I Tried Fried Shrimp From 5 Restaurant Chains & There's Only One I'm Going Back For
Humans have proven themselves to be quite the inventive species, especially when it comes to concocting nearly endless fried food creations. Alongside classic fried fare like chicken nuggets, chicken tenders, fries, and tater tots, fried shrimp are a shining example of how you can use hot oil to add a whole new layer of flavor and texture to a dish.
A thorough coating of breading and a quick sizzling bath in the deep fryer transform shrimp into crispy, savory, and indulgent bites of seafood. It's frustratingly easy to down a dozen or more of these crunchy crustaceans in one sitting, especially when they're executed well.
Many of the biggest restaurant chains in the United States offer some version of fried shrimp, which is really no surprise considering all of their tantalizing qualities. I recently set out to find out which major chain does fried shrimp best by sampling the options at Red Lobster, Applebee's, Bonefish Grill, TGI Fridays, and Hooters.
In my opinion, the absolute best fried shrimp are crispy and golden brown on the outside, tender in the middle, well-seasoned, flavorful, and not too small. After trying the entries from those five national brands, I'm happy to report that one chain not only met my criteria, but absolutely blew me away.
Here's what I thought about each option, ranked from my least favorite to the only restaurant chain fried shrimp I'll ever eat again.
While Hooters does list a regular Shrimp Platter on its general online menu, this item wasn't available at the location closest to me. I was still able to get an order of classic fried shrimp from the chain by ordering the plain version of Hooters' Buffalo Shrimp, which are hand-breaded and tossed in your choice of wing sauce (unless you're ordering them sans the sauce like me). A dozen of these shrimp cost me $18.48.
The look: While I appreciate when a restaurant chain takes the time to hand-bread anything, there were some immediately apparent issues with Hooters' shrimp. The breading was very sparse and pale, indicating that they would have needed a significantly longer time in the fryer to get the crunch I crave. These were also some of the smaller shrimp I tried and came with no sides despite costing nearly as much as some of the other chains that did provide sides.
The taste: I'd be lying if I said I got even an ounce of enjoyment out of these shrimp. The breading was extremely flimsy and fell off with the slightest nudge. It was practically devoid of any seasoning, including basic salt. However, the most glaring issue of all was that the shrimp actually felt raw when I bit into it. I've cooked enough raw shrimp over the years to tell when these crustaceans are safe to eat, and I've never consumed shrimp as unpalatably rubbery and transparent as the ones I got from Hooters. This would make sense considering the anemic color on the breading. The glaring quality issues made my choice on which chain to put at the bottom a breeze.
Applebee's Double Crunch Shrimp are coated in a crispy batter and fried until golden brown. An order of these came with roughly a dozen shrimp and two sides for $21.59.
The look: Applebee's fried shrimp were definitely a visual improvement over Hooters' shrimp. They looked well battered, crispy, and sported a nice medium golden brown color. On the other hand, they were some of the smallest shrimp I tried, which is surprising considering that Applebee's was one of the most expensive chains.
The taste: The second I bit into one of Applebee's fried shrimp, I immediately proclaimed that they tasted like a frozen fish stick. Fish stick fans might be encouraged by that comparison, but these just weren't what I was hoping for. As noted above, the shrimp already looked small to begin with. After biting through a surprisingly thick layer of breading, I found them rubbery in texture and even punier on the inside.
The breading itself wasn't flimsy like Hooters' shrimp, but it didn't have enough of a crispy factor to live up to its "Double Crunch" name. The coating was also surprisingly sweet (which probably explains why the shrimp reminded me so much of fish sticks) and lacked enough salt and seasoning to balance it out. Overall, these just felt lower quality and more processed than some of the higher ranking shrimp I tried.
TGI Fridays' website doesn't provide any specific details on how its Fried Shrimp are prepared, but the coating looked most similar to the battered outside of Applebee's fried shrimp. An order of 12 with two sides cost me $23.68.
The look: On the positive side, TGI Fridays' shrimp were an attractive, dark golden brown color and had a nice pop of color from whatever green herbs they used in the seasoning. On the negative side, they were sort of small and looked like they hadn't been handled super carefully since some of the tails were falling off.
The taste: There's plenty of good and a little bad about TGI Fridays' entry in the fried shrimp wars. The shrimp maintained an audible, satisfying crunch even after steaming inside their plastic container for the whole drive home. They were well-seasoned, flavorful, decently sized, especially in comparison to the shrimp from Applebee's and Hooters. The shrimp itself was well-cooked and lacked the rubberiness I despised in the lower ranking options. The reason that I didn't rank TGI Fridays higher in this taste test, however, was that the shrimp had a bitter aftertaste of oil. This might just be an issue with my local TGI Fridays, but I had trouble getting past it.
Red Lobster doesn't provide any specific details about how Walt's Favorite Shrimp are prepared, though they look like they're coated in a breadcrumb mixture and butterflied. I got an order of five with no sides for $9.89.
The look: Red Lobster's fried shrimp certainly had the most unique look out of all the options I tried. They were very flat, probably because of how they were cut, and the tails were completely upright. The size was decent but the color was a little too light for my preference.
The taste: These shrimp were perfectly enjoyable, albeit a little boring. The outside was slightly crispy around the edges and the shrimp were juicy and well cooked. Like the shrimp at Applebee's, the breading on these was a little thick and sweet for my taste. I felt that the shrimp needed more salt and additional seasonings like pepper, garlic, and herbs to balance out that bready coating. I very nearly ranked TGI Fridays' shrimp above Red Lobster because of the seasoning issue, but I ultimately decided that lackluster flavor is preferable to a bitter oil taste.
Bonefish Grill doesn't provide any exact details on how its Crispy Fried Shrimp are prepared, but they have a very textured breadcrumb coating. An order of eight jumbo shrimp came with fries and cost me $17.90.
The look: Bonefish Grill does give you fewer shrimp than all the other chains I tried, excluding Red Lobster, but I still think you get a great bang for your buck with these. The eight shrimp I received were the biggest out of any of the chains by a landslide and the breading was super deep golden brown. I actually gasped in delight when I opened the box for the first time.
The taste: If you're ever going to order fried shrimp from a national restaurant chain, make it Bonefish Grill. I could go on and on about all of the things I loved about these shrimp, but overall, they nailed every aspect of my criteria. The shrimp were juicy and perfectly cooked. The breading was crispy and clung to every millimeter of the crustaceans. They were perfectly seasoned and had a depth of flavor I just didn't get with any of the other options. It's hard to say exactly what spices they used, but I detected, some garlicky, peppery, and subtle herby flavors.
My opinion of Bonefish's food quality was already pretty high after it recently seized the top spot in our ranking of restaurant chain fried fish, but this experience cemented its superiority even more in my eyes. Especially considering that Bonefish's fried shrimp were some of the cheapest out of all the ones I tried, I think this dish is an absolute steal.