Comparing fast food chains is like comparing apples to oranges. Each drive-thru has unique menu offerings that make them distinct. But there is one item that you can reliably find at just about every fast food joint: French fries. Unless you have your own deep fryer at home, fast food restaurants are the most accessible sources of crispy potato goodness.
Fries are the quintessential side for burgers and fried chicken sandwiches. And if they’re made especially well, they can overshadow the main and become the star of your meal. But if they’re made poorly? They become a soggy and disappointing footnote.
Fries can come in so many different shapes like classic, crinkle, curly, or waffle. But fries can also differ in the way they’re cooked (the difference between peanut oil, canola oil, and beef fat is staggering). And don’t even get us started on the effect that seasoning has on your spuds (if you’ve ever had the misfortune of eating an under-salted fry, you get it).
If the quality of your fries is an important factor when you choose which drive-thru to visit, this ranking is for you. We’ve tried fast food fries at some of the most popular fast food chains—from regional spots to international giants—to determine which ones were the best. And our number one pick just might surprise you.
Did we miss your favorite fries? Let us know in the comments.
In-N-Out Burger is highly regarded for a lot of things, but their fries aren’t one of them. The regional chain prides itself on making their fries from scratch from fresh potatoes (you can even see them cutting the spuds from the drive-thru!). But their commitment to freshness compromises the end product.
In-N-Out fries are always limp and a little too soft. Sure, you can ask for them to be “well done” or served animal style, but we firmly believe a good fry should be able to stand on its own.
Shake Shack has the makings of a good fry: they’re crinkle cut, they’re super crispy, and they’re well seasoned. But there’s one factor that completely and utterly ruins them: the oil.
We’re not sure if it’s the soybean oil itself that they use in the fryers or their cooking technique, but every single batch of Shake Shack fries tastes like rancid cooking grease. The same applies to their fried chicken. The gross greasy smell even emanates from the store itself. Hard pass.
Do you remember where you were the day they announced they were changing the fries at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.? Because we do. The burger chain swapped out their classic fast-food style fries with a “natural cut” version, which are thicker and leave the potato skins intact.
Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. initially advertised the natural cut fries as resembling the premium quality potatoes you can find at a sit-down restaurant. But they’re just less crispy and less satisfying.
Taco Bell may not be slinging burgers, but they do offer their own rendition of French fries for limited stints for the past six years. Their nacho fries have since garnered a bit of a cult following. What sets these spuds apart is Taco Bell’s signature seasoning blend. It’s cheesy, savory, and nicely spiced.
But…they don’t exactly scratch that French fry itch. Don’t get us wrong, we love cheese fries. But their nacho cheese sauce and Doritos Locos-esque seasoning aren’t what we have in mind. And if you consider Taco Bell’s menu as a whole, adding a side of French fries seems incongruous to the rest of our meal.
Arby’s gets bonus points for being among the few fast food joints that serves curly fries. We love the texture achieved by the extra surface area. And let’s be real: curly fries are just fun!
They aren’t without their flaws, though. Something about the frying technique and the seasoning blend leaves an unpleasant, unpalatable film on our tongues. It means we constantly have to wash it down with soda between bites and immediately brush our teeth afterward.
Burger King fries are fine. They’re crispy enough, salty enough, and taste good enough. We’re certainly not going to be upset when we roll up to the BK drive-thru, but we’re also not going specifically to eat their fries.
Their chicken fries, on the other hand? Worth the trip every time.
Normally, we’re skeptical of skin-on fries. More often than not they’re cut too large and never achieve the right amount of crispiness. The fries at Wendy’s are by no means perfect, but they were the most solid skin-on offering in our taste test.
The boardwalk-style fries at Five Guys are fried in peanut oil and sprinkled either with salt or a hearty dose of Cajun seasoning. Each order of fries comes in a 12-oz. cup, plus an extra scoop of spuds in the accompanying paper bag.
These fries are certainly not lacking in flavor, but usually we find Five Guys’ fries to be a bit much. A little too salty. A tad more greasy than we’d prefer. Finishing a serving of them leaves us feeling a little gross. We’re not expecting fries to be a light, refreshing snack by any means—but Five Guys’ version is just too heavy.
Waffle fries may be a polarizing cut, but we can all admit that Chick-fil-A does them well. There’s plenty of surface area for maximum crispiness and for dunking in their wide variety of sauces.
Chick-fil-A’s waffle fries are always nicely salted and actually taste like potato instead of stale fryer oil.
The menu at Raising Cane’s isn’t exactly what we’d call extensive. So odds are you’ll end up with their crinkle cut fries in your basket no matter what combo you order—which means there’s even more pressure for them to be delicious.
Thankfully, Raising Cane’s has stepped up to the plate. Their fries are the Platonic ideal of a crinkle cut fry: they’re crispy, fluffy, salty, and beautifully golden brown. Add in a side of Cane’s sauce and we’re happy campers.
We’d be delusional if we didn’t place McDonald’s near the top of the list. We’re still sad that they swapped out the beef tallow for vegetable oil, but at least carnivores and vegans alike can now enjoy them.
McDonald’s fries are always crunchy on the outside while staying delightfully fluffy inside. The potatoes are cut into the ideal size and shape. They’re always nicely seasoned. They’re nearly perfect.
We have a dark horse winning first place: Checkers (or Rally’s, depending on where you live). The fries at this chain are beer battered and seasoned in a savory, salty spice blend. They’re so crispy, so flavorful, and so satisfying. There’s a reason they bag their fries and sell them in the supermarket freezer aisle: they’re just that good.
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