There are few things better than a fried fish sandwich. Luckily, we’re in that time of year when fast-food chains across the nation roll out their fish sandwiches to lure in those looking to go easy on meat for Lent. Seriously, everyone is getting in on the action — then Easter will pass and most of those chains will shelve their fish for another year.
It’s kind of bullshit if you ask us. We like fast food fish. So we’re going to focus on the chains (regional and national) that keep the fish on the menu year-round.
The beauty of a good fried fish sandwich is its seemingly simple construction. Fried whitefish filet (usually pollock but preferably cod) in either a breadcrumb crust or beer batter, a tangy tartar sauce, and a couple of other additions are all you really need. Still, the quality of everything from the fish to the bun to the tang of that tartar can vary wildly.
To help you pick the best fried fish sandwich available year-round (sorry Wendy’s and Arby’s fans and anyone who’s tried the new limited release Popeyes flounder fishwich), we’re looking squarely at the taste. This ranking doesn’t worry about price or even calories, though we’ve called those out to help you be more informed. The question is simple, which fast food fish sandwich wins in the flavor department?
Ready to find out?
9. Jack In The Box Fish Sandwich
The fish here is touted as “100% Wild-Caught Alaska Pollock.” The fish is then panko encrusted and fried to a nice crispiness. The bun is a standard warmed bun. A little bit of lettuce goes on the hot filet and the tartar is squeezed on top of that lettuce.
The pollack is 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 is more mayo-forward than tangy. The lettuce tends to be very wilted, especially if it’s past midnight and the line cooks have stopped giving a shit behind the scenes.
8. Burger King Big Fish
The fish is 100 percent White Alaskan pollock that’s coated in panko bread crumbs. The bun is a butter-toasted brioche. The tartar sauce is applied to the bottom and top bun with a layer of lettuce and pickle on top of the hot fish filet.
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. The crunch of the coating wanes under the almost tasteless bun. The tartar is definitely more mayo than anything else. The lettuce might as well not be there.
All of that being said, the pickles do add a nice touch. Burger King has pretty solid pickles at the end of the day.
7. White Castle Fish Slider
These mini fish sandos are simplicity done pretty damn well. The mini filet is Alaskan pollock with a panko breading. The rest is just the iconic White Castle slider bun and a small slice of American cheese. That’s it.
These are decent. The slider eschews the lettuce and tartar for a slice of American cheese, which works. The only reason these aren’t ranked higher is that you’re really not getting a whole lot with this mini sandwich. You’re going to need two to four (which we know is the point of White Castle) and that really starts to heighten the ol’ calorie count.
6. McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish
The Filet-O-Fish is a classic example of a fast food fish sandwich. The combination of the steamed bun, tangy tartar, fried fish filet (yes, it’s Alaskan pollock), and a slice of American cheese just works.
There’s a softness to the bun that counters to the crunch of the fish coating nicely. The tartar doesn’t overwhelm but is there and is actually tangy. The cheese is the x-factor that adds a nice, gooey touch of savoriness.
We’re adding bonus points for leaving off the wilted lettuce, too.
5. Whataburger Whatacatch Sandwich
Yes, we’re including regional shops in this ranking. Starting… now!
The Texan fish sammie has a nice, crispy fish filet (can you guess which kind? It’s Alaskan pollock!). The top bun is covered in mild tartar with lettuce and tomato. The latter adds a nice layer of brightness to the whole fish sandwich concept and helps protect the lettuce from the heat of the filet.
More fish sandwiches should have tomato. Still, this is pretty lightweight with a decent tang to the tartar. The best aspect is the larger format fried fish filet that gives you more fish than bread. Well done, Whataburger.
4. Long John Silver Pacific Cod
Gasp! This is made from North Pacific Cod! We’re also getting close to sub territory with a long-format bun sandwiching beer-battered fish, pickle, and tartar.
It was hard not ranking this sandwich higher. The beer-battered fish filet really works in this sandwich. The addition of crunchy pickles adds that extra oomph that elevates the whole dish. LJS’s tartar has a great tang that feels like rich mayo by way of a ripe lemon.
Overall, this one is a winner. In fact, if this had a slice of American cheese, it might have been number one.
3. Captain D’s Giant Fish Sandwich
Okay, we’re hitting the big ones now. Tennessee’s Captain D’s makes a hell of a fish sammie. This is two whole pieces of their beer-battered dipped fried cod 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. The lettuce is applied late and with a light hand, so it doesn’t really have a chance to wilt and turn to mush.
2. Culver’s North Atlantic Cod Sandwich
Midwest mainstay, Culver’s, really kills the fish sandwich game. The bun is a hoagie roll which has a nice heft to it. The North Atlantic cod is beer-battered and fried well. Then there’s shredded American cheese (nice!), a touch of lettuce, and plenty of tartar on the bottom bun.
Their beer-battered cod is just well done all around with crunch and seasoning. That shredded American cheese under the fish filet gets a little melty and adds a nice x-factor to the whole sandwich. The lettuce is on the bottom but is protected (generally) by the layer of melting cheese. The tartar has a nice tang of lemon, pickle, and rich mayo.
If you’re near a Culver’s, don’t sleep on this sandwich.
1. Ivar’s Fish Sandwich
Calories: 560 calories
Price: $6.55 (with fries)
The wild-caught Pacific True Cod is the centerpiece of this sandwich. It’s panko-crusted and sandwiched in a hefty brioche bun. The filet rests on tomato slices which protect the lettuce underneath. Ivar’s signature tartar sauce is slathered on the bottom bun.
Seattle’s Ivar’s has a fish sandwich that is leaps and bounds above all others. First, there’s the bread. It has a hefty while actually tasting like bread and not just something out of an industrial plastic bag.
The overall sandwich combines everything we like in a fried fish sandwich: Cod instead of pollock, a filet that’s bigger than the bun, really good tartar, and tomato to brighten the whole experience. It doesn’t have the American cheese but doesn’t need it to take home the win!