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Know Your Fish: A Diner’s Guide

Know Your Fish: A Diner’s Guide

Mar 31st 2022

You know that fish is low in calories, high in protein, and full of heart-healthy fats. But if you don’t have experience trying different kinds of seafood, ordering from a restaurant menu can be intimidating.Know Your Fish: A Diner's Guide

What if you don’t like it? Our guide to the most popular fish served in restaurants will help you order with confidence.

Mild Fish: Start Here

Cod, halibut, and tilapia are great choices for anyone new to eating fish. All three are white fish with a mild flavor that makes them versatile.

Cod is typically the choice for fried fish and chips, but it is also delicious grilled. Tilapia is the fish-of-choice for fish tacos, especially on the West Coast, and halibut is an excellent option for anyone who prefers a meatier texture.

Be aware that “mild” is a synonym for bland. Mild white fish are usually dressed up with a sauce, a marinade, or some type of topping to give them zing.

Medium Flavors: Getting Bolder

If Goldilocks was choosing fish for dinner she’d pick a medium flavored fish—not too fishy, not too mild, but just right. Yellowtail, snapper, and sea bass are staples in most coastal restaurants that fit this bill.

All three are likely to be served with simple preparation that lets the flavors of the fish shine through. Light marinades and simple cooking methods like grilling, baking, and pan-frying are common.

Full Flavored Fish

Tuna and salmon are the most commonly served “fishy” fish. High oil content is responsible for their strong flavors and is also part of what makes them so good for you.

Both tuna and salmon are steak-like in texture, but still tender as you would expect fish to be. Because they have a strong flavor, these fish stand up to bolder flavorings. It’s not unusual to find salmon seasoned with a spicy rub and grilled or tuna slathered in a teriyaki marinade.

However they’re prepared, salmon and tuna are typically served medium-rare. Cooking them all the way through can result in dry, chewy fish. If the thought of slightly underdone fish makes you squeamish, let your server know you prefer it cooked to medium. A good restaurant will be happy to comply.

Fishing Like a Pro

If you encounter names you’ve never heard of on a menu such as branzino, grouper, kampachi, or walleye, don’t get nervous. All you really need to know is the color of the fish’s uncooked flesh.

The whiter the flesh, the milder the taste. The more colorful the flesh, the stronger the taste. When in doubt, ask your server about the color and order with confidence. Once you discover two or three types of fish you love, don’t be afraid to experiment. You may discover you’re a fish fan after all.


Mild-flavored fish are often paired with flavorful sauces and toppings and are a great option for people who are new to eating fish. Medium- and full-flavored fish offer deeper flavor profiles that stand on their own.