Smile Politely

Thou shalt eat fish

An order of Po' Boys Friday fish special in a list about fried fish for fish Friday options in Champaign-Urbana for lent or people who like fish.
Alyssa Buckley

This time of year, eating fish on Fridays is a whole thing. In Champaign-Urbana, if we get a hankering for fish on a Friday, where to go? We’ve published a few fish lists over the years (here, here, here, and here), and now yet another. This list highlights five great spots in Champaign-Urbana for a fried fish dish. Three are Friday specials and two are delish fish available on Fridays and on other days, too.

If you’re craving fish, thou shalt eat fish, and here’s where.

A plate of the Friday fish special at Boomerang's Bar & Grill in Urbana.
Alyssa Buckley

Cod Sandwich︱ Boomerang’s Bar & Grill

Fish is only on the menu at Boomerang’s Bar & Grill on Fridays, and on a Friday, I stopped by for the coveted Friday special: a North Atlantic cod sandwich with tartar sauce, plus coleslaw and hand-cut fries ($11.96). Boomerang’s two fish fillets had a deep-fried beer-batter exterior that I heard (and saw) get fried up in the open kitchen behind the bar. The crunchy outer layer was thick and quite greasy, but the cod tasted great. The fish was flaky and broke into yummy hunks that were elevated by Boom’s tartar sauce, which was beyond good. Super tangy and flecked with herbs, that sauce was exactly what this sandwich needed. The side of housemade coleslaw’s cabbage and carrots were drenched in a dressing that was sweet and creamy with a little tanginess, and it tasted terrific.

Last year, Boomerang’s revamped their food menu to include a deep-fried PB&J, but the menu has changed again. No more deep-fried PB&J, but fish Fridays, wings Wednesdays, and boomerang-shaped windows continue to be staples at the Urbana bar.

Boomerang’s Bar & Grill
1309 Washington St
kitchen 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

An order of Friday's fried fish and fries at Bunny's Tavern in Urbana.
Alyssa Buckley

Walleye Sandwich ︱ Bunny’s Tavern

This fish dish is from Bunny’s Tavern in Urbana, and it’s only available on Fridays, too. One Friday for dinner, I ordered the walleye sandwich with fries ($12.45). On toasty buns, the tasty fried fillets had a light, crispy beer-batter surrounding the fish. The walleye filets — of which there were three(!) — tasted delicious, though three was far too many for these buns. I ended up with quite a bit of fish that didn’t fit, but I’m not complaining; I’m just saying be hungry. Bunny’s tartar sauce was thick and gloopy with lots of pickle relish and honestly, it was too tangy for me. Thankfully, the sandwich didn’t need tartar sauce because it tasted awesome as is, just hot fried walleye with cold sliced veggies. As always here, the fries were served hot from the fryer and had a seasoned, crispy exterior. I loved dipping fries in the bar’s housemade top-tier ranch.

If walleye isn’t the fish for you, Bunny’s has other Friday fish specials: a cod sandwich (choice of dry-battered or citrus glazed), a grilled salmon sandwich, and a salmon salad as well. Every time I go to Bunny’s Tavern, the servers are outstanding, and the food is solid.

Bunny’s Tavern
119 W Water
7 a.m. to midnight, daily

An order of Farren's Pub's "wee bit o' fish" from the new lunch menu in Downtown Champaign.
Alyssa Buckley

Pollock ︱ Farren’s Pub

Last month, Farren’s Pub in Downtown Champaign launched a new lunch menu, and one of the specials is fried fish. I knew I had to try it because I love Farren’s fried cod sandwich, a shockingly good fish sando for a burger joint. So on a day that was not Friday, I went for lunch and ordered the new special called Wee Bit o’ Fish N’ Chips ($12). The meal had two fried pollock fillets and a side of fries in addition to a cup of lemon-caper aioli and a slice of lemon. The fish’s batter was very thin, accentuating how meaty the fillets were. Flaky and tender, the mild pollock tasted delicious with the citrus accoutrements. That lemon-caper aioli was insanely yummy, and a squeeze of lemon soaked the fish’s crispy batter with acidity. The aioli’s capers added a strong saltiness, and the lemon sour was just right; on top of the fried fish, it was heavenly.

This side of fries was a generous portion for lunch. And of course, they tasted excellent dipped in the pub’s housemade ranch, which was drippy and thin, clinging to every crevice along the textured fries.

Farren’s Pub & Eatery
117 N Walnut
M-Th 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

An order of the Friday fish special at Po' Boys in Urbana.
Alyssa Buckley

Pollock ︱ Po’ Boys

If there’s one place readers have recommended the most for fish Friday in Smile Politely comment sections, it’s Po’ Boys restaurant. So last Friday, I ordered Po’ Boys’ fish special ($12) which was not listed on the menu. This fish special had two fried Alaskan pollock fillets with a peppery, crunchy crust and fried curled-up ends on a toasted bun with toppings on the side including the restaurant’s tasty housemade pickles. I have to say this fish was downright delicious. The super flaky pollock was tender under an ultra crispy batter. The thin fillets folded nicely on top of each other, stacking in such a way that the pollock mostly stayed inside the sandwich, sort of like a stacked smash-fish-burger. A bite with everything — the fresh veggies, deep-fried fish, subtle crunch of golden buns, then juicy tomato and strong red onion with tangy tartar sauce — it was just incredible.

That housemade tartar sauce was the best part. I loved the amount of sweet relish and all that dill. I dipped and dragged fries in that cup of sauce until there was none left because it was that good. After eating this fish, I can confirm the hype for Po’ Boys Friday fish is deserved.

Po’ Boys Restaurant
202 E University Ave
W-Su 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Two catfish over fries at Wood N' Hog restaurant in Urbana, Illinois.
Alyssa Buckley

Catfish ︱ Wood N’ Hog

Lastly, on a day that was not Friday, I went to the Urbana Wood N’ Hog for lunch and ordered the two-piece fish ($9.99). The meal came with two large catfish fillets battered and fried atop hot fries with (by request) sauce on the side. On a paper basket in a plain brown bag, this fried fish hit way harder than its humble presentation. A salty, seasoned batter gave every bite of fish a punch of flavor. The crinkles and bubbled texture of the batter served a satisfying crunch, that kept the catfish crispy even after I put Wood N’ Hog’s thick barbecue sauce on it. While it did have a fishy flavor, the taste was delicious and subtle, going so well with the batter’s cornmeal and pepper. Both fillets were so tender that the fish easily fell apart, flaking into small bites over the fries. For me, the textural contrast of deep-fried crunchy batter against the delicate catfish was what made this dish taste so good.

As with all Wood N’ Hog meals, this dinner came with fries, which were so good with the signature mix sauce (blend of hot sauce and mild sauce). For those hungry for more than just two fish fillets, the barbecue restaurant also offers three- and four- piece versions of this fried fish basket.

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.
Su 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

500 N Walnut Ave
M-F 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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