Last Updated: February 21st
A great fish sandwich is a perfect break from the heaviness of a burger. Don’t get it twisted, we love a big ol’ burger around these parts. But sometimes we need to switch things up and there are few better sammie alternatives than fried fish. The combination of smooth white fish, crunchy coating, tartar sauce, lettuce (or better, slaw), and a buttery toasted bun work wonders in the flavor department.
Fast food joints tend to do fantastic fish sandwich options. The problem is many of them only roll out their fried fish sandwiches during Lent. Spots like Dairy Queen, Wendy’s, and Chick-Fil-A only have fish during that Mardi-Gras-to-Easter period. That’s a real shame. DQ’s Alaskan Cod sandwich is one of the best on the market, but since you can’t get it year-round we’re not ranking it here.
So, what are we ranking today? Fast food fish sandwiches that you can go out and get right now, today. There will be no arguments. This is final.
10. Big Fish — Burger King
There’s nothing wrong with BK’s Big Fish, per se. It has the basic elements in place: crunchy fried white fish, tartar, lettuce, toasted bun. The thing is, it’s just okay. The fish is a bit listless and bland tasting. The crunch of the coating wanes under the weight of the bun. The lettuce might as well not be there. The thin layer of mayo adds little.
9. Fish Sandwich — Jack In The Box
This is already a pretty big step up from the Big Fish. The pollack is breaded in panko and fried well — you actually know you’re eating fish here. The bun is a standard Jack in the Box offering, which isn’t bad but it’s not great either. The tartar has a nice tang to it. The lettuce tends to be a bit crisper but can be wilted if it’s past midnight and the line cooks have stopped giving a shit behind the scenes.
8. Whatacatch Sandwich — Whataburger
Yes, we’re including regional shops in this ranking. Starting… now!
Whataburger’s Whatacatch is a simple sandwich that hits the spot. The Texan fish sammie has a nice, crispy fish filet covered in mild tartar with lettuce and tomato. The latter adds a nice layer of umami to the whole fish sandwich concept. More fish sandwiches should have tomato (and maybe even mushroom) umami layers. Well done, Whataburger.
7. Fish Slider — White Castle
It’s hard not to rank these fish sandwiches higher. They’re legit good. In fact, the small fried fish filets on a small bun are the White Castle one-hander that might be better than their signature burgers. The slider eschews the lettuce and tartar for a slice of cheese, which just works. The only reason these aren’t ranked higher is the calorie content. Basically, you’re getting about half of the sandwich here for nearly the same amount of calories as our next entry.
6. Filet-O-Fish — McDonald’s
The Filet-O-Fish is a classic example of a fish sandwich. The combination of the buttery toasted bun, tangy tartar, fried fish filet, and a slice of American cheese just works. There’s a softness to the bun that leads to a glorious crunch of the fish. The tartar doesn’t overwhelm but is there in all its tangy glory. The cheese adds a nice, gooey touch of savoriness.
5. North Atlantic Cod Sandwich — Culver’s
Culver’s really kills the fish sandwich game. First big up: Beer battered fish instead of bread crumbs. This adds a nice smoothness to the crunch of the fish. Another nice ripple is the use of shredded American cheese under the fish filet. It gets a little melty and adds a nice creamy layer to the whole sandwich. The lettuce is on the bottom too, which means wilting is high but that’s okay. The tartar has a nice tang that feels more mayo-heavy than lemony tart.
4. Giant Fish Sandwich — Captain D’s
Okay, we’re hitting the big ones now. Captain D’s makes a hell of a fish sammie. This is basically two whole pieces of their fried, beer-battered fish on a nice toasted bun with a little lettuce on top and plenty of rich tartar sauce on the top and bottom bun. Let’s face it, we’re always looking for that extra dipping cup of tartar and Captain D’s delivers with sauce all around the fish. Plus, this fish is truly lush and fresh with a great crunch factor.
3. COD Sandwich — Long John Silver
It was hard not ranking this one higher. The panko-crusted fish filet really works in this sandwich. The addition of crunchy pickles is a stroke of fish sandwich genius. LJS’s tartar has a great tang that feels like rich mayo by way of a ripe lemon. Overall, this one is a winner.
2. Popcorn Shrimp Poboy Sandwich — Popeyes
The last two seeds are really splitting hairs. Popeyes’ Popcorn Shrimp Poboy is one of the best overall sandwiches on the fast food market (their catfish rocks too). The crunchy and slightly spicy morsels of shrimp are little umami bombs of goodness next to funky pickle and tangy sauce. The hoagie, or sub-aspect, of the sandwich, helps in making this one feel more like a full meal rather than a quick snack.
Yes, this is a departure, but shellfish counts as fish in our science books.
1. Fish Sandwich — Ivar’s
Seattle’s Ivar’s has a fish sandwich that is leaps and bounds above all others. First, there’s the bread. The bun is a quasi bannock bread bun that has a nice heft that allows the whole thing to hold together while still being light with a slight sourdough tang.
Then there’s the rich and tangy slaw. It has heft and sustainable crunch. There’s no wilted lettuce to disappoint you here. Finally, the fish is a beer-battered masterpiece of sea brine freshness that hits the perfect note of crisp and refreshing. If you’re in a mall in the Seattle area, find the Ivar’s and get this sandwich. You’ll fall in love.