- Insider asked chefs to pick the best and worst seafood dishes to order at a restaurant.
- They said fluke is an underrated fish and deep-fried calamari may lack flavor.
- Chefs suggest avoiding seafood specials, as they could be hiding old fish.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
“Mackerel is an oily fish, so it binds with seasonings exceptionally well and is usually really flavorful,” said Casey.
She suggested pairing it with simple sides like potatoes, asparagus, and a slice of fresh lemon.
“I love ordering pan-fried sea bass because the contrast between the crispy sea-bass skin and the delicate fillet is just delicious,” said Casey.
It normally has a light flavor on its own, so the seasoning or sauce that it’s served with is crucial to the meal. Casey recommended asking for lemon juice, vinaigrette, or even garlic-infused olive oil to liven up your dish.
“Fluke is one of my favorite fish dishes to order at a good restaurant,” said Ginn. “It’s unique in that it’s great both cooked and raw.”
It’s also known as summer flounder and has a mild, delicate flavor that may be perfect for diners who don’t like a strong, fishy taste.
“I always order what’s been caught in close proximity to the restaurant,” said Ginn. “That increases the likelihood that your dish will be fresh.”
Ginn recommended trying local delicacies like the lobster in Maine or red snapper in Florida.
“When you see plates and plates of the same kind of seafood leaving the kitchen, you can be pretty sure it’s nice and fresh,” said Ginn.
Unpopular items may feature ingredients that aren’t restocked as often, meaning you’re likely to wind up with an older piece of fish.
“Black cod is always a safe bet as it’s a perfectly fatty, rich, and delicious fish,” said Eick. “It’s frequently paired with a miso glaze, which is full of flavor.”
Black cod is also known as sablefish and can often be found at Japanese seafood restaurants.
“Spot prawns are expensive but always worth it,” said Eick. “Seeing them on the menu is also a sign that the chef is sourcing quality ingredients.”
Eick added that spot prawns should be lightly cooked and served with their roe, or eggs.
“For many bars, pubs, or casual restaurants, offering a seafood special is usually a technique for selling older fish before it goes bad,” said Cameron.
He added that high-end restaurants are usually exempt from this rule of thumb. If in doubt, ask your server if the seafood special uses freshly-caught fish.
“Halibut is almost always overcooked in restaurants and is usually lacking in flavor,” said Eick.
If you’re looking for a milder fish, try ordering cod or grouper instead.
“Generally, tilapia is almost flavorless,” said Cameron. “I’d skip this fish because it’s plain boring and irresponsibly farmed.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list, which ranks fish sources based on sustainability and safety, cautions that consumers may want to avoid some tilapia, particularly ones farmed in China due to “reliable evidence that illegal antibiotics” are used in farming practices.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, China is one of the world’s largest suppliers of tilapia.
“Restaurants have a tendency to use the heavy sauce to disguise lower-quality or scrap seafood,” said Casey.
Casey recommended asking about the preparation of any dishes featuring a heavy sauce to avoid paying for subpar seafood.
“Unfortunately, the taste of the squid is drowned out when it’s battered and fried,” said Casey. “Plus, most restaurant calamari is frozen rather than fresh.”
Instead of ordering deep-fried calamari, opt for fresh squid coated in a tempura batter or bread crumbs.