If there’s one thing my Catholic upbringing taught me, it was where to find a good fried fish sandwich on Fridays during Lent. Luckily for me, Champaign-Urbana has an excellent selection of great fried fish menu items.
From fish burritos to classic fish sandwiches, I ate my 40 days’ worth of fish and found where to go if you’re participating in Lent — or just want a great pescatarian meal.
Two Piece Fish | Wood N’ Hog
Fried fish may not be the first thing you think of when looking at Wood N’ Hog’s meat-filled menu, but I’m here to tell you that it should be. While the rib tips are awesome, the fried catfish is even better. It’s the lightest, flakiest, and most flavorful fried fish that I have found in Champaign-Urbana. To put it simply, it is a revelation.
A two piece fish dish is $9.99, and a four piece is $14.99. That may seem like a lot, but the fillets come over a mound of French fries and two slices of bread. The fish fillets are also a great size and filled me up easily. Compared to some of the other places I ate, this is a ton of food. While the fish is fantastic, the fries are not the most flavorful, so make sure you have a dipping sauce of your choice when eating them.
Wood N’ Hog
101 W University Ave
M-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Catfish Dinner | Neil St. Blues
The next restaurant on my fish-fueled journey was Neil St. Blues in Downtown Champaign on (you guessed it) Neil Street. I got the catfish dinner for $15. This meal only had one catfish fillet, but it was large — and it came with a choice of two sides and a dinner roll. The dinner roll is nothing to write home about, as it looked and tasted just like your typical King’s Hawaiian roll.
The catfish was really solid. It had a crunchier and heavier crust, and it was nice and salty. This is the kind of fried catfish that I grew up eating. They also offer a large selection of sides. I chose the mac n’ cheese and the sweet corn and crab bisque. The mac n’ cheese was good. It was creamy, cheesy, and everything you’d want a mac n’ cheese to be. The sweet corn and crab bisque, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, it had little to no flavor, an unappealing texture, and a very strong crab smell. I have no issue with the smell; I just wish it would have tasted that way. With that being said, they have plenty more side choices, and if you’re willing to spend the 15 dollars, the catfish is definitely worth a try.
Neil St. Blues
301 N Neil St
T-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Fish Burrito Special | Cactus Grill
If you read my last article, you know about the affinity I have for Cactus Grill. I’ve had more than my fair share of spiritual experiences eating Cactus Grill, and I look forward to the many more I have in the future. Over the years and many trips that I’ve taken to the small restaurant on Neil, I’ve tried a plethora of different items on the menu. One thing that not a lot of people know about is their fish.
On Fridays, Catctus Grill does a fish burrito special for $6.80. The fish itself was a fried fillet of some type of white fish. When I went, I ordered a fish burrito bowl and made it with lime cilantro rice, black beans, the fried fish, lettuce, cheese, tomato, onion, salsa, and chipotle sauce. The fish was crispy and flaky with a good amount of salt. Even though it’s not the honey grilled chicken (my favorite), this bowl was still phenomenal. I can’t recommend it enough, and if you’re a pescatarian or are trying to eat less meat, this is a great dish to try.
1405 S Neil St
M-F 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Fish Sandwich | Esquire
When I think about a fried fish special on Fridays, Esquire is always the first that comes to mind for me. Esquire’s fish sandwich Friday special is one that I grew up eating and enjoying. This is a classic, basic fish sandwich that truly delivers on every basis you could ask for. For $7, I think this sandwich is a great deal.
The sandwich had a nice soft bun, a thick and crunchy fish patty, and then a choice of toppings from their topping station inside. The sandwich is light but filling, salty and not too fishy, and it came with a bag of potato chips. If you would like, you can substitute the chips for fries for $1.75. While this sandwich may not have bells and whistles, it delivers on what’s promised.
106 N Walnut
11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Smoked Salmon | Black Dog
When people think about Black Dog, they most likely think about juicy brisket and succulent burnt ends. I, however, think about the salmon. The smoked salmon at Black Dog is truly one of the marvels of this town. With a price tag of $11.25, I think this meal is worth the price.
The smoked salmon sandwich is one of my favorite menu items at Black Dog, and I’ll tell you why. The salmon was unbelievably moist. It flaked apart beautifully and had a wonderful smoky flavor. It was never too strong in flavor, and with the right sauce, it became truly great. In my opinion, when it comes to the salmon sandwich, the Milo’s mustard sauce is the only way to go. It was spicy, tangy, and a perfect pairing that cut through the fatty richness of the fish. Pair that up with a side of twice baked potato casserole, and you will not be disappointed.
320 N Chestnut St
Su-Tu 11 a.m. to 8 p.m
W-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.