Sometimes you have dinner, and sometimes you have dinner.
Clockwise from bottom left: Arby’s, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King
Nothing says Lent like fast-food fish sandwiches: Ash Wednesday happens, and suddenly they’re everywhere. But there are so many choices–which one’s the best? In the spirit of the season, just as Christ sacrificed himself for our sins, I have taken this bullet for you and run a comprehensive side-by-side analysis of the fish sandwiches from the four major chains. For I so loved the world. And fish sandwiches.
Here’s the important thing to note right off the bat: they all taste exactly the same. There are variations in texture and mouth feel, but people: it’s a plank of fish with tartar sauce on a bun. I can’t even guarantee they all use different brands of tartar sauce. So I started my analysis the only way that made sense: dimensionally.
Engineers do it with the greatest feasible efficiency!
Of course, size isn’t everything. That’s why you have to look at what you get per unit of size. Example: Yoda easily has the highest awesome-to-Jedi ratio in the galaxy. The guy with the long neck? Watering down his own brand. Too many cubic feet of Jedi, not enough awesome.
For calories, fat, and weight, I used the numbers recorded at http://caloriecount.about.com. Nutritional information there (and on other diet sites) differed greatly from values shown on the company websites; Arby’s online menu didn’t include the fish sandwich at all, and other websites like shapefit.com listed calorie counts much higher. I used the ones I did hoping for a consistent bias for comparison’s sake. Prices are exactly what I paid in my town, including tax; all stores were within a mile radius.
Measuring sandwiches was so much fun that I almost forgot I had to eventually eat them. But first: cross-sections.
Mmm mmm good.
At last, the tasting:
Arby’s starts off a strong contender. Its overlong triangular fish plank gives the impression that it is actually made of fish. The ends sticking out of the bun makes it difficult to eat one-handed, but the shredded lettuce makes it easier. Plus, at $3.29, it turned out to be the cheapest by nine cents, although not quite the cheapest by weight. The sesame-seed bun sets it apart. A good showing.
Buy if: You like your fast-food fish sandwich to look classy.
Wendy’s piece of fish is disappointingly rhomboidal, but the breading is exceptional: the crispest of the bunch. The bun is as large as Arby’s, though the sandwich is slightly thicker, possibly due to the single whole piece of lettuce on top. It’s a good size, but the most expensive at $3.70 by over twenty cents (and a solid 13% more than the cheapest).
Buy if: You want a good crunch and have a quarter to spare.
McDonald’s. You know I love you. But your fast-food fish sandwich is an insult. Just for starters, it comes on a standard hamburger bun with no lettuce, making it the smallest entry in my unannounced contest. I know, I know, if you had any warning you would have bulked up. It was the lowest-calorie fish sandwich, but has the highest calories-per-weight ratio, probably due to the piece of American cheese under the fish plank. I don’t know who decided to put that cheese on there but it defiles the entire concept. To top it off, this sandwich is the most expensive by weight. Come on, guys.
Someone’s going to show up and tell me that putting cheese on a fish sandwich is some kind of regional tradition and I’m dismissing a delicacy and your greatest source of local pride. If that’s the case, be sure to leave a comment telling me where you live, so I can never, ever go there.
Buy if: You hate fish sandwiches and yourself.
The sign at the drive-through called this a “lime and cilantro” fish sandwich, which…well, see above re: tasting the same. But this sandwich is enormous. Its fish plank was a uniform 3.5″ x 3.5″ block and tied for height with Wendy’s at 2.25″. Unsurprisingly, it was the heaviest and the highest-calorie option, but also the cheapest by weight.
Buy if: You want a big meal on a small dime.
So what’s the best fast-food fish sandwich on the market? Of the four I brought home, I finished the Wendy’s. It was the second-lowest calorie choice and plenty hefty for a meal. There was no clear-cut winner, though, so here’s the full chart so that you can make your own choices.
Seriously, you have no idea how long this took.
Whether with a side of chili, fries, or jalapeno poppers, the fast-food fish sandwich is an American springtime staple. I’m going to be eating a lot of them this month. And now, I’m a fully-informed consumer. And so are you.