America’s Best Fish and Chips

This British classic is a difficult dish to perfect, but these 20 places nail it

Geoffrey Smith

Perfectly fried fish is a lot harder to prepare than it looks. 

On the surface, fish and chips sound like they should be pretty easy to make. You just batter up a piece of fish and toss it into the deep fryer with some frozen French fries, right? What could be easier? In reality, however, it’s a very tricky dish to perfect, and when it’s done poorly, it’s a soggy mess. At these 20 restaurants, the fish and chips are anything but soggy; they’re the best in the country.

America’s Best Fish and Chips (Slideshow)

But first, a little history. Deep-fried fish was probably first introduced to Britain by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain in the 1500s. In 1860, Joseph Malin opened the first fish and chip shop — chips, of course, being what the Brits call plump French fries — in Oldham, Manchester. A combination of mass trawl fishing in the North Sea and the construction of railways connecting the ports to the major cities made fish cheap and readily available, and it became a staple working-class food. By the end of the 1800s, chip shops (or chippers or chippys, as they came to be known), were ubiquitous. From there, the meal began to rise in popularity in neighboring Scotland and Ireland, and eventually spread to the United States.

The “fish” in fish and chips is generally cod or haddock, but other white fish, like pollock, plaice, and skate, aren’t uncommon, along with halibut, flounder, and tilapia in the United States. It all comes down to what’s available — many restaurants will let you choose from several options (be wary of a restaurant that can’t tell you what kind of fish goes into the fish and chips). The batter for this dish is generally just flour and water with some baking soda and vinegar added, but some restaurants replace the water with beer or milk. As for the chips, British fries are usually thicker than their American counterparts, with a super crunchy exterior and light and fluffy interior. The whole platter is served with a wedge of lemon and some malt vinegar on the side, and in the United States you’ll usually get tartar sauce as well. A popular side dish is mushy peas, which is exactly what it sounds like: peas cooked down until they’re mushy (it tastes better than it sounds).

It wasn’t so long ago that you’d be hard-pressed to find better fish and chips in most of America than what’s offered by the Long John Silver’s chain. Recently, however, some astoundingly delicious fish and chips have found their way onto menus at English-style pubs and seafood shacks alike, joining other classic institutions that have been serving the dish for years. In order to be considered for our ranking, the fish needed to be super fresh and fried to order, made with high-quality local fish (preferably your choice of several options), and supremely crispy. The chips should be crispy and perfectly complement the fish.

Read on to learn which 20 restaurants serve America’s best fish and chips.

#20 Malibu Seafood, Malibu, Calif.

Flickr/ total13

Located right on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, this BYOB patio café and fish market serves some of the area’s freshest fish and has become a beloved institution. More than 25 different varieties of fish are on offer, ranging from onaga to loup de mer, and while you can have your pick simply grilled, make sure you sample it fried as well (they serve it alongside “fries” instead of chips, but we’ll let that slide).  The traditional batter is light, super crispy, and unobtrusive, and an afternoon spent here with a six-pack and an unobstructed view of the Pacific is worth the day trip from Los Angeles.

#19 Ye Olde English Fish and Chips, Woonsocket, R.I.

Ye Olde English Fish and Chips

This spacious downtown Woonsocket institution has been going strong since 1922, when Yorkshire natives Harry and Ethel Sowden opened this waterfront eatery, and today it’s still in the family, with the fifth generation in training. The unique English-style batter recipe, which results in a slightly heavier crust around the fresh-caught pollock or cod, hasn’t changed since the day they opened, and the fries are hand-cut and pair perfectly with a shake of malt vinegar. 

Related Links
America’s Best Fish and Chips for 2014Top 10 Fish and Chips in LondonThe Foodish Boy’s Guide to Fish and ChipsFive Great Options for Fish and Chips in London