From North Carolina to Texas.

Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller; Food Styling: Katelyn Hardwick

Catfish and fried chicken is perhaps the South’s most famed surf-and-turf, or in this case, creek and coop, combination. While we rarely run into anyone who would turn down the latter, catfish can be polarizing. Prepared poorly, it can taste swampy and greasy, but cooked well it can make the difference in turning a catfish loather into a lover. Whether you’re liable to route a road trip course around a catfish stop or still looking for that one piece to change your mind, these five spots are serving masterful mudcat.

WATCH: BBQ Catfish Tacos

Johnny’s Restaurant

Birmingham, Alabama
The fried catfish at this Greek-influenced meat-and-three isn’t fussy, but this unadorned filet makes up in flavor and tenderness what it lacks in looks. Paired with Chef Tim Hontzas’ tangy Comeback Sauce (an homage to his Mississippi roots), it’s easy to see why catfish is one of the best-sellers with his fiercely loyal lunch crowd.

Buxton Hall BBQ

Asheville, North Carolina
The next-level fried catfish sandwich at this barbecue basilica is mopped with Pitmaster Elliot Moss’ Western North Carolina BBQ mop (tomato-based and a tinge sweet) and served on a baked-in-house onion-brioche bun.

Taylor Grocery

Taylor, Mississippi
With over 100,000 acres of catfish farming operations, not counting all the noodlers standing in various creeks and rivers, Mississippi is indeed the country’s catfish capitol. In Taylor’s tiny downtown, which appears still frozen in 1889, the old grocery built that same year has been known as “that catfish place” since 1977 when one of its new owners started serving catfish and fixings.

Pêche

New Orleans, Louisiana
While the wood-fired whole fish is the menu’s main attraction at Peche, don’t sleep on the catfish small plate with a filet floating with pickled greens and bathing in a Vietnamese-style chili broth.

Vautrot’s Cajun Cuisine

Beaumont, Texas
Flooded during Hurricane Harvey, Vautrot’s Cajun Cuisine continues putting out plate lunches of saucy catfish court bouillon and fried fillets beside piled of hush puppies that lure Houstonians to make the drive even further on Interstate 10.