Who’s got the best fries?
French fries, aka. chips, aka freedom fries, are a delightful treat enjoyed the world over, and they’re a staple of the fast-food meal.
And what is fast food, exactly? For the purposes of this survey, I’ve selected chains where there’s an emphasis on speed of service, you’re not waited on at a table, and where there are at least a couple hundred locations, if not more.
I ordered medium- or regular-sized fries (when available) and judged them based on the two metrics: (1) taste and (2) texture, which includes fry shape and mouthfeel.
(Editor’s note: This story has been edited to include only restaurants with locations in southeastern Minnesota.)
1. Five Guys
This is No. 1 with an asterisk, like Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points, or Cy Young’s 749 complete games. Not only is Five Guys No. 1, but it’s also so far ahead of everyone else it’s almost unfair. You get a generous heap of hot, properly salted, natural-cut spuds, with a good balance between crispy fries and the odd one that’s pleasingly soft. Five Guys fries in peanut oil, which imparts a milder taste than more industrial oils that mask potato flavor. These were the fries that tasted most strongly of tuber.
Excellence comes with a price, though – a medium order of these fries costs roughly double that of other chains.
Texture ranking: 2
McDonald’s fries, for approximately 4½ minutes, while they’re absolutely searing hot, are the greatest food on Earth. But their half-life is astoundingly fast, and by the time these babies are cold, they taste like mealy little icicles. The batch I sampled was warm, not piping, so their greatness was compromised. But I love a thin fry and, perhaps more, I love the memory of great McDonald’s fries I’ve had in the past.
Texture ranking: 1
Blessed be the curly fries, and my memories of eating them in the high school cafeteria. Always consistent, with their burnt sienna coating and powdered onion and garlic flavor, and always delicious. The special treat? The one fry that didn’t quite uncurl and left the fryer in one giant potato-y, batter-y lump.
While other fast food places also have them, Arby’s is the chain that’s really known for its curly fries. How it came to corner the market on that, I’m not sure, but I’m fairly convinced it’s kept the lights on – when was the last time you ate one of their roast beef sandwiches? Curly fries are delicious – crispy, assertively seasoned and amusingly shaped – but they almost feel like cheating. Like, would it even be possible to mess up a curly fry?
Texture ranking: 4
4. Dairy Queen
A heartier, thicker fry is what you’ll find at Dairy Queen, where employees hold Blizzard frozen treats upside down before handing them to customers in order to prove how thick they are. (It seems like an odd flex – when going over qualities you like in your ice cream, not many think, “Oh, you know, I just like it to be really thick.”)
The fries at DQ are hefty potato batons, long and girthy, with a decent crunch and respectable mouthfeel. The potato flavor isn’t particularly notable, but the chocolate-dipped vanilla cone you can get afterward will swaddle you in a dreamy, childlike warmth that will erase any memories of what you previously ate.
Texture ranking: 3
Disclosure: I was in a Wendy’s commercial several years ago wherein I played an office worker who got rhapsodically upset to strains of Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” over the fact that he wasn’t enjoying a delicious Wendy’s hamburger.
In real life, I don’t particularly love Wendy’s burgers (although I do enjoy a nice Frosty), and I think their fries are just above average. This batch of fries, “natural-cut with sea salt” and bits of potato skin attached, was pleasantly floppy – I don’t mind a soft fry – but it could have used a pinch or three more of that sea salt. The potato flavor was strong, and almost made up for other shortcomings.
Texture ranking: 5
6. Burger King
As goes life, Burger King will never truly escape the shadow of its more successful, better-looking brother, McDonald’s. Burger King’s fries seem to be a direct response to the skinny numbers they serve at McDonald’s: slightly thicker, and with a light, crunchy exterior that houses a fairly milquetoast, flavor-free interior.
Parents do play favorites, despite what we may hope, and Burger King, despite its efforts, can simply never win this battle. The fries at Burger King aren’t bad, but they’re certainly nothing to write home about.
Texture ranking: 6
7. Chick Fil-A
Waffle fries aren’t my favorite shape – why try to make your fries look like potato chips? But if you’re going to create a potato lattice, so much better to capture your condiment of choice, the lattice should have a crisp exterior.
The company, founded by Truett Cathy as The Dwarf Grill in 1946, operates on biblical principles and is known for a marketing campaign featuring cows understandably trying to save their own lives but are also somewhat typo-prone (“Eat Mor Chikin,” read their billboards). I would offer “Mak Betur Frys” as a counterpoint. The waffle fries at the location near USC, while hot and salty, unfortunately were also fairly soft and mealy.
Texture ranking: 7
Colonel Sanders’ original recipe of 11 herbs and spices is a closely guarded trade secret, supposedly locked away in a huge vault and signed by the colonel himself. And while I question the wisdom of never changing your chicken formula, ever, I will admit that it has lent a considerable mystique and aura to the brand, if not necessarily great food.
Kentucky Fried Chicken is the only chain in this rankings that showcases a wedge fry, which presents an issue: the best part of the fry is the outside, not the inside. With a thick potato wedge, there’s just too much inside. The advantage is that you get a stronger potato flavor than usual; the downside is that you don’t feel like eating many of them. They’re not as munchable or snackable, and they’re quite filling. KFC’s wedges are coated in a fried chicken batter-like coating, which adds some pepperiness.
Texture ranking: 8