It’s one of the most transportive sandwiches. The right one can drop you near a coast — whether it's New England, Baja, California or Mexico — like you’ve been sucked through a wormhole. Something about crunchy, fried batter around fresh seafood meeting shredded lettuce, lime and mayonnaise will make you feel like your feet are in the sand.
Good fried seafood sandwiches can be found in unpredictable places in Dallas: There’s a fried crawfish po’boy at Cajun Tailgators or a shrimp version at Charlie’s Creole Kitchen (the decades-old original Dodie’s), served on crusty bread painted with butter and dotted with mini crustaceans in a way that sends sensations of a New Orleans parade walking around your head.
In other words, these are the Dallas seafood sandwiches that will take you somewhere outside our city limits.
The Baja fish arepa at Arepa TX, $7.50
5940 Royal Lane (Northwest Dallas)
Your feet are plunged in the sand in California, and an ocean breeze whips around the wax paper under your sandwich. That’s where the bright-as-the-sun fried fish arepa will plant you after a bite. Arepa chef MaryAnn Allen lived in the Bay Area for a while, and this sandwich has all the memory of it: A sauce of Mexican crema, lime zest and lime juice, mayonnaise and cilantro alongside pickled red onions illuminate crunchy fried fish. It’s a small, solo vacation.
The po’boy panini at Palapas Seafood Bar, $12 for oyster, $10 for shrimp
1418 Greenville Ave. (Lower Greenville)
At Palapas, Lower Greenville’s underrated Mexican seafood restaurant, the flavors of the ocean are lime, butter and garlic. Chef Luisa Medina griddles panela, a thick slab of stretchy, salty Monterey Jack-like cheese that grills into a toasty beautiful rectangle. It fuses with the bread and the soft avocado. Fresh Key lime juice — Medina stresses this ingredient — lights up the coleslaw, a creamy chipotle mix. It electrifies what might be boring shredded cabbage, tomato and cilantro. After a few minutes, you may feel a sunburn coming on.
The Dancing Tuna at St. Pete’s Dancing Marlin, $14.99
2730 Commerce St. (Deep Ellum)
Pete’s tuna sandwich might sound like an innocuous order, but it's a simple, bar food wonder. A sushi-grade tuna steak marinated in cilantro, green chiles, olive and garlic is fire-grilled with a perfect char. Get it rare in the middle, for the love of all that is ocean, and dip it in the “marlin sauce," whipped cilantro and olive oil, maybe an onion or a scoop of tartar sauce. It started as a more basic sandwich that owner Pete Zotos upgraded after it surged in popularity. It hasn’t changed for more than 20 years. Order with a ice-cold mug of beer.
The Ipswich clam roll at 20 Feet Seafood Joint, $12
1160 Peavy Road (East Dallas)
It comes in a plastic basket lined with paper. The roll has a buttery sheen, filled by scraggle of fresh-then-fried clams that glisten with golden crunch. “We deliberately keep things simple,” chef Marc Cassel says. The whole belly clams from Ipswich are the star: They get a dip in panko crumbs, are fried in a flash then dusted with salt and pepper. Add dabs of tartar sauce and lemon juice and you’ll disappear into this sandwich. Get Cassel's perfect french fries, tossed with rosemary and roasted garlic on the side, if you're smart.
The seared shrimp banh mi at Malai Kitchen, $8
3699 McKinney Ave. (West Village)
The construction of every sandwich at Uptown’s Malai Kitchen was inspired by a banh mi cart in Saigon. “All of our recipes come from our travels,” chef and co-owner Braden Wages says. One twist on the banh mi uses the powers of wok-seared shrimp, an innocuous crustacean that’s rarely cooked properly, splashed with sweet soy sauce. Pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro and Thai basil are along for the ride, of course, and the restaurant team picks up fresh bread every day from a Vietnamese bakery in Garland. The cart that inspired it is from Ho Chi Minh City, where you’ll want to book a direct flight after tasting its inspiration.
The lobster roll at TJ’s Seafood, $16 for the small, $26 for full-size New England-style
4212 Oak Lawn Ave. (Oak Lawn), 6025 Royal Lane (Preston Hollow)
There are two styles of lobster roll at TJ’s, and both will rocket you to New England. TJ’s mighty-good cold lobster roll is an iconic dish, featuring the tender digits of Maine lobster, celery, red onion and house mayonnaise. Shredded bibb lettuce is in there too, but who needs lettuce? TJ’s also does a hot “Connecticut-style" lobster roll, which is Maine lobster sautéed in clarified butter with garlic, lemon zest and fresh thyme. It’s all heaped, as the gods intended, into a butter-toasted brioche bun.
The Santa Fe shrimp po’boy at Green Door Public House, $12
600 S. Harwood St. (Farmers Market)
Green Door Public House feels like a Dallas pub that’s been around for a half century. “It was not on the original Green Door Menu, but we got so many requests from people that used to have it at Uptown Bar & Grill that we had to put it back,” says co-owner Ken Rothman. He used to run Uptown Bar & Grill before it shuttered, and now co-owns Green Door and Uncle Uber’s (another Dallas staple for a blackened fish sandwich). His sandwich tastes more like a classic downtown Dallas restaurant than Santa Fe: with shrimp coated in Cajun seasoning, melted pepper jack, smoky-bright jalapeno, lettuce and tomato. It’s simple, and one of the few seafood sandwiches that transports you back home to Dallas.
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