Five Fast Food Fish Filets: Which ‘Wiches Sink or Swim?

article and photos by Anthony Pardines

Oh yes, the lowly ‘fast food’ joints. Why would anybody care about the product of these places? Well, I’m not going to be a snob about what there is to eat in this world, and for now, I will cover things that are in my humble surroundings. I wish I could afford all kinds of fancy stuff that “foodies” rave about- but I’m your good example of a struggling artist.
There’s plenty of blogs that cover all the trendy places, and in the future, this site may well review places like them, too, when fitting.
As tradition continued, many Catholics probably practiced “giving up” eating meat on Fridays for this past Lenten season, and instead substituted eating fish or seafood in place of yummy beef, pork or chicken. So to cater to the season and to ‘catch’ some of these faithful fish-eaters, all the national fast food chains have offered up their own version of the Fish Filet Sandwich.
From what I observe, McDonald’s has probably “netted” the greatest market share in selling their Filet-O-Fish sandwich to the hungry masses over the decades. They seem to have a very memorable food product worthy of it’s popularity.
Noticing McDonald’s success, the other fast food chains, like Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Jack-In-The-Box, and Wendy’s (along with other numerous chains in other parts of the country), have all thrown their fish filet offerings into the ring. All have basically the same ingredients: a fried, breaded fish filet (or two), tartar sauce, presented burger-style on a bun. Some versions have cheese, others add lettuce. Yet with even similar ingredients, some of these fishwiches are just better than the others.
Here’s my take on what’s a worthy catch among these five contenders.
Burger King’s BK Big Fish Sandwich

If you’re really hungry, this is a rather big sandwich, like the name says. But in comparison with the other four fish sandwiches, although this sandwich is great in size, it’s not as tasty as the others.
I’ll say that there may be some slight variation in the BK Big Fish sandwich preparation from store to store, but I’ll point out where this sandwich was lacking.
The fried fish filet was reminiscent of those frozen fish filets you get at the supermarket; it’s serviceable and tastes okay. But that’s about it; it just tastes ‘okay.’
As far as the other ingredients, I thought the abundance of bland iceberg lettuce actually cancelled out the remaining flavor of the BK fish filet; in cases like this, this extra topping seems to just act as a ‘filler’ and seriously detracted in the experience.

And the BK tartar sauce was forgettable too. It wasn’t as tangy as the best tasting tartar sauces, but it also wasn’t the blandest. Maybe the only unique thing about the BK Big Fish sandwich is that the bun has a sourdough appearance to it.

Jack-In-The-Box Fish Sandwich

Jack In The Box has a very plain name for their fish filet offering. It’s called the Fish Sandwich. But Jack In The Box also offers a Fish & Chips item on their menu, which is quite a good rendition of English style fish & chips, as they offer malt vinegar to complement their tangy tartar sauce. And everytime I’ve ordered the Fish & Chips, it’s come freshly cooked because it’s made to order.
If I really liked Jack’s fish & chips, I should equally like their Fish Sandwich, right? They appear to use the same fish in both menu items, so no problem there. But like Burger King’s version of the fish filet sandwich, the other ingredients tend to upstage the “star,” and all with a poor performance.
There’s the problem of over-stuffing the fish sandwich with lettuce, just like Burger King did. And again, with flavorless filler to dilute the flavors of the fish filets (Jack includes two filets) and the tartar sauce. I’m believing that lettuce just doesn’t belong on a good fish sandwich.
Then there’s the limp, but over-sized bun. It’s Jack’s ordinary sesame seed covered burger bun, but the top bun was smothered with tartar sauce, which made it a bit damp and cold, especially having that impenetrable barrier of lettuce between the tartar sauce and the fish filets.
What should have been a pretty good sandwich due to the tasty fish filets and the decent tangy tartar sauce, comes up short because of too much lettuce. The tartar sauce should have nicely enhanced the fish; instead, it was just sopped up into the bun, then overpowered by the lettuce.

Wendy’s Premium Fish Fillet Sandwich

When Wendy’s included the word “premium” in the name of their fish sandwich, they now gave their customers an actual target point, where they could qualify whether the “premium” label hit the bulls-eye or not. In Wendy’s case, from my viewpoint, it’s more “premium” than some, but not as tasty as others.
Because of this, Wendy’s Premium Fish Fillet Sandwich sums up to be in the middle of the pack; their Panko battered fillet looks good whole, but when you bite into it, it’s mildly flavorful as most fish filets are (the Panko breading didn’t enhance anything for me) but seems to be a bit on the dry side.
The Jack In The Box fish filet is moister and even more thickly battered than the Wendy’s fish filet, without the Panko topping. So Wendy’s fish filet is more similar to the Burger King fish filet, tasting more like a fish cake in the frozen food aisle even though it’s widely touted to be Cod. It does taste like a much better frozen fish cake compared to the Burger King fish cake, though.
The Wendy’s Premium Fish Fillet Sandwich comes topped with some lettuce and a slice of tomato, which for the better here, wasn’t in such grand quantity to overpower the taste of the fish filet. But the tomato didn’t create any extra flavor to make a difference in being there or not.
The downside for Wendy’s variation is that their tartar sauce was very bland and almost like a lightly flavored mayonnaise. And again, it was smeared onto the bun and not in contact with the fish filet.
Regarding the bun- it look’s a bit fancier than the burger-based buns of the previous sandwiches, but the taste of the bun matched the others.

Carl’s Jr.’s Carl’s Catch Fish Sandwich

Carl’s Jr. is another fast food joint that offers Fish & Chips on their menu, in addition to the fish filet sandwich, which makes it a bonus, in this comparison. Carl’s fish filets are even more traditional in their “fish & chips” form than the Jack In The Box version, and the batter coating totally shuns the flat, square, “fish stick” look.
Too bad Carl’s Jr. made the same mistake as Burger King and Jack In The Box in applying an overabundance of lettuce onto their fish sandwich. But luckily for Carl’s, the combination of having a moist, truly tasty fish filet and thick, tangy tartar sauce overcame the bland lettuce. Carl’s also adds a large slice of tomato to their version of the fish sandwich, and it was a bit more flavorful than the tomato on the Wendy’s fish sandwich.
The bun for Carl’s Catch Fish Sandwich is just their regular sesame seed topped burger bun, but they made the good choice of liberally applying the tartar sauce onto the fish filet as well as the bun.

McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish Sandwich

Now this is probably the “classic” fast food fish sandwich, and surprisingly, it really held its own against the other fishwiches, even if it was the smallest sandwich in the group!
What the Filet-O-Fish sandwich has going for it is the way it’s become an almost mythical experience. There’s something about the “steamy” light quality of the rather plain white bun! That steamed bun creates a unique sensory experience upon biting into the moist, flaky, flavorful fish filet. And it’s a fish flavor that’s fresh-tasting and evenly seasoned… and not “a bit too fishy,” as some other fish sandwiches can get. (FYI- really none of the sandwiches here tasted “too fishy.”)
And then there’s that seemingly ideal thickness and coloration of the tartar sauce, which is seasoned to match the flavor of the ‘filet-of-fish,’ with the right tanginess. But that addition of the half slice of American cheese makes McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish just different enough from the other fishwiches here, to remain in your memory. And just a bit more tasty than the others to make you want to buy another right after finishing the first one!
fish comparo test 01

fish comparo test 02


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