The classic fish sandwich can be a delicious indulgence, but it was born of necessity. In the 1950s and 1960s, some U.S. burger restaurants were struggling to break even on Fridays due to the Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on that day, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Enterprising burger stand owners added fish sandwiches, and soon grabbing a fast-food fish sandwich became popular for Catholics on Fridays and during Lent.
A nation of hungry diners was raised on these tasty sandwiches—usually battered, fried cod or other whitefish that's served with a tartar sauce dressing, lettuce, and tomato. There are variations, like po'boys and salmon sandwiches, and they're all worth trying the next time you'd like to go between the buns but are tired of burgers and chicken sandwiches.
Beyond fast food, many full-service restaurants around the country also serve crave-worthy fish sandwiches, with an eye on what tastes fresh, makes a satisfying meal, and has toppings that pair well with seafood. You'll find a bounty of crunchy, flavorful fish sandwiches in every part of the U.S. Spoiler: a lot of seafood chains do fish sammies really well! Here are eight of the best.
Ivar's Seafood Bar
Ivar's is a Pacific Northwest institution, operating 18 fast-casual seafood bars and three full-service restaurants in the region. The seafood bars serve up a classic panko cod sandwich, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and tartar sauce on a King's Hawaiian bun. Meanwhile, the restaurants offer an upscale take with the blackened halibut sandwich. The blackened fish is served on ciabatta bread that's been covered in seasoned garlic butter and topped with Cajun remoulade, a spring lettuce mix, and a tomato slice. Both options come with a side of French fries.
With around 300 locations in the U.S., the famed sports bar chain, known for flavorful wings (among other things), serves a Big Fish Sandwich. It's a well-earned moniker. You'll get an enormous serving of cod that's been battered and fried, slipped onto a big hoagie roll, and topped with tartar sauce. It comes with fries, or you can upgrade to onion rings or a salad for a small upcharge. To take the calorie count down, order the fish grilled.
If you like your fish sandwich extra crispy and crunchy, Red Lobster has a meal for you: The Crunch-Fried flounder sandwich. The seafood chain, with locations in almost every state, offers a hand-breaded cut of wild-caught flounder served on a toasted brioche bun, topped with tartar sauce and coleslaw.
Probably best known for its hamburger menu, Red Robin goes beyond burgers, and that includes its crave-able crispy fish sandwich. The flavorful handheld features hand-battered, golden-fried cod that's topped with pickles, tartar sauce, and tomato with coleslaw on the side.
The late singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett created more than just music. He also left behind a sprawling hospitality empire, including Margaritaville and related restaurants. At Buffett's LandShark Bar & Grill, located in seaside spots like Atlantic City, N.J. and Myrtle Beach, S.C., you can enjoy a comforting, straightforward fried cod sandwich. It's exactly what you want: Crunchy beer-battered cod topped with lettuce and diced tomatoes and served on a soft bun. For a little kick, there's jalapeño tartar sauce. The sandwich comes with house-cut chips, or you can upgrade to French fries, a house salad, or a Caesar salad for a few bucks more.
Meanwhile, at the Margaritaville Resort Orlando, you can enjoy a tropical fish sandwich, made with blackened mahi mahi, cabbage, mango, pineapple, red onions, and avocado ranch, on a toasted brioche bun. The luscious sandwich is served poolside at the hotel's Salty Rim Bar & Grill.
Hook & Reel
Best known for its Cajun-style seafood boils, this chain with about 50 locations across the country offers classic po'boy-style sandwiches, served on a bulky roll. The flounder po'boy is filled with fried hunks of flaky white fish, served with a kicked-up tartar sauce and topped with lettuce and tomato. Choose from regular or sweet potato fries, or get a cup of soup to make this sandwich into a satisfying meal.
With 18 locations from Beverly Hills to Boston, this celeb favorite boasts an amazing raw bar and fresh sushi, but don't overlook the crispy fish sandwich if you have a big appetite. Flash-fried whitefish is served on a roll and topped with Tillamook cheddar cheese, cabbage slaw, and a flavor-packed jalapeño corn tartar sauce. The sandwich is served with a choice of fries, house salad, or a cup of soup (get the chowder). This sandwich is primarily on the restaurant's lunch menus; go indulge on a slow workday.
This micro-chain, with locations in Connecticut, New York, and Virginia, is a casual seafood restaurant with a focus on fish shack classics. The restaurant offers several tasty sandwich options. The beer-battered fish is made with a catch of the day white fish and topped with tartar sauce and pickled veggies. The blackened catfish sandwich, made with Chesapeake Bay blue catfish, comes topped with pickled veggies and tartar sauce.