The pro always orders it to-go, but when at most fish and chicken spots in the Twin Cities, your meal is coming in a styrofoam-container-plastic-bag-combo no matter where you plan on eating it. The pro also orders the meal with a fruit punch, pushes for as much hot sauce, ketchup, and tartar sauce as the guy manning the counter will part with, and double checks to make sure everything looks right. You've got a lot to learn to be a fish and chicken house pro, but you'll want to start here: with our list of the five best fish and chicken houses in the Twin Cities.
Fish and chicken houses are known for quick take-out service that provides the customer with a container full of a breaded protein (chicken wings, catfish, and shrimp are three of the most common choices), a piece or two of white bread, fries and occasionally hush puppies. These dishes run between $7-11 at most locations. One of the leading brands of fish and chicken houses, the Hook, uses "We Fry Fresh Fish" as their motto and for good reason. Though fried, the tilapia and catfish we've had at these restaurants won't be easily confused with a fish stick; it's a real filet of fish. It is even easier to vet at El-Amin Fish House (currently closed for remodeling) since they also sell raw fish for people to cook at home. Read on for our advice on the best spots to get catfish nuggets, gizzards, and hush puppies.
El-Amin might top this list if it weren't currently closed. The location claims to be coming back but their phone is disconnected, not a good sign for any local business. But, they are a staple of the Northside and they will be sorely missed if they do shutter their doors for good. El-Amin is a proud, locally owned shop filled with great personal touches including a daily trivia question for a discount, fresh fish for sale to go in family size offerings and a healthy baked option for some fish dishes. They distinguish themselves from other fish spots by using a piece of wheat bread in their plates instead of the standard white. The fries are more bland than at some other spots, but El-Amin does sell the best hush puppies in the Twin Cities and they come standard with every meal. For the uninitiated, a hush puppy is a ball of deep fried cornmeal batter, specially designed to help you gain weight faster. If you haven't tried a hush puppy yet, wait until El-Amin reopens and get ready for a delicious buttery bite that tastes great with a tiny dip in their hot sauce. The El-Amin Fish House is also the only spot on this list where the coleslaw appears to be house-made, a real plus in our book.
Seafood To Go is easy to miss on Chicago Ave. but it's worth a stop for the Cajun rubbed catfish. In fact, anything on the menu can have Cajun rub added to it, an easy choice for flavor one can't get at the other locations listed here. The breading at this location leaves something to be desired; it doesn't unify and stick to the fish like the batter at the Hook or JJ's. However, the Cajun rub (which isn't on the menu, so ask for it when you head in) makes for a smoky taste that comes alive with the hot sauce Seafood To Go serves. Did we mention the Cajun rub?
Our default order at any Fish and Chicken spot is the catfish nuggets. With catfish nuggets you are risking less on how high quality the fish itself is, since there is a higher breading-to-fish ratio. At A&J this is a particularly wise choice because some of the nuggets had a bit too many of those gray, slimy, catfish mystery bites. But, the breading was simple and delicious with enough crunch to satisfy, while still letting the fish win in every bite. The plate was served with a single slice of white bread which we summarily tossed in the trash to focus on the important food at hand. This fries were a bit salty for our liking but they tasted great with ketchup. This spot is one of the toughest for eating in, as they have just three and a half booths, mostly filled with folks waiting for their takeout orders. But A & J is solid on the fundamentals: reliable prep and some of the best breading in the city.
2. Hook Fish and Chicken Hook Fish and Chicken is a national chain that boasts numerous Twin Cities locations but the food doesn't seem to suffer from typical chain-restaurant flaws. The catfish and tilapia filets are fresh and delicious and lightly breaded. The chicken tenders were a little over salted but otherwise the high quality white meat remained moist in the deep frying process. The drawback to Hook Fish and Chicken is the tremendous nickeling and diming they put every customer through for any additional sauce or special requests, but what the Hook lacks in service it makes up in taste and options. The menus have a lot of great options beyond fish and chicken fare and the variety of seafood is unparalleled. Plus, the great pricing for family size dishes makes it easy to get a family of six fed for under $50 dollars.
This is the spot to visit on this list if you like to sit down and dine in. JJ's took over the big Burger King at Fry and University, so there is almost always seating available. The catfish nuggets never disappoint: perfect little ridges invite the right amount of hot sauce to stick around and keep the bites well spiced without overpowering the fish. JJ's is also a bit less stingy with extra sauce than most of these locations. This means you can create a combination of tartar sauce and hot sauce, which is the gold standard dipping sauce for fried seafood. The fries come standard with a well distributed seasoning rub that comes alive with a bit of hot sauce. We recommend skipping the hush-puppies until El-Amin reopens; they are often small and dried out at JJ's.
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