chicago. Although Frank’s is located in Brighton Park, its famed Chicago-style shrimp (not the New Orleans variety) attracts business from across the South Side. The lone employee on duty last Saturday night assured us “if you’ve never been here before, you’ll be back.”
Even with their lights on, Frank’s looked closed until we pushed the door open. No one was visible in the white and stainless steel room, but the door set off a buzzer that summoned the aforementioned employee, clad in a white apron over her sweatshirt. She looked at us expectantly–customers here usually know exactly what they want. Instead, we scanned the menu scrawled on the wall in dry-erase marker, gaping at our options, which included frog legs, multiple types of shrimp, and scallops. She answered our questions about the macaroni salad, potato salad, and cole slaw with good humor and then weighed and fried our food before our eyes.
While we waited for the deep fryers to do their work, I checked out the place. Frank’s is decorated with big black and white prints of Chicago streets, an illustrated sign that says “The Seafood Restaurant” and another that spells out “Shrimp” in simple black letters. Other than that, the walls are stark white, and the RC cola refrigerator has been marred by the word RATS spelled on its side.Â A surveillance camera watched us watch the cooking oil (pure vegetable, proclaims the menu).
Frank’s provides diners with an intimate restaurant experience: there’s no distinction between the kitchen and the serving area. During our visit, we stood on one side of the counter while our food fried a few feet away. Unfortunately, this also means that Frank’s has no designated dining area. We were handed our hot brown bags of fried fish, oil already darkly studding the sides, and then realized we had no car to hop back into or picnic table to settle down at.
We stole a table at the Dunkin’ Donuts next door, and dipped crispy yet tender shrimp and scallops into a perfectly spicy sauce. Frank’s cocktail sauce is nothing like that stuff poured from a bottle into the center of those irritating glass plates full of frosty shrimp at cocktail parties. This is the real deal, stacked in small plastic to-go tubs. I found a packet of ketchup in my brown bag, but wasn’t sure why anyone would use it. The fries were salted to perfection, requiring no additional condiments, and putting ketchup on these legendary little crustaceans would have been an outrage. Only that cocktail sauce could stand up to the combination of crunchy batter and perfectly cooked meat.
All that praise showered, Frank’s offerings are limited. Vegetarians will find few options there, and the same goes for calorie-counters. The place makes no bones about its business.Â Grub hub it may be, but Frank’s dishes it out fresh.
Frank’s Chicago Shrimp House, 4459 S Archer Ave. Monday-Thursday, Saturday, 11am-10 pm; Friday, 11am-11pm; Sunday, 12pm-9 pm. (773)523-4624