A fried whiting sandwich isn't complicated, even if the history behind the D.C. staple is. It's little more than thin fillets of white fish, dredged in a spiced flour-cornmeal mixture and deep fried in, typically, vegetable oil (though old timers love their peanut oil, which has been shelved for the obvious allergen issues). The crispy fillets are then served on white or wheat bread and your choice of condiment, whether hot sauce, tartar sauce, ketchup or regular ol' yellow mustard.
Despite the dish's simplicity, it's easy to find small variations between preparations of fried whiting, which can add up to significant differences between sandwiches. Does the carryout or restaurant offer a variety of sauces? Does it make its own? Does the place fry to order or does it let the fillets harden under a heat lamp? Is the coating spicy or bland? What kind of fryer oil do they use?
All these things can and do affect the quality of your fried whiting. With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite places that sell, arguably, D.C.'s most popular dish.
• Horace & Dickies: The standard-bearer off H Street NE -- the founder's daughter opened a second location in Takoma last year -- pulls the fillets straight from the fryer and right into your to-go container. They're crispy, lightly seasoned and full of clean seafood flavor. The sauce options here cover the waterfront. Just remember to tip generously or suffer the consequences from Jackie Marshall, the field general/stand-up comedian behind the counter.
• Oohhs & Aahhs: Chef Oji Abbott prepares my favorite whiting sandwich in the area. It's fried to order in vegetable oil and served, if available that day, with Abbott's addictive housemade sauce, a combination of tartar sauce, hot sauce, ketchup and other ingredients he won't reveal under any circumstance. The fillets are spicier than those at Horace & Dickies, which appeals to the heat seeker in me.
• Fish in the Neighborhood: The unique thing about owner Bill White's operation is that you can pick your specific fillets from the refrigerated case and have them fried right before your eyes. You run no risk of rubbery, dried-out fillets here. The coating tastes fairly mild, but you can zip it up with a variety of condiments on the counter.
• Jazz Night at Westminster Presbyterian Church: Every Friday at 6 p.m., the church hosts a jazz jam, which for a modest charge of $5 provides you access to the subterranean spread prepared by chef Michael DuBose and his team with Southwest Catering. The spread, which will cost you extra, includes DuBose's excellent, Old Bay-inflected take on fried whiting. The church is located at 400 I St. SW.