By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Jun 07, 2024 at 11:56 AM

No matter the time of year, the delicious tradition of the Friday night fish fry is always popular around these parts.

But what makes up a great fish fry? It starts with high-quality fish that’s been hand-breaded or battered on premise; but it also extends to the accompaniments, including fresh crisp cole slaw.

It’s growing harder and harder to find them; but my ideal fish fry also includes housemade potato pancakes (frozen potato patties don’t cut it) made with nicely seasoned shredded potatoes that are crisped to perfection. A close second might be a good house-made potato salad, a crispy-skinned baked potato or (in a pinch) a good batch of thin, crispy fries. I’m also delighted when I can find a hand-muddled (!) old fashioned to enjoy alongside. It's a shame how few truly good ones there are out there these days.

And now, after all that, here are five spots that are well worth a try!

Belly Up Bar

Belly Up Fish FryX

N88W18384 Christman Rd., Menomonee Falls,
(262) 255-2653

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This townie bar in Menomonee Falls serves up a good beer-battered cod (in portions of two or three pieces) with a light, airy beer batter that allows the mild, flakey fish to shine. They do offer potato pancakes (housemade); but I'd steer you over to Becky’s “famous” German potato salad, which was served just warm with a sweet and sour dressing just like grandma used to make.  They also serve up a well-balanced brandy old fashioned.

Note: it’s best to arrive early or later, as the bar fills up pretty quickly on Friday nights. Also, Belly Up is a cash-only bar, but there is an ATM on the premises in case you’re caught ill-prepared.

North Avenue Grill

North Avenue Grill Fish FryX

7225 W. North Ave., (414) 453-7225

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I enjoy North Avenue Grill a great deal. I like the bustle of the dining room during the breakfast rush, the smell of toast and coffee wafting through the air. At lunch, it’s among the best West Side spots to go for a big, hearty burger. But it’s also a great spot to visit for an excellent fish fry.

Options include the guest's choice of beer-battered cod; battered or pan-fried lake perch; beer battered, pan-fried or blackened walleye; battered bluegill or The Platter featuring walleye, lake perch and bluegill. Each fish fry is served with the guest’s choice of potato (French fries, potato pancake, baked potato), coleslaw, tartar sauce and lemon.

The cod, which is served three pieces to a plate, is exceptional with a light and crisp batter that’s not unlike a well-fried beer-batter funnel cake. Meanwhile, potato pancakes are large, nicely flavored and crisp, measuring at least five or six inches across. They are composed primarily of shredded potato, with just enough batter to bind everything together. 

Note: If you like New England-style clam chowder, North Avenue Grill’s is worth your time. It’s creamy and rich, but not ghastly and thick like so many Midwestern versions. The creamy base is flavored with onion, celery, bay and thyme; and it’s stocked with an ample portion of chopped clams and large pieces of chopped potato.

State Fair Inn

State Fair Inn Fish FryX

8101 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis, (414) 778-0760

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Milwaukee has its fair share of hidden gems; among them is State Fair Inn, the oldest continuously operating family-run bar in West Allis. The longtime West Side staple also has a gem of a fish fry, based on a recipe for beer batter that’s been passed through the generations. 

Their Friday evening menu includes their time-honored beer battered cod, which sports a distinctively thin, crisp breading (of the sort you seldom find in modern restaurants) with tender, flakey fish beneath. It’s served with soup, salad and a choice of potato (french fries, mashed potatoes or baked potato) or onion rings.

Additional options include baked cod, deep-fried or pan-fried perch, pan-fried tilapia or walleye almondine (also delicious(.  Pair it up with one of their house old fashioneds, which are uniquely garnished with orange, cherry and a cinnamon stick. 

Note: Get there early! They begin serving at 5 p.m. and it’s a popular spot, so you can expect a wait after 6 p.m.

Steny's Tavern & Grill

Steny's Fish FryX

800 S. 2nd St., (414) 672-7139

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If you’re looking for a quiet spot to enjoy a conversational dinner with friends, Steny’s is probably not your spot. But if you like a lively environment with a fun, friendly vibe, step right up. Even if you arrive relatively early on a Friday evening, you’ll likely find that the bar and dining room are bustling with folks, many of whom are likely to be chowing down on the Steny’s fish fry.

Steny’s offerings include beer battered or pan-fried Icelandic cod, pan-fried or deep-fried lake perch. Each dinner is served with coleslaw, rye bread and your choice of side (including potato pancakes).

Von Trier

Von Trier Fish FryX

2235 N. Farwell Ave., (414) 272-1775

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If you are looking for a local fish fry that delivers, complete with a charming old-world atmosphere, head to Von Trier where the vibe is always cordial and the German-inspired menu offers up a taste of the Old World, plus a very good fish fry.

Their Bitburger Pilsner-battered cod is excellent. The three-piece portion includes large pieces of flaky tender fish enveloped by light crisp batter that tasted appropriately of beer and possessed a beautifully browned exterior. And yes, they also have housemade potato pancakes, served in the classic fashion with sour cream or applesauce.

If you treasure a well-made, hand-muddled old fashioned, this is among the best places in town to order one. There are no mixes behind the bar, just sugar, bitters and a bit of elbow grease for the muddlin’.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.