Friday, December 2, 2022 Dec 2, 2022
52° F Dallas, TX
Lunch Box

Make Fish Sandwiches Trendy by Trying These Eight Dallas Classics

This week, we turn over the Lunch Box column to a loving ode to an underrated sandwich you should be eating at any (and all) times of day.
By |
Lunch from St. Pete, Tuna Steak on a Sandwich
St. Pete’s Dancing Marlin is the spot to get a tuna steak on a sandwich, if you want your tuna steak to be chicken-fried. Brian Reinhart

Fish sandwiches don’t get enough respect. From fast-food chains to premium seafood spots, fish sandwiches are often an afterthought, a thing for Catholics to eat on Fridays in springtime. In the whole genre, only the po’ boy has become a classic.

This is a sad state of affairs. Let’s make fish sandwiches cool! Even a year ago, I thought I might be alone in my quest to eat loads of fish sandwiches. I remember, as a little kid, ordering the Filet-O-Fish at McDonald’s while everyone else went for burgers instead.

Thankfully, Dallas chefs agree with me. We’re going to make fish sandwiches cool. You’re going to want to order them. This is happening.

Some of Dallas’ best fish sandwiches are menu staples at longtime institutions, including Uncle Uber’s and TJ’s Seafood. But some are newcomers. A year ago, the Victory Park saloon Billy Can Can rolled out a schnitzel sandwich featuring skate, and just a couple months ago, Loro introduced its beer-battered cod sandwich. Milagro Tacos Cantina, which opened last year, features an unusual shrimp burger on which the little guys are held together by a blanket of fried cheese. Could this be the beginning of a seafood sandwich golden era? I sure hope so.

Pete Zotos, owner of St. Pete’s Dancing Marlin, says, “Having a fish sandwich doesn’t necessarily make you a seafood restaurant. It makes you a good sandwich restaurant.” He would know: his kitchen has been serving fish sandwiches for 28 years. As he puts it: “It ain’t no Captain D’s.”

Not every good seafood sandwich is fried. TJ’s Seafood still has a notable entry in the genre with its salmon burger, dressed simply with tomato, onion, and an Old Bay-seasoned sauce. (There’s also a tuna sandwich memorably described as “not from a can.”)

For this column, I ate fish (and shrimp) sandwiches all across Dallas and its suburbs. I didn’t get to all of them—if you want to be thorough, check out Uncle Uber’s, Woodlands American Grill, and many catfish joints—but here are some highlights from my sandwich-eating adventures. These seafood offerings, both old-school and newfangled, will make you reconsider the most underrated of sandwich options.

Old-school fish sandwiches

Chicken-fried tuna steak sandwich, St. Pete’s Dancing Marlin

Yes, there’s a whole tuna steak under that chicken-fried batter, and yes, it’s still got a deep, blushing rare center. This is an interesting sandwich for texture—crispy batter, flaky fish, and the optional added crunch of onion and pickle. It’s also interesting because, given how a good tuna steak is cooked, most of the sandwich is cool in temperature.

The best part? St. Pete’s housemade tartar sauce, which is heavy on red onion and deep with flavor. It has so many goodies, it’s about as thick as a cream cheese spread, not like the wetter tartars you’ll find elsewhere. The kitchen makes a fresh batch every day.

I told Zotos that my childhood habit was to dunk fries in tartar sauce rather than ketchup, and he heartily agreed. “That’s my favorite part is to dunk the fries in tartar sauce. And sometimes to put a little splash of malt vinegar in there too. Ever try that? That’s next level decadence.

St. Pete’s Dancing Marlin, 2730 Commerce St. Open for lunch seven days a week

Sockeye salmon sandwich, Maple & Motor

“Mixed up the way my grandmother did for her croquettes,” the menu boasts. My grandmother didn’t mix up canned salmon croquettes, but if she did, they certainly would not be as good as this sandwich. Maple & Motor has maintained its reputation over the years because of its careful attention to detail (and its tots). The sandwich buns are toasted, the croquettes are fried to a crisp gold, and the remoulade adds kick.

The burgers here get all the hype, and the brisket sandwich has long been my personal favorite. But this fish sandwich proves just how good tradition can be.

Maple & Motor, 4810 Maple Ave. Open for lunch seven days a week

Catfish sandwich, Crazy Brothers

If you’re looking for a quality upgrade to the classic fast-food fish sandwich, Crazy Brothers is the place to go. All the traditional trappings—lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, pickles—come on a crisp, piping-hot fillet of fried catfish. Its pure nostalgic goodness sends me back to my childhood, only better. I would, however, pay to upgrade to tots or onion rings instead of the soft fries.

Crazy Brothers, 7812 S. Great Trinity Forest Way. Open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday.

Salmon burger, TJ’s Seafood

I didn’t return to TJ’s expressly for this column, but the salmon burger is my long-time go-to order at lunchtime when it’s seasonally available. Old Bay aioli is the attention-getting add-on ingredient, but the red onions are what really complete this sandwich.

TJ’s Seafood, 6025 Royal Lane, Ste. 110, and 4212 Oak Lawn Ave.

New-school fish sandwiches

Fried cod sandwich, Loro

The appeal is straightforward: crisp, beer-battered cod on a bun with pickles and slaw. But Loro has tricks up its sleeve to take this sandwich from good to great. First: a thousand island dressing brightened up with yuzu. Second: spice.

That beer batter on the fish is shatteringly crisp, with lacy edges that crunch in your teeth, like biting into crispy air. But the batter is also seasoned with turmeric and yellow curry powder, and the fish itself has been compressed in yellow curry before frying. It’s not enough to feel spicy or inflict pain, but it does impart tremendous flavor. This is no Filet-O-Fish.

The flavor marriage is a stroke of genius. Mild, flakey cod is a perfect canvas for pinches of citrus and spice. On a menu brimming with great lunch possibilities, this is my new favorite.

Loro, 1812 N. Haskell Ave. Open for lunch seven days a week

Shrimp burger, Milagro Taco Cantina

We’re leaving fish behind for a moment, but the shrimp burger at Milagro is a little miracle of architecture. The cooks start with shrimp, cabbage, pico de gallo, and jalapeño glaze. But that sounds like a messy sandwich. Solution? Corral all the ingredients into a fence of grilled asadero cheese. Similar to a costra taco, the cheese hits the griddle until golden. On a taco, it’s sort of like a safety blanket, thrown over the tortilla before your toppings. On the shrimp burger, its edges curl up to form a little pen for all the shrimp to play in.

Milagro Tacos Cantina, 440 Singleton Blvd., Ste. 100. Open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday

Skate schnitzel sandwich, Billy Can Can

Skate is as thin, golden, and crispy as any schnitzel, and comically oversized on its bun. It is not the world’s most beloved fish; when it’s cooked any other way but fried, the texture is noticeable and divisive. (I like it. You can try it un-fried at Knox Bistro.)

On this sandwich, the pickles and the dressing, a creamy, gently hot jalapeño gribiche, make perfect counterparts, and there’s just enough lettuce to make this look like a balanced meal. Still, it’s all about that skate schnitzel, which is as deep a golden brown as any piece of fried chicken you can find. If the color of this schnitzel came on wallpaper, Ron Burgundy would order a roll for his study.

Billy Can Can, 2386 Victory Park Ln. Not open for lunch. Fish sandwiches are for dinner, too!

Image
Like a smashburger, Dive’s cod sandwich features two thin pieces of fish layered on top of each other. Brian Reinhart

Fried cod sandwich, Dive Coastal Cuisine

The best part of this sandwich is the moment it hits the table. Immediately, my world started smelling like my memories of Florida seafood shacks: the smell of fish, cabbage, grills, sunshine, sunscreen. They don’t put sunscreen in this sandwich, of course. It’s a mental association. You understand.

The second-best part is the slaw, made with plenty of citrus and tomatillo, so it’s delightfully bracing and complements the fried indulgence of the cod. That fish, by the way, is sliced thin, fried, and stacked in layers on the sandwich like a double cheeseburger.  

Dive Coastal Cuisine, 3404 Rankin St. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday

The creative po’ boys, Mr. Po’Boys

I’ve excluded traditional po’ boys from this list because everyone (hopefully) already knows and loves them. But up in Fairview, Mr. Po’Boys founders Cedric McCoy and Ryan Thompson are cooking up innovative twists on the traditional sandwich. Here a fried catfish sandwich comes with collard slaw—not lettuce—plus a bit of bacon. McCoy is a fan: when we spoke in September and I asked his favorite sandwich, he replied, “I don’t mean to toot our own horns, but there’s something about that collard green slaw with that fried catfish sandwich.”

If you’re not feeling like fried fish, there’s a blackened grilled catfish option, too, with lime vinaigrette. Pro tip: always get the spicy remoulade, which absolutely lives up to its name.

Mr. Po’Boys, 232 Town Pl., Fairview

Author

Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

View Profile
Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.

Related Articles

Image
Lunch Box

Downtown Dallas Lunch Doesn’t Get Much Better Than the Chicken Sandwiches at Birdie

Chef Josh Harmon makes a comeback with koji-brined and fried chicken. Yakitori and frozen Kool-Aid drinks are next.
Bento box from Bapdoduk
Lunch Box

At Bap Doduk, the Generous Bento Box Is Just the Beginning

Bap Doduk, in Carrollton, serves grab-and-go Korean salads, pickles, and sides. Oh, and a mighty boxed lunch.
Coronavirus

COVID-19 Bulletin (12/02/21)

The omicron variant has arrived in the U.S. as Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers is blocked by a federal judge.