Fast food fries may just be a side dish, but for a lot of people they’re what makes the trip to the drive-through worth it in the first place. Ever since White Castle started serving french fries with their burgers in the 1940s, the duo of burger and potato has been unstoppable, but some of the fries on this list are so good that no burger is needed at all. The perfect fry only requires a sprinkle of salt, and maybe some ketchup if you’re feeling fancy, but really, they should be able to stand on their own.
There’s a surprising amount of variety from one fast food restaurant to another when it comes to spuds. Curly fries, cajun fries, and even crinkle cut fries make an appearance, but only one fry reigns supreme — can you guess which? In the meantime, we dare you *not* to race out for an order of french fries after making your way through our ranking of the best (and worst) fast food fries in the nation.
23. White Castle
Has anybody ever not had an order of White Castle fries where at least half of them were devoid of crispiness? The Castle does a lot of things well, but their crinkle-cut style fries aren’t one of them. If they’re not limp then they’re almost always a lacking in salt. It’s definitely not an issue of just one location not having its act together either — this is true no matter what Castle you choose to frequent. The exception is White Castle’s sweet potato fries which are a welcomed sweet and crispy treat whenever they make a menu appearance. In fact, the Castle should ditch their old fries and make the sweet potato fries a mainstay already. It would at least get them a higher spot on our list.
22. Dairy Queen
Yes, Dairy Queen does fries. No, they probably should not. Hit up DQ for a burger and some fries and you should probably be seriously questioning your life choices, because you’ll be paying way too much for a not-so-great meal. Fries aren’t tough to get right, but part of DQ’s problem seems to be getting them cooked completely. And that results in nothing but sadness.
But here’s the thing: Dairy Queen actually gets some points for their fries, because you can make them better. Use them to dip in some ice cream, and suddenly, they’re not half bad… although that might say more for the ice cream than the fries. They should probably just sick to what they do best, which is ice cream — unless, of course, they decide to try out a french fry blizzard. We’d definitely give that a try!
21. Shake Shack
Shake Shack is the hippest of hipster places, with lines out the door for their smashed burger. The Shack had quite a kerfunkle in 2013 when they switched fries from their crinkle cut to something more in line with their image; fresh cut. It didn’t work. They went back to the original style, but took out all the bad stuff to make a "fresh frozen" crinkle cut fry. But it’s still not very good. Shake Shack fries are just there, nothing to them really. Yeah, people love them, but people love Shake Shack burgers too and it’s just a $10 Steak ‘n Shake burger — way overrated.
20. Johnny Rockets
Here’s the thing about Johnny Rockets: their fries — on their own — aren’t bad. They’re made with the skin on, which is awesome and really, the only way fries should be made. PETA confirms that they are actually vegan, and while it seems like fries might be a safe choice for vegans and vegetarians all of the time, they’re not always. So kudos there, too.
The problem starts when you add things like cheese, chili, and bacon — which is exactly what tends to happen when you’re at Jonny Rockets. That’s when they tend to turn into a mushy mess, because a lot of the time, they just don’t stand up to the topping. Skip the chili, get the fries, and you’ll skip the regret, too.
19. Raising Cane’s
This chicken finger joint is a fan favorite anyplace where you can find it. The chain is only a little over 20 years old but they turn out a fine piece of chicken and a nice signature sauce. The fries, however, aren’t great. They’re crinkle cut, but they’re often soggy and inconsistent. It’s worth noting that the fries with the chicken, and the sauce work in concert to really hit your taste buds, but the fries alone, not so much. Without the sauce, these fries are pretty sad.
There are certainly people walking among us who think waffle-cut fries are superior to regular fries, but well, those people are wrong. If they were right, Chick-fil-A wouldn’t be the only chain selling them. Chick-fil-A’s waffle fries feel like the potato wasn’t sure if it wanted to be a chip or a fry and this odd compromise is what we get. If you get a fresh order that’s crispy because they’ve been cooked a little longer, the waffle fries are pretty good and pair nicely with Chick-fil-A’s various nugget sauces — which is what you’ll need to give these bland potatoes a bit of flavor. Speaking of nuggets, we all know everybody’s going there for the chicken and not the fries.
17. In-N-Out Burger
In-N-Out Burger is known for making everything in-house, from their hand-formed burger patties to, yes, their french fries. The fries are hand-cut and cooked in 100 percent sunflower oil, then sprinkled with salt, which sounds like a winning combo — but unfortunately, they fall flat. If you order a regular fries, they’re pale, lacking crispiness and flavor. It comes down to the cooking method. To get the crispiest fries, you should soak your potatoes to remove residual starches, then cook them once at a low temperature to gelatinize the exterior of each fry, then cook them in oil at a high temperature, to get that perfectly crispy exterior. In-N-Out just cuts the potatoes and dumps them in oil for a single fry. You can go off-menu and order well-done fries (or, even better, well-done fries Animal Style), but if you have to work that hard to make a passable order of fries, it seems that the classic recipe just isn’t working.
16. Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr
It would be fast food blasphemy to offer something like the Monster Thickburger without fries to go along with it. The fries here are good enough, but they’re certainly not the stars of the menu. The natural-cut fries have a little potato skin left on them for texture, which of course can be a positive or negative depending on your preference.
Regular fries not your thing? Then try the Crispy Curls which have a taste similarity to Arby’s curly fries, but with less seasoning. Even with those tasty fries, though, most of them tend to be broken, which sort of defeats the purpose. Isn’t the whole point of curly fries seeing who can get the longest, most perfect curl?
15. Taco Bell
Taco Bell only recently got into the fry game. Previously, if you wanted a side dish you’d have to opt for something like tortilla chips, but in 2018 the chain introduced Nacho Fries to their restaurants. These crispy fries are different from their burger chain counterparts in that after they’re fried, they’re coated in a signature Mexican seasoning blend, and are then served with warm nacho cheese sauce. Believe it or not, these fries deliver. The potatoes themselves are crispy outside and soft inside, and the Mexican seasoning blend is just spicy enough that the nacho cheese sauce dip has a cooling effect. Though these fries are indeed worth a try, they don’t make it to the top of the list for two reasons. First, they’re only available occasionally — twice as a limited-time item in 2018, and once as a limited-time item in 2019 (so far). Second, they come pre-seasoned, so if you don’t love that blend of spices, you’re out of luck. Bonus points for including cheese sauce for dipping, though!
If you go to Popeye’s you could get an order of the chain’s Cajun Fries as a side to your chicken, but honestly, you might be better off with a buttery biscuit. The fries aren’t bad per se, but there are some notable flaws that keep them from being a stand out. They have a crispy coating, but it seems like some sort of flour or cornstarch batter, and the fries themselves don’t have that ultra-crisp exterior you hope for — they’re actually kind of floppy beneath the coating. As for the seasoning, it’s decent, but verges on the side of a little too salty, and if you’re going to call something Cajun, it might need a little more spice. If you’ve got to have fries as a side, then by all means add these to your order, but they’re not worth going out of your way for alone.
Jack-In-the-Box serves both plain and curly fries, but we’ll stick to their standard french fries for the purpose of this review. The straight-cut spuds are respectably crispy, not too salty or bland, and have a deeper potato flavor than those served up at other chains. That being said, there is a bit of an artificial flavor to them, and a sort of greasiness that begs for ketchup or a dipping sauce with some sort of acidity to cut through the fat. And, though they’re tasty when they’re piping hot, as soon as they get cold their texture becomes spongy and dry. As far as fast food fries go they’re definitely a treat, but you’ll want to make sure you have something to dip them in.
12. Steak ‘n Shake
There’s nothing more difficult to cook perfectly than the thin fry. It’s as much of an acquired taste as the fresh cut thick (and soft) fry a lot of popular chains use. But Steak ‘n Shake does two things very well — they’re consistently crispy, and they’re consistently hot. Shoestring fries might not be your thing, but at least you know what you’re getting, which is a plus. And as a bonus, you can request to have them covered in cheese sauce, which automatically makes them ten times better.
Wendy’s has the set up for what seems, on paper, like they’d be perfect fries. The fries are cut from whole potatoes and left skin-on, and they’re fried in vegetable oil and seasoned with just a bit of sea salt. But there’s just something missing. The fries are crispy outside, yes, but they don’t have the moist, fluffy interior we crave in a fry of this width — instead they’re curiously dry. They also just don’t have a lot of flavor — and that’s with the addition of dextrose, a type of sugar, and sodium acid pyrophosphate, a type of salt, to the potatoes. If we’re going to buy fries that contain weird additives and preservatives, we’d want them to taste better than this. Luckily, if you’re really craving a spud and you’re at Wendy’s, you’re in for a treat. Their baked potatoes can’t be beat.
Bojangles does a lot of things right. One of those things is all-day breakfast, another is great chicken, and finally, they make a wonderful, seasoned, flat steak fry. The easy way to season something is to make your seasoning overwhelmingly salt-based with some heat —you’ll find that at a lot of restaurants that claim to serve seasoned fries — but not here. At Bojangles, the true Cajun kick really shines through in each bite. It’s just a great fry, no ketchup needed.
We’re going to go out on a limb and say that most A&W diners visit the place for its root beer. The "all American food" joint can traces its roots back a full century and in that time they’ve been able to craft a rather good french fry. While A&W boasts that their fries are Russet potato thick-cut, you’d never mistake them for potato wedges and they’re certainly skinnier than Checkers or Burger King’s fries. They’re not the best we’ve had, but we wouldn’t turn them down, either. The skin is left on and the light salt and pepper seasoning is a perfect pairing with the obligatory root beer float. So to dip or not? That’s up to you.
8. Nathan’s Famous
If the only thing you know about Nathan’s is their hot dog eating contest, you’re in for a shock. The fries they serve are excellent. It’s a crinkle cut fry, but a little fatter than the usual one, and full of potato flavor. It’s not too crisp, but not so soft that it won’t hold up. If there isn’t a Nathan’s Famous in your neck of the woods try your local grocer; they might just carry a pack in the freezer. Try ’em and you’ll be in for a treat.
In a world of generic fast food french fries, Arby’s curly fries are an outsider. They’re a bright orange color and when every other fry plays it straight, Arby’s says "nah, we’re gonna make our potatoes look like corkscrews." The bold, yet not-overwhelming, peppery seasoning pairs up perfectly with Arby’s roast beef sandwiches — and dips better in Arby’s sauce than ketchup, if you ask us. Most of the time Arby’s Curly fries have an extra crispy texture to them, though you may get the occasional random fry that could have used a little more deep fryer love. While some have debated that all curly fries taste the same, a side-by-side taste taste with Hardee’s proves otherwise. These are the superior curly fry, hands down.
6. Del Taco
What the what? A taco place with great fries? A taco place whose names literally mean "of the taco?" None of this makes sense. But you know what Del Taco is? Familiar. Their crinkle cut fries have a taste you’ve had before — just like the ones mom made for you on a Wednesday night. They’re not trying to be anything fries shouldn’t be, like one of those other taco joints we can think of. They taste just like home, and that warm, inviting flavor makes a trip to a taco joint just for fries worth it.
Whataburger used to be a thing; almost 300 stores by the end of the 1970s, and a good reputation for some good, quick food. They’re still pretty big today in some places, and the fries, at first glance, look a lot like what you’d be served at McDonald’s. It’s the closest fry out there to a McDonald’s fry, for sure, but without that extra flavor that sets Mickey D’s apart. They’re pretty tasty, but something is still missing (and it’s not ketchup).
4. Burger King
There seem to be two major camps of fast food fry: skinny crispy fries that are mostly uniform so you get the same ratio of crisp and fluffy in each bite, and thick skin-on fries that are obviously cut from a whole potato and feel more homestyle. Burger King employs a different strategy: a classically uniform and crisp food fry, but made thick, like a hand-cut restaurant fry. Burger King’s fries are made from real potatoes, but they utilize potato starch, rice flour, and a few other choice ingredients to boost the crunch factor and seasoning. While they do get nice and crispy outside and stay pillowy-soft inside, what they’re missing is flavor. Unfortunately, these fries can be a little bland. Dipping them in ketchup definitely helps, and they’re by no means bad, but Burger King’s fries aren’t the best of the bunch.
A lot of people may not realize that WingStop even sells fries, but it turns out this is one of the best items on the menu at their 1100+ locations. In fact, WingStop has some of the best fast food fries around. They start with hand-cut potatoes, which are then fried until crispy and tossed with the chain’s signature seasoning blend. The seasoning adds a light salty, peppery, and sweet bite to each fry, bringing out the caramelized notes of the fried potato. Even better? You can ask for your fries "extra well done." This is the best way to appreciate them — extra crispy and deeply golden outside, super-soft and moist inside. That being said, they do have a homemade vibe, meaning some fries remain softer while others get extra crunchy and browned — it’s a textural wonderland. Add a side of cheese sauce if you’re feeling fancy and these hearty fries can be your whole meal, but even on their own, french fries don’t get much better than this at a fast food place.
2. Five Guys
Every fast food chain on the planet should be second guessing their fries because of Five Guys. Hand cut fries? Check. Generous helping? Check. Never mind that paper bag holding what would normally be three servings anywhere else but is one serving of fries at Five Guys in a greasy peanut oil mess. These fries have the perfect amount of salt on them every time, and have a texture that sits right in the sweet spot of being crispy without being dry. Sure, they might cost more than whatever sad potatoes Burger King is handing out, but buddy, are they ever worth it.
This isn’t some hipster list where we name something you’ve never heard of and declare that to be the greatest. Some things are classics for a reason, and that can definitely be said of McDonald’s fries. Maybe it’s because they’re so ubiquitous that we’ve all come to expect fast food fries to taste like a signature McDonald’s spud, but these really are like no other. Each stick is skinny, with a thick layer of crispy potato yielding to a moist, fluffy interior. The ratio of crunch to soft is spot on.
You know they’re good when they have the audacity to name them "World Famous Fries." Yes, that phrase is copyrighted by McDonald’s. That’s because their fries are awesome. They’re the perfect combination of potato, savory beef flavoring, salt, and crunch to be the reason people love their fries.