There are more than 32,000 species of fish on the planet, which makes fish the most diverse of all the vertebrates. They have wriggled their way onto our plates and into our culture. There are fish gods, fish religious symbols, zodiac fish, and, many a fish book, film and artwork. Even rock ’n’ roll boasts a fish tale—Elvis Presley hated it so much, he banned all fish and fish cooking from his mansion at Graceland. We simply like fish for the yum factor. We’ve trawled the region for the tastiest catch; here are eight of them.
ENGLISH FISH AND CHIPS BASKET
This is a laid-back pub with outstanding food. Modeled after a pub in Ireland, the menu is stocked with British specialties like fish and chips. Manitou Station batters an 8-ounce filet of Cape capensis (a kind of hake) with a light hand and cooks it hot and fast. It comes with a juicy lemon wedge and a creamy, chunky homemade tartar sauce. The fish is served with vinegar on the side as they do across the pond. You’ll get wrapped up reading the newspaper lining the basket it arrives in, and those piping-hot fat French fries require extra attention too. $11. 2171 Fourth St., White Bear Lake; 651.426.2300.
Seafood and pizza might not be the first combination that comes to mind, but it is one worth savoring. Roma Market will hook you up with a killer seafood pie that combines shrimp, roasted tomatoes and tons of chopped garlic, goat cheese, fresh mozzarella and a generous slather of a house-made creamy pesto sauce. As ever, the wood-fired oven turns out an irresistible black-blistered, chewy-crunchy-yeasty crust. Seven-inch pie, $9.50. 460 Stillwater Road, Willernie; 651.653.4733.
PISTACHIO-ENCRUSTED ALASKAN HALIBUT
Rudy’s Redeye Grill
“Halibut” means holy flat fish; it was once an important repast during Catholic feast days. While Atlantic halibut is nearing extinction, its Pacific cousin is abundant and prized for its versatility and universal appeal. Its flesh is mild, firm and low in fat. Rudy’s gussies up their freshest of fresh halibut with a coat of herbs and finely crushed sea-green pistachios, and quickly broils it. It’s served with a vegetable and your choice of loaded baked potato, fries, mashed potato or—our strong recommendation—au gratin baked five-cheese penne. $20. 4940 Highway 61, White Bear Lake; 651.653.6718.
A lobster dinner may make a special celebration, but a lobster dinner is equally welcome on a blah Tuesday evening. Acqua serves a righteous lobster dish that is impeccably cooked, outrageously rich and generously portioned. The 14- to 16-ounce behemoth of a tail is broiled just so and cushioned in an intensely flavored creamy truffle risotto. Clarified butter is the perfect dunker for the sweet, toothsome meat. $45.00. 4453 Lake Ave. S., White Bear Lake; 651.407.7317.
Tilapia, a.k.a. Peter’s fish, is a freshwater fish with a historical importance that dates back to biblical times. At Ingredients, tilapia starts with a standard fried fish treatment that’s elevated to creative contemporary cuisine. Fried crispy, the white fish is served with golden beet and apple salad, sweet potato purée and basil brown butter. $18.95. 4725 Highway 61, White Bear Lake; 651.426.6641.
Washington Square Bar & Grill
With more than 10,000 lakes in our state, freshwater fish is a staple of Minnesotan cuisine. The mighty walleye was named our state fish in 1965 and it remains the most consumed fish in the state. The litmus test of a good local restaurant is how they treat their walleye; at Washington Square you can get your walleye however you like it: pan-fried, broiled, blackened, or breaded. We went with the nicely spiced blackened version and opted for simple sides, a football of a baked potato and lightly steamed broccoli florets. $8.95. 4736 Washington Square; White Bear Lake; 651.407.7162.
Ursula’s Wine Bar and Café
You’ll find a wonderful rendition of crab cakes on the appetizer menu. This preparation is an ideal way to enjoy these ornery crustaceans without the bother of a spiny shell; the tender shards of meat are lightly mixed with breadcrumbs and seasoning, and then fried into a loose patty. A citrusy sauvignon blanc is a lovely accompaniment—ask your knowledgeable server for advice. $9.00. 2125 Fourth St., White Bear Lake; 651-429-9600.
The Lakeside Club is a beloved local fixture where regulars enjoy expertly cooked, down-to-earth food. Family-owned since 1946, it’s a classic Midwestern lake lodge supper club. The fish special changes from day to day, but you can count on a spanking-fresh piece of walleye, either deep-fried or broiled. Scampi and scallops are also prepared simply and served with salad, potato and dinner roll. This place is a bit hard to find, so program your devices accordingly. One piece of walleye, $11.95; two pieces, $19.95. 10 Old Wildwood Road, Mahtomedi; 651.777.4097.