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 11 meals?
Like I said, done in the name of 'food science'...... Side Note: I did a similar review back in 2018, but it's been four years since that review so I figure we're all due for a Who has the best fish sandwich update! Some restaurants have changed up their menu a bit with "New and Improved" fish sandwiches and there are a few more restaurants getting in on the game. It is Lent season after all, so in fast food/fast casual it's "Fish Season" and saavy restaurants are marketing you with their "Limited Time" fish sandwich offerings.
I sampled classically prepared crispy fish sandwiches, evaluating them on visual appeal, fish to bun ratio, crunch factor, flakiness of the fish, the bun, the dressing of the bun/toppings and overall taste. Sandwiches were giving a score of 1-9 (9 being best) for each category for a total possible score of 63. With those scores in mind I then applied those scores to a star system 1 - 5 stars (5 being best) to more easily define "eh" and average sandwiches from the good ones and those being worthy of a repeat buy.
Here is "The List" of fast food joints offering fish sandwiches, from worst to first:
#11 - McDonald's: The breading on the processed fish didn't bring any crunch whatsoever, it's like they steamed the fish along with the bun. The filet was under seasoned and the fish to bun ratio was off. The creamy tartar is good although I didn't get tartar in every bite. Scoring 39 out of a possible 63 points and costing me $8.05 for a value meal to include fries and a drink, I'm giving the McDonald's Filet-O-Fish 3 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars. This is a below average fish sandwich and is NOT worthy of a repeat buy.
#10 - Burger King: The square 'fillet,' even when fresh out of the fryer while perhaps crunchy on the outside, is mushy fish on the inside rather than flaky. The thin fillet means a below average fish to bun ratio and it's a sad statement when the brioche bun, pickles and tartar are the best parts of the sandwich.Scoring 44 out of a possible 63 points and costing me $5.26 for just the sandwich, I'm giving the Burger King Fish Sandwich 3 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars. It is not reasonably priced compared to the prices of other fast food joints and it just flat out isn't as good of a sandwich. NOT a repeat buy.
#9 Dairy Queen: Dairy Queen earned a surprising 2nd place finish in the 2018 review with their Atlantic Cod Fish Sandwich. They won't finish 2nd this year because they switched fish and now serve Polluck which is a less expensive, not as flaky and thinner fish fillet. Scoring 45 points out of a possible 63 and costing me $8.59 for a combo meal to include fries and a drink, the 45 point score earned Dairy Queen's Fish Sandwich 3 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars. DQ switched fish and served it with a tartar without twang, resulting in an inferior sandwich. It's not worthy of a repeat buy.
#8 Sonic: If there was a fish sandwich war going on, Sonic would lose. Sonic either needs to create a better sandwich, or rename this one, it's NOT a 'Premium' sandwich. This was a very average fish sandwich at best and what Sonic thinks is a premium sandwich would not have cracked my Top 5 list in 2018. The breading on the sandwich is good and crispy, but the processed patty - not a true fillet - is square like McDonald's and the texture of the fish as a result of that processing is mushy. Scoring 46 out of a possible 63 points and costing me $7.73 for a combo meal to include tater tots and a drink, I'm giving the Sonic Premium Fish Sandwich 3 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap Stars. It may be reasonably priced and yes it was crispy, but overall the sandwich was lackluster and is NOT worthy of a repeat buy.
#7 Freddy's: Freddy's isn't dressing their fish sandwich the same as they did in 2018. The sandwich I sampled four years ago was dressed with the classic Freddy's sauce which is mayonnaise, ketchup, pickle juice and Freddy's seasoning... That sauce is basically a ramped up version of a Thousand Island dressing but with a much better finish. In this year's sampling, the Freddy's seasoning and robust pickle juice notes were missing. To go with just a regular Thousand Island dressing now is rather ho-hum. Scoring 47 points out of a possible 63 and Costing $7.69 for a combo meal with Freddy's famous shoe string fries and a drink, I'm giving Freddy's Fish Sandwich 3 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars, a downgrade from the 2018 Challenge. With the dressing on the sandwich not being as robust as it once was and the fillets being a bit mushy, the sandwich is a very borderline repeat buy, as in, if I happen to be at Freddy's on a Friday.
#6 Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken: The fish was crispy but a bit on the thin side, if there weren't two fillets, the fish to bun ratio would have been off - as in too much bread. The lettuce, tomato and pickle put some complimentary freshness and tartness in each bite to balance things out and what makes this a better than average fish sandwich is the Cajun spiced dressing, providing a nice but not overpowering kick to the party. Overall a good sandwich, my only knock is there was no toast to the bread. Toasting that Hoagie Roll would have elevated this sandwich into 5 star status. A balance of flavors Scoring 48 out of 63 points and costing me $7.51 for a sandwich only purchase, I'm giving the Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken Fish Sandwich 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars. Reasonably priced, it's worthy of a repeat buy.
#5 Arby's: Their Crispy Fish Sandwich is the same as it was back in 2018 and is a classically prepared Alaskan Pollock fillet
crispy-fried to a nice golden brown, topped with tartar sauce, shredded lettuce and served on a sesame seed bun. It has a nice initial visual appeal and my first bite was crunchy, the fillet was seasoned well and overall there was a nice balance of fish, tartar and lettuce. The fish to bun ratio was good but I do have to say that as I worked my way towards the middle of the fillet, the crunch was missing. This sandwich earned 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars and is worthy of a repeat buy.
#4 Hardee's: Hardee's makes a pretty good fish sandwich. The fillet is crispy throughout, not just on the edges, the fillet is
flaky on the inside and 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, needs more seasoning and more tart. Scoring 50 out of a possible 63 points and costing me $4.61 for just the sandwich, Hardee's registers the highest score so far in this challenge after visiting seven restaurants. The cost is lower than average making it reasonably priced and it's a good sandwich making it a repeat buy. I'm giving the Hardee's Fish Sandwich 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.
#3 Wendy's: Wendy's makes a decent fish sandwich. The panko breading provides a really nice crunch, I got crispy in each bite. The fry on the fish was solid, the square 'fillet' was moist and flaky on the inside, but it was a bit under seasoned and polluck needs help because it is a milder fish. The one leaf of lettuce was lame and it's a ding the sandwich took back in 2018. Scoring 55 out of a possible 63 points and costing me $5.36 for just the sandwich, the Wendy's Crispy Panko Fish Sandwich earned 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars. Despite the switch from cod to pollock, Wendy's has improved their offering with a better breading (heavier on the Panko) and better overall preparation down to a better toast on the bun. What was a borderline, Plan B repeat buy recommendation back in 2018, is now a solid repeat buy if choosing to eat at a national chain fast food joint.
#2 Long John Silvers: I got a delightful crunch in every bite and a batter crunch bite, not a breading crunch bite. Scoring 57 out of possible 63 points and costing me $4.93, this was a far better fish sandwich than what I got served in 2018. With a much better fry preparation this go-around, the score of 57 earns the Long John Silver's Fish Sandwich 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars. A toasted bun and one more pickle would have edged it up to a 5 star sandwich and yes, it's a repeat buy.
#1 Popeye's: Playing off the success of their chicken sandwich, keeping it simple works with fish too! The Popeye's breading is
crunchy with that hint of Popeye's spice pleasantly present in the classic preparation. It was a perfect fry, with the flounder being moist and flaky. The pickles delivered some tart which was needed because the amount of tartar sauce was less than generous. Served on a brioche bun, the toast on the bun complimented the crunch of the breading on the fish and the crisp of the pickle. Costing me $9.53 for a combo meal to include fries and a drink (If you just want to do the sandwich it's $4.49), and scoring 59 out of a possible 63 points, I'm giving Popeye's Flounder Fish Sandwich 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars. The filet was huge, seasoned well, the fish was flaky, I got pickle in every bite and the toasted brioche bun was the perfect bread vessel to serve it on. The sandwich would have scored even higher had more tartar sauce been applied. It's a repeat buy.
So there you have it, in sampling the fish sandwich offerings from the national fast food chains, they are listed here from worst to first. The Bachelor on the Cheap Best National Fast Food Chain Fish Sandwich winner for 2022 is Popeye's!
Related: How Fish Sandwiches ranked in 2018