The Best Fast Food Fish Sandwiches Ranked
Fish sandwiches tend to always be the underdog of fast food restaurants. With burgers always being the face of the fast food industry, we have seen efforts in recent years to keep the burger relevant, including plant-based options that are meeting varying levels of success throughout the nation.
The other big trend in recent history is the chicken sandwich. Almost every chain has entered their fighter into the ring for the best chicken sandwich after Popeye’s overnight success, which led to extreme pandemonium.
And yet, the fish sandwich remains quiet, consistent, and available on many menus. Since their introduction through restaurants like McDonald’s in the 1960s, approximately 23% of them are sold during the Lenten season each year (via Smithsonian Magazine). Ideal for those who follow certain diets or prefer a slightly healthier option, the fish sandwich delivers. However, not all are created equal. Read on to discover which fast food chains have the best fish sandwiches around.
12. Long John Silver’s – Wild Alaskan Pollock
While other fast food restaurants opened with burgers and milkshakes, Long John Silver’s did something different when it opened its first restaurant in 1969. Focusing exclusively on seafood instead, history shows the concept worked out pretty well for the chain as it expanded to over 1,000 locations during the next decade. Today, Long John Silver’s continues to sell a variety of fish entrees, including the Wild Alaskan Pollock Sandwich.
One would think that the fast food restaurant specializing in fish would rank high on our list, but it’s actually the opposite due in part to its total lack of originality. Even though Long John Silver’s sells everything from shrimp to salmon to even lobster bites, the chain opted to make this sandwich out of pollock — the same white fish used by the large majority of restaurants. According to Cleveland.com, the sandwich is very basic with little notable taste. It contains a thick-battered outer filet, and the tarter sauce is an optional side. If you need to hit a drive-thru and Long John Silver’s is your easiest option, then skip the sandwich and go for one of their more unique offerings instead.
11. Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s – Panko-Breaded Fish Sandwich
Carl’s Jr or Hardee’s (depending upon where you live), has never been known for health food. In fact, the messier and greasier the better, it seems. From western bacon cheeseburgers to fried zucchini, this fast food joint is notorious for pushing the envelope with flavors. The same goes for their fish sandwiches. Over a decade ago, people were eating Carl’s Catch, the first incarnation of fish sandwiches, and then more recently the restaurant came out with a Redhook Beer Battered Cod Sandwich. The newest incarnation? The panko-breaded fish sandwich.
Panko breading might sound a bit lighter than "beer battered," but remember that this is Carl’s Jr. According to Thrillist, the panko-breaded fish sandwich tastes far from fresh — freezer burned, in fact. The tartar sauce is reported to be overly salty. Some positives include real leaf lettuce instead of shredded and fresh tomato.
If you’re a pescatarian or just want a change from burger meat, the fish sandwich at Carl’s Jr. certainly won’t kill you. But if you’re looking for something healthier or more flavorful, you may find yourself disappointed.
10. Checkers – Crispy Fish Sandwich
When it comes to fish sandwiches, Checkers is serving up a solid little product. The Crispy Fish Sandwich doesn’t try to be something it’s not. It’s simple, straightforward, and tastes decent. You can add cheese or fries to the inside of it if you’d like, but the default comes with shredded lettuce and tartar sauce.
Checkers is a lesser-known fast food brand that is known as Rally’s on the west coast. It is known for its "famous seasoned fries," which are also available in some grocery freezer sections. They go amazing with the Crispy Fish Sandwich, either inside of it or on the side. If the sandwich isn’t satisfying enough for your appetite, check out their Deep Sea Double. It comes with double fish patties and melted cheese.
Despite its acceptable flavor, it’s lower on our list due to availability — Checkers and Rally’s aren’t found as easily as some other fast food restaurants, currently only existing in 28 states and Washington, D.C. If you’re lucky enough to have one near you, however, definitely go check this out.
9. White Castle – Fish Slider
White Castle is famous for its sliders. In fact, according to People Magazine, they’ve been selling these mini-burgers for over 100 years. White Castle sells more than 10 varieties of sliders, catering to all palates, and one of the options is the fish slider. Like the majority of fast food fish offerings, this is made with Alaskan pollock, which is breaded and stuck into that famous tiny bun with a slice of American cheese. There’s no sauce on this guy, and that is a bit of a bummer since we have come to make fish sandwiches synonymous with tartar sauce.
Their small size comes with a small price, which means you can sample a variety of sliders at once or load up with just the fish sliders if you’d like. However, we are ranking these at No. 9 because of their lack of sauce and creativity compared to other sliders on the menu. But if you’re looking for something quick, no-frills, and affordable, White Castle is your place.
8. Dairy Queen – Alaskan Pacific Cod Sandwich
Back in 2019, Business Insider had some mighty strong words to describe Dairy Queen’s Wild Alaskan Fish Sandwich, describing the accompanying lettuce as "oil-soaked kelp" and the fish filet "identifiable as something that once swam." Yikes. But life has changed significantly since 2019. Did going through a global pandemic provide Dairy Queen with a new perspective with updated recipes? Not so much.
The fish filet is composed of — you guessed it — Alaskan pollock (sensing a trend here?) and includes lettuce, tartar sauce, and a toasted bun. You can add cheese if you want to, but it will only contribute to the grease found throughout this sandwich. The entire sandwich is oily — the lettuce has been known to be wet with the oil from the tarter sauce, and the filet could use a good paper towel blot before heading into the bun. It’s messy, drippy, and tastes pretty mediocre. The one consolation with this sandwich? You can pair it with a Blizzard. Now that’s something Dairy Queen does right.
7. Arby’s – Crispy Fish Sandwich
Arby’s became rather famous for its roast beef when it first opened its doors in 1964, starting with a single restaurant location in Ohio. Since then, its menu has expanded to include a wide variety of options including everything from ham and cheese sliders to chicken nuggets. While red meat continues to be the chain’s main gig, it has branched out into fish sandwiches. After all, why not jump on the bandwagon, right? Arby’s tends to have huge sandwiches, and the fish sandwich is in fact larger than what you’ll find at some other fast food joints.
The sandwich is made with Alaskan pollock and is deep-fried for a crunchy filet. It comes with the usual tartar sauce and cheese, paired with shredded lettuce and fresh tomato. It’s not terrible, however, it isn’t perfect either. As Bachelor on the Cheap reviewed, "It has a nice initial visual appeal" and "is seasoned well." But as you work towards the middle, the crunch is replaced with soggy seafood that nobody wants to write home about. We have it placed into the middle of our ranking because, while it isn’t consistent throughout, it does check all the boxes in terms of flavor, size, and appearance.
6. Sonic – Premium Fish Sandwich
Anyone who grew up near a Sonic knows the magic of happy hour. Not the alcoholic kind, of course, but the time each day where you could hit up this local fast food drive-in for a half-priced slush in a variety of flavors. It was artificial flavor and color heaven for any kid in the summertime. Now as adults, we still love those slushes (lookin’ at you, Blue Raspberry), but for a more grown-up palate we look for quality food. Enter the Sonic Premium Fish Sandwich.
This fish sandwich comes on a brioche bun and includes crinkle-cut pickles. We haven’t seen pickles yet on our list, and we’re here for it. According to Sonic, you can add a slice of cheese if you wish, as well. The fish sandwich isn’t available at all locations, and in certain regions they are seasonal, so be on the lookout for it during Lent. It’s a good alternative to burgers and chicken, but don’t forgo the tots and slushes.
5. Burger King – Big Fish Sandwich
It’s hard to beat a Burger King Whopper. There’s something really amazing about the charbroiled taste combined with fresh veggies. Burger King does hamburgers right. But what about fish? According to Wichita by E.B., it’s not overly exciting but good enough to potentially order more than once. The tartar sauce on the Big Fish is sweet, and when you combine that with the tart of the pickles, it’s a winning combination of flavors. The sandwich also includes leaf lettuce, which holds up better than the shredded variety many restaurants on this ranked list tend to use.
The downside? The fish patty itself is a bit on the smaller side. The fact it comes in a gloriously fluffy brioche bun makes the fish seem that much smaller. Still, all in all, the Big Fish is a decent fish sandwich for the price, and will definitely fill you up when paired with some fries and a coke
4. Jack in the Box – Fish Sandwich
Jack in the Box is continuously updating its menu with new offerings. From its classic burgers to more eclectic items like egg rolls and the sinful Mega Munchines box, the chain always seems to be shaking things up. Through all the changes, one thing seems to be for certain — the fish sandwich comes back to grace the menu every spring. In both 2021 and 2022, per Brand Eating and Chew Boom, the fish sandwich came back in two variations, and it can likely be expected back in March this year again, too.
The original Fish Sandwich is the typical fare of patty, sauce, and that pesky, messy shredded lettuce. You can also add cheese if you like. The real show is found in the Fish Sandwich Deluxe, which boasts two fish patties, two slices of cheese, sliced fresh tomatoes, and yes — shredded lettuce and sauce. Is the Fish Sandwich Deluxe just two Fish Sandwiches stacked up? Pretty much. But it works. It’s a delicious, satisfying fish sandwich without the need for any sides due to its hearty size. But if you still want some curly fries, go right on ahead. We won’t judge you.
3. McDonald’s – Filet-O-Fish
The Filet-O-Fish was made its debut in the 1960s after one McDonald’s franchisee was determined to overcome his Friday sales slump. With his restaurant located in a predominantly Roman Catholic neighborhood, not too many folks were turning out for a burger on Fridays. So Lou Groen sounded the alarm from Cincinnati and convinced McDonald’s to give a fish sandwich a try.
The Filet-O-Fish has continued on to this day, with 23% of their annual sales happening during the Lenten season, per Smithsonian Magazine. Are they as popular as Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets? Not really, but is it a solid choice for those who want to avoid meat sometimes? Absolutely. As Serious Eats points out, not everyone loves the Filet-O-Fish. The cheese can be a little questionable, and the tartar sauce comes in a bountiful amount that tends to slide off its little patty. But for plenty of people, it remains a favorite.
One unique characteristic of the Filet-O-Fish is its bun. It is different from the ones found on other McDonald’s sandwiches, and some people don’t realize you can swap it out on any sandwich of your choosing. Known by the pros as a "steamed bun," it achieves its soft, spongey goodness by hanging out in the steamer for exactly 11 seconds (via Daily Dot). This steamed bun combined with the crispy fish makes for a deliciously wonderful sandwich.
2. Popeyes – Classic Cajun Flounder
Popeyes, we salute you for breaking out of the Alaskan pollock box and offering us a fish sandwich with an exciting new ingredient — Cajun flounder. This sandwich has revealed itself to customers every Lenten season in recent years, and Popeye’s Full Menu confirms it will be returning in spring 2023. Like much of Popeyes’ food items, the Cajun flounder sandwich is spicy, flavorful, and juicy. It almost fools you into thinking you’re eating chicken — only so much better. According to Spicy Food Reviews, the breading on the flounder is actually the same or very similar to what they use on the chicken. After all, why mess with a good thing?
Flounder is not as cost-effective as the pollock everyone else seems to be using, but it is a mild and likable fish that even non-seafood-lovers can enjoy without offense. Add in the special sauce, aged pickles, and fluffy bun and you’ve got a winning sandwich to enjoy during Lent. Be on the lookout for the Cajun flounder at a Popeye’s near you as it seems to only be available for a limited time each year, and you don’t want to miss out.
1. Wendy’s – Premium Cod Fillet Sandwich
Out of all the fast food restaurants on our list Wendy’s is likely the highest quality. This is due in part to its "fresh, never frozen" commitment when it comes to the beef it uses. All food is cooked to order and the end result is hot, delicious food that has never experienced the glare of a heat lamp. The Premium Cod Fillet Sandwich from Wendy’s does not feature a freshly-made patty due to the fact it’s breaded, but it seems as fresh as possible and all the other ingredients on it do as well. We also welcome any restaurant with open arms that tries something besides panko-breaded pollock. Cod is a welcome change in the fast food fish game.
According to Restaurant Clicks, the cod sandwich is "simple but perfect." And it really is quite delicious. Lighter than a burger but still just as satisfying, be sure to pair this sandwich with fries or a baked potato. If the cod isn’t available at your Wendy’s location, the chain also usually has a fallback pollock sandwich. Whichever one you get, everything will be just fine. Whether you’re looking for an alternative to burgers during Lent or simply craving a delicious fish sandwich, Wendy’s definitely has you covered.