Tulip Shop Tavern makes one of Portland’s finest cheeseburgers, but the North Killingsworth beer and cocktail bar also serves an above-average fried fish sandwich. Earlier this year, when it seemed like every other food article and cart was devoted to the smashing of ground beef, Tulip threw a little shade from Instagram.
“The #smashburger craze was fun, and we ranked high among those mentioned,” bragged the post, captioning a massive food-porn stack of lettuce, tartar, fish and bun. “But we’re still waiting on the #fishwich articles to come out...and no doubt, we’ll be near the top.”
That’s not to say the fishwich hasn’t (almost) had its moment in the past. The highfalutin chefs of Nomad PDX paid homage to McDonald’s with a cod mousseline “Filet-o-Fish” at Feast Portland’s Sandwich Invitational in 2016. It then went on the menu (as the “motherf***in’ filet o’ fish”) at Nomad’s Ash Bar, but both spots unfortunately closed in 2020.
This past February, Popeye’s tried to replicate its fried chicken sandwich success with a similar, fried flounder approach, but the limited-edition item (timed for Lent, just like the first Filet-O-Fish was, in 1962) never quite took off. Burgerville typically has a wild Alaskan halibut sandwich, but at the time of this this roundup, it was not available—presumably because the Vancouver, Wash., chain needs all its buns for actual burgers. (“Due to an industrywide supply and staffing shortage, our hours and menu may be temporarily limited in some locations,” the company website says.)
For this brief, by-no-means-comprehensive survey, WW stuck with variations on the classic fast food-style fried fishwich—no salmon burgers, po’boys or baked filets—from places that don’t specialize in seafood. We went in search of fishwiches and came back with quite the catch.
Tulip Shop Tavern Fish Sandwich ($12)
825 N Killingsworth St., 503-206-8483, tulipshoptavern.com. Noon-midnight Sunday-Thursday, noon-1 am Friday-Saturday.
This list is in no particular order, but since it was also sort of Tulip Shop’s idea, it’s sad to say that this one was not the favorite. A classic fishwich in some ways, it’s an impressively large, crispy 4-ounce rectangle of panko-breaded, perfectly flaky, Blue North wild Alaskan cod, served on a Dos Hermanos milk bun with tartar sauce, shredded lettuce and pickle. The housemade tartar (capers, fresh dill, grain mustard, dill pickle and mayo) and savory dill pickle chips have the kind of zing I like. But the cod itself—both breading and fish—is something of a neutral canvas, perhaps in need of greater seasoning. Pro tip from the bar: Add two slices of American cheese for $1. “That’s the classic way to do it,” co-owner Tyler Treadwell says.
Holler Chicken Fried Trout Sandwich ($15)
7119 SE Milwaukie Ave., 971-200-1391, hollerpdx.com. 11 am-9 pm Monday-Friday, 10 am-9 pm Saturday-Sunday.
Holler was built on fried chicken. And while the restaurant’s choice to call its fish sandwich “chicken-fried” doesn’t mean it had to literally be made the same way, in this case the fish goes in the same dredge as the birds: buttermilk with a little Crystal hot sauce, then seasoned flour. The Texas-meets-Idaho two-hander comes on Texas toast with dill-and-fennel ranch, jalapeño jelly, butter lettuce and “Holler pickles.” The overall flavor profile of the jelly and the pickles ran a bit sweet for my taste, but the filet itself—Riverence farmed steelhead—was both seriously crunchy and impeccably cooked.
Yonder Fried Tennessee Catfish Sandwich ($14)
4636 NE 42nd Ave., 503-444-7947, yonderpdx.com. 4-9 pm Wednesday-Sunday.
There’s also chicken overlap at Yonder, where you can—in much the same way that you can the chicken—get your catfish dusted Nashville hot or with lemon pepper. Breaded in both rice flour and cornmeal, the wild koji-cured Tennessee catfish (acquired via local provider TwoXSea) comes on America’s best fast food sandwich bun, the Martin’s potato roll, with a pile of iceberg lettuce and what Yonder has dubbed “tartar slaw”—julienned bread-and-butter pickles, chives, dill and Duke’s Mayo. The fish is tasty, tender and crispy, but what really makes this sandwich memorable is the cheese. This is no slice of American à la Mickey D’s nor something implausibly exotic but, rather, grated Tillamook white cheddar cooked into a lacy frico. It adds both extra crunch and a piquant note that hits you in the nose before you can even taste it.
MidCity SmashBurger SplashBurger ($5)
1015 SE Stark St., instagram.com/midcitysmashburger. Noon-6 pm Wednesday-Monday.
Fortunately, you don’t have to patronize a giant multinational corporation—or a semi-local one that’s still the target of an active union boycott like Burgerville—to get a fast food-style fishwich at almost fast food prices. The first time MCSB owner Mike Aldridge rolled out his fish sandwich as a special, he sold 30 in 20 minutes on a weekday. It’s now a regular menu item at the Buckman neighborhood food cart and should also be at MidCity’s soon-to-open St. Johns brick-and-mortar. The SplashBurger is a fish-and-chips-sized parallelogram of locally caught, flash-frozen rockfish that’s battered in flour, fried and cemented to its Franz hamburger bun with “Smashy Sauce,” plus a half-slice of American cheese. As WW noted back in May, the Smashy Sauce resembles tartar sauce or remoulade, while the American provides that crucial creamy-salty element—as well as a McDonald’s wink. The rockfish is both crispy and flaky, as much as it pains me to use those words again. There are just not enough adjectives to describe fishwiches.