Attention, fans of fried food, Buffalo hot sauce and cheap eats in general: Do not miss the new best dollar deal in Philadelphia.

A 99-cent lunch is mostly a thing of the past, but thanks to Ippolito’s, the South Philly seafood shop and eatery that’s been around since 1929, it’s very much a thing that’s available right now.

Meet crispy fish jawns.

Golden and crunchy, the fried fish bits are served with generous helping of really great housemade wing sauce. What it’s like to eat them? Think fried smelts but not seafood-y, pork rinds but more meaty (and pescatarian friendly) or wings but with none of the mess and a lighter feel. They’ll satisfy an umami craving and would go perfectly with a few beers or a pitcher of margaritas — the serving is almost too much for one person to handle alone. All in all, pretty great.

Crispy fish jawns at Ippolito’s come with Buffalo hot sauce for dipping
Crispy fish jawns at Ippolito’s come with Buffalo hot sauce for dipping Credit: Danya Henninger

The dish is the product of a brainstorm between chef Gregg Mirigliani and store manager Ron Ippolito — a fourth-generation member of the store’s founding family.

Folks at the culinary department at Samuels and Son Seafood, the company’s wholesale division, were looking for a way to utilize the bellies of a fish called swai. It’s basically the same thing as catfish, but because it comes from outside the U.S. — usually Southeast Asia —can’t officially be sold here as “catfish.” Swai’s flavor is also slightly milder than American catfish, per Mirigliani.

Like other, more recognizable belly cuts — think pork belly (bacon) or tuna belly (toro) — swai bellies are extremely fatty, and are often discarded or turned into scrap after flaky filets are cut away. But the extra fat also means they’re extra flavorful.

To harness that flavor, Mirigliani takes the frozen bellies and blanches them in hot oil for nearly 25 minutes, rendering down the fat. He then dries them on large trays, where they wait for customers. To order, he drops nearly a pound of the fish back into the oil — a double-fry method similar to what Federal Donuts does to its chicken. The jawns are then drained and tossed on a plate with hot sauce for dipping.

Ippolito’s chef Gregg Mirigliani
Ippolito’s chef Gregg Mirigliani Credit: Danya Henninger

The dish was introduced at the beginning of July and subsequently discovered by an intrepid Redditor who likely couldn’t resist trying them because of the name — he or she goes by “DrJawn.”

“I’d love to meet DrJawn to say thanks for the publicity,” said Mirigliani, although he does think the jawns should be selling even faster. “At this price (99 cents), I shouldn’t be able to keep them in stock.”

Newsworks gave them a try last week, and had great things to say about them — even though they were delivered and not eaten on site, straight out of the fryer (highly recommended).

Ippolito’s is located just a few blocks west of East Passyunk at 1300 Dickinson St., and crispy fish jawns are available whenever the store is open (10 AM-7 PM Monday-Thursday and Saturday; 10 AM-8 PM Friday).  The prepared food menu also features plenty of other options, including sashimi tuna tacos, crab cakes, oyster po’ boys and fish ‘n’ chips. Mirigliani is working on a few new items, too — look for lobster-cheesesteak spring rolls and coconut shrimp with a great roasted peach-vanilla sauce to show up soon.

Coconut shrimp with roasted peach-vanilla sauce will be on the menu soon
Coconut shrimp with roasted peach-vanilla sauce will be on the menu soon Credit: Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is a Philadelphia-based journalist who believes local news is essential for thriving communities, and that its format will continue to evolve. She spent six years overseeing both editorial...