By Mike Thayer
Burgers, chicken nuggets, pizza, tacos......
What are you supposed to eat when none of the above sounds good?
A crispy fish sandwich of course!
But which fast food joint makes the best fish sandwich?
In the name of 'food science' (a'hem, cough), I have sampled fish sandwiches from all the national fast food chains I have access to in my neck of the woods that have a fish sandwich on their menu. Which restaurant and their version of a crispy fish sandwich will get top honors?
I went through the restaurant list, one meal at a time..... What? I ate nothing but fish sandwiches for lunch AND dinner, a total of 9 meals?
Like I said, done in the name of 'food science'......
Here is "The List" of fast food joints offering fish sandwiches, from worst to first:
#9 Burger King: When I took the top lid off the fish sandwich I ordered I thought I was at McDonald's for a second.... It was another square 'patty' of processed fish! Here's how the BK fish sandwich is touted on the website: Big Fish Sandwich... A delicious golden-crisp catch..... Our premium Big Fish Sandwich is 100% White Alaskan Pollock, breaded with crispy panko breading and topped with sweet tartar sauce, tangy pickles, all on top of a toasted brioche-style bun. LOL, that's funny! The sandwich isn't big, the fish isn't golden brown nor is it crispy, the lettuce wasn't fresh and I'm not talking wilted from the heat of the fish either, I'm talking brown edges old. The fish patty was over-fried, as in dead, shoe-leather chewy on the edges. The fish patty to bread ratio was OK, in fact, if there is anything positive to say about the sandwich, the toasted bun was good. The tartar sauce was a little different and not in a good way.... This was just a dead sandwich, I couldn't finish it. It's NOT a repeat buy and this is the worst fish sandwich I sampled in this Bachelor on the Cheap - Who Has The Best Fast Food Fish Sandwich Challenge. To sum it up in two words, "It sucked." OK, two more words, "Really Bad." Chalk up part of my distaste for the sandwich to poor execution and preparation, but in the final analysis - it's a processed fish product and doesn't measure up to a fish fillet sandwich. Burger King has seriously hyped up the description with rose colored glasses. There isn't anything premium about this offering..... Well, I did pay a premium for poor quality.
#8 Long John Silver's: My expectation and anticipation for a decent crispy fish sandwich from a restaurant that specializes in fish were both dashed in the very first bite. I ordered the classic battered Whitefish Sandwich which as touted on the restaurant's website as being topped with tartar sauce, dill pickles and served on a toasted bun. There was no real crunch in that first bite, in fact, it was gummy. Some of the outer edges had a slight crunch, but there was virtually no crunch at all in the 'meat' of the fish, it was mush. This was surprising to me, the Long John Silver's meals I enjoyed back in the day (I haven't frequented one in quite some time) involved a delightful crunchy battered fish, I mean, the place is supposed to be great with the battered fish thing right? It had to be a preparation issue, like the fryer temp wasn't hot enough. The fish they served me wasn't fit for a school lunch, it was under-seasoned and did I mention it lacked crunch? The tartar sauce was nothing special either and the pickles, well - from a culinary perspective - frankly shouldn't be necessary if the tartar sauce is any good. The fish to bun ratio was good, but this sandwich was a big disappointment and is not a repeat buy. Even if it was to be prepared correctly, even if there was some crunch, the sandwich is bland. Not even the tang in the pickles carries it. A recipe update is needed. And I paid too much for it! I got the combo, a fish sandwich, 'medium' fries (which would amount to a small fry just about anywhere else) and a 'regular' drink (a small drink most anywhere else) for $7.73. This meal was NOT Bachelor on the Cheap friendly and it's no wonder Long John Silver's has gone downhill over the years. Guess I haven't missed much if any in terms of good meals huh? My first fish sandwich meal in search of the best fast food fish sandwich was a let down.
#7 McDonald's: Going into this challenge I predicted this would be on the bottom rung of the fish sandwich ladder. I've sampled this sandwich before (yester-year) and I knew going in this would be a less-than-steller sandwich but to be fair in comparison the sandwich must be sampled again for this challenge. Described on the restaurant's website as a wild-caught fish sandwich, the fish fillet is supposedly made with Alaskan Pollock sourced from sustainable fisheries, topped with melty American cheese and creamy tartar sauce, and served on a soft, steamed bun. C'mon McDonald's, who do you think you're fooling here? You process/mash a bunch of fish in a machine, shape the mash into a little square, bread it and flash freeze it for later frying. There's nothing fillet about it. So enough with the Mickey-D rose colored glasses marketing, "How was the sandwich?" You ask.... Underwhelming. This 'recipe' for a sandwich is in serious need of updating. I don't think there's been any changes to this thing (other than the quality of the fish going down) since it was introduced in 1963. The fish 'patty' - not to be confused AT ALL with a fillet - to bun ratio is laughable, too much bun. The breaded patty didn't have much of a crunch when biting into it either, that gummy texture was present. There was overkill on the tartar sauce and the whole thing put together, even with the warm bun and melted cheese, was just bland. I had better fish sticks in elementary school. I will say this, despite how underwhelming this sandwich was, it was better than what Long John Silver's had to offer. Sad, but true. I paid $6.44 for this meal (combo, sandwich/fries/drink) and so that part was Bachelor on the Cheap friendly, but the sandwich is NOT a repeat buy. If you didn't already know this, if you're craving a fish sandwich, do NOT go to McDonald's trying to satisfy that craving! Remember, I did this in the name of food science (cough)....
#6 Arby's: Two fish sandwiches were sampled at Arby's, the "Crispy Fish Sandwich" and the "Nashville Hot Fish Sandwich." Simply named (and what else would you expect, it's a fried sandwich....), the Crispy Fish Sandwich is a classicly prepared Alaskan Pollock fillet crispy-fried to a nice golden brown, topped with tartar sauce, shredded lettuce and served on a sesame seed bun. The Nashville Hot Fish Sandwich also features the crispy, Alaskan Pollock fillet, but it's coated in a spicy seasoning. Also served on a sesame seed bun, the sandwich includes dill pickle slices, lettuce and Parmesan peppercorn ranch sauce. So does Arby's do fish sandwiches as well as they do roast beef? Nope. You know how their new slogan is "We have the meats?" They don't have the fish. I
tried the Nashville Hot Fish Sandwich first. I was disappointed. To repeat, I love a good fried fish sandwich and I also like a little heat, so I was really looking forward to that combination.... Winner, winner fish dinner, right? Nope. While that Nashville Hot Fish Sandwich did provide that little kick I was looking for, it lacked that crispy crunch. Maybe it wasn't in the fryer quite long enough, the preparation wasn't quite right, but nonetheless it lacked that definitive crunch. The restaurant wasn't all that busy at 1:45 in the afternoon, my sandwich was made to order, not already under a heat lamp. The pickles and lettuce were nice texture accents to the fish, but the Parmesan peppercorn ranch sauce actually took away from the fillet. When I eat something like this I really want to embrace the heat infused into that breading. Arby's should have kept things simple with just a straight tartar sauce for that cooling-of-the-heat effect. That flavored Ranch just complicated the heat, rather than complimenting it. It's a big sandwich, the fish fillet to bun ratio is good, but overall, this sandwich comes out flat. Arby's version of a classic crispy fried fish sandwich is a nice attempt, but the sandwich is just a good, average rendition, rather than an extraordinary one. This sandwich provided far more crunch than the Nashville Hot, so the preparation was spot on with this fillet. The tartar sauce, lettuce and sesame seed bun all complimented the fish nicely. Again, this was a good sandwich, but I've had better.
#5 Wendy's: So it's dinner time and Wendy's is the crispy fish sandwich of chance. Here's their description: Our premium sandwich is made using only wild-caught North Pacific Cod, hand-cut from a whole fillet so it's tender and deliciously flakey. It's then lightly coated in a crispy, panko breading and topped with a creamy, dill tartar sauce and crunchy dill pickles. The marketing sounds good doesn't it? But how is the sandwich? Wendy's makes a pretty good crispy fish sandwich. Two things that work for this sandwich: The fish is crispy with each bite and the tartar sauce is spot on. Two things that weren't quite right with this sandwich: One thin lettuce leaf really doesn't do much, either put some lettuce on it or don't, and that brings us to the second thing, typical, sloppy fast food joint preparation. Better preparation makes for a better sandwich. On a personal note, I like some lettuce on a fish sandwich - preferably shredded - and you don't need pickles if you have a good tartar sauce. Wendy's version of a crispy fish sandwich is a repeat buy, but a Plan B kind of thing, if that makes sense.
#4: Hardee's: They have a two fish sandwiches for $5 deal going on right now, it is after all the season of Lent. The Hardee's version of a crispy fish sandwich features a beer battered cod fillet and fried until crispy. It's a classic preparation coming with lettuce, tartar sauce and served on a toasted sesame seed bun. These were good sandwiches. The fillets were crispy throughout, not just on the edges, the fish to bun ratio was spot on, the lettuce fresh. The only knock I have is the tartar sauce. While it was nice and creamy, it was a bit boring. Hardee's makes a good fish sandwich, but it's not the best I've had thus far. Is it a repeat buy? Yes, especially for the price with this current deal. My total price for the two sandwiches, no fries, no drink, was $5.40. That's Bachelor on the Cheap friendly!
#3 Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers: Advertised as two fillets of premium wild-caught Alaska cod, those fillets are topped with a slice of American cheese and the toasted bun is dressed with the classic Freddy's sauce which is mayonnaise, ketchup, pickle juice and Freddy's seasoning... The sauce is basically a ramped up version of Thousand Island dressing with a better finish and coupled with that slice of cheese is a nice change of pace from a classic tartar. The best part of this sandwich, the fillets were crispy with each bite, as they should be. The fish to bun ratio was good and I enjoyed every mouth full, unlike most other fish sandwiches I sampled during the course of this challenge. The Freddy's version of a crispy fried fish sandwich was cooked properly, seasoned properly and served up promptly, made to order.
#2 Dairy Queen: That's right, I went to a place that's known for ice cream, to have a fish sandwich. I had an Atlantic Cod Fish Sandwich from DQ for dinner and it was delicious! The fish was perfectly prepared, a crispy fillet topped with fresh green leaf lettuce and tartar sauce, served on a toasted bun. You get the crunch from the fried fish, the tart from the sauce, that bite balanced with refreshing lettuce and all of it blanketed in that warm, soft bun. It's a totally satisfying sandwich! Nicely done DQ! It's a repeat buy!
1 and the winner of the Bachelor on the Cheap Crispy Fish Sandwich Challenge is...... Chick-fil-A: Of the nine restaurants I've visited, Chick-fil-A makes the best crispy fish sandwich! Here's the description: The classic Chick-fil-A Fish Sandwich features two breaded and deep-fried cod fillets on a toasted buttered bun with two pickles and a side of tartar sauce. It's all about the fish in this sandwich and without question, the two fish fillets on this sandwich were the best I've eaten during this challenge. They were perfectly prepared, seasoned well and presented well. The fillets were deliciously flaky and the breading was very pleasantly crunchy with every bite. The buttered bun had that perfect balance of being toasted yet soft and I liked the fact that I could put as much or as little tarter sauce on the sandwich as I desired, as it was served on the side. Oh, and with that, it's a good tartar sauce, a nice harmony of creamy and tartness. I paid $3.82 for my Chick-fil-A fish sandwich and it's a repeat buy. In fact, it's the winner of this challenge! Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until Lent season 2019 to have it again.