In a way, this is a useless question. Fries should exist in an endless mechanical loop of dipping, chewing, and swallowing—thinking about them encroaches on the time one spends eating them.
But, at the same time, the answer to What’s your ideal fry? tells you so much about the people around you. While the revelation of someone’s inexplicable love of thick, not-crispy fries might tell you that a person who was, until that very moment, important to you is actually a steaming pile of human garbage, at the Lucky Peach office, we found that discussing fried potatoes mostly brought us closer together as a team. Read through our takes, then go and judge your friends and loved ones.
Ben Mims, Test Kitchen Director: Waffle Fries, specifically those covered in “Cajun seasoning” or seasoned salt. The waffle fries at Backyard Burger, an amazing burger chain in the South, are the best—the crisp outer shell to soft interior ratio is very high, which I love. I want maximum crunchy outside with just enough soft inside to get a chew going (shoestring fries are bad because there’s ONLY crunch). Plain waffle fries are okay for a casual date but seasoned waffle fries are the ones I’m going home with.
Brette Warshaw, COO: My favorite kind of french fry is the steak fry. When hot and just out of the fryer, they have the perfect ratio of crispy edge to tender innard: a reminder that you’re not eating pure crispiness or oiliness, but a POTATO. They are also a fantastic vehicle for lots and lots of ketchup.
I say this with full confidence and without the slightest bit of shame: the best specimen of steak fries can be found at Freds, the ladies-who-lunch, thirty-dollar-salad spot on the top floor of Barney’s in Manhattan.
Chris Cohen, Associate Editor: Brette that’s gross.
My favorite fries are from Houston’s, thin and crispy, the kind of fries you end up dipping three or five at a time. Some quick Googling indicates that they make them from scratch from Kennebec potatoes and toss them with salt in a dedicated Mauviel copper pot. But it’s really all about that high ratio of crispy exterior to potato interior. Nothing worse than a limp, gummy fry.
Peter Romero, Account Executive: My ideal fry is battered, providing an aggro craggy exterior that provides lots of crunch and is able to hold on to lots of seasoning. Crinkle cuts or waffle fries are a close second for the same reason.
Ryan Harrington, Editorial Intern: The ideal fry is, without a doubt, the longest, most tightly wound seasoned curly fry possible. Its surface area creates a crisp exterior (something thick steak fries often struggle with) while having enough volume to maintain a fluffy interior instead of getting dried out. Shoestring fries, all crisp no fluff, are hot garbage.
The seasoning means you can forego condiments if you must, but the shape also lends itself well to trapping the perfect amount of ketchup, aioli, cheese, etc.
Finally, they’re just uncommon enough to feel like a real treat in a sea of fried sides. There’s nothing wrong with something like McDonald’s style fries, but you can find that anywhere. When you see seasoned curly fries on the menu, it’s always an upsell. And that’s because they’re better.
Michelle Curb, Sales and Marketing: I second the seasoned curly fry! It was once a popular chain-restaurant staple in my youth and now has sadly fallen out of fashion. I think it is ripe for a comeback.
Kate Neuhaus, Marketing Manager: Seasoned waffle fries for sure. They are the kind of fries that can overshadow, instead of just compliment, the main dish they come with. My call-out goes to the Old Bay–seasoned waffle fries at Mother’s Ruin in Nolita. I find they don’t even need the overly precious sides of chipotle ketchup and caramelized onion and chive crème fraîche that they come with. They feel special enough on their own.
Kristina Bornholtz, Social Media Editor: My ideal fries were the ones once served in my middle school cafeteria for one dollar a basket. Seriously. Think McDonald’s-style fries but slightly soggier. I am a monster and prefer that almost all my foods err on the side of soggy. They were super salty and had that kind of “floppy” quality that would garner rejection from crispy fry lovers. You can find a FEW of these fries in most servings of classic fries. But this basket was ALL floppy fries. I spent two happy years eating these every Friday before the school system banned them from the menu and I switched over to cold lunch.
My second runner up would be fries similar to Kate’s—seasoned waffle fries from pretty much anywhere. Are waffle fries better just because of their shape? Unclear, but possible. My all-time favorites are from Champp’s Kitchen + Bar, dipped in their seasoned sour cream.
Aralyn Beaumont, Research Editor: Being British is more a part of my identity than it probably should be—my mom hails from England, but she’s half German, making me only a quarter English, and I only make it back to the mother land semi-regularly. All caveats aside, my mom’s fervent British pride echoes through my worldview: I want custard, not ice cream, on my pie, I love rain, and I want malt vinegar on my chips. Don’t worry, I don’t actually call french fries “chips,” but I do want my fries thick, so thick the cross section is the shape of a large square. I’m only eating these fries with a nice piece of fried cod or haddock, malt vinegar shaken all over everything. San Francisco, where I live, doesn’t offer me anything that comes close to the newspaper-wrapped take-out fries I get in the UK, but there’s an adorable little British pub just over the bridge in Muir Beach that just so happens to be across the street from where I horseback ride. Their fish and chips are more than decent. Can you think of a better way to follow up a ride through Muir Woods?
Rachele Morino, Circulation Specialist: My favorite fries are boardwalk fries, hands down. Just a big bucket of fries with the skins starting to crisp off, maybe a little burnt, covered in salt and vinegar. They’re especially great when a vendor practices good bucket form: a top half of fresh fries that have enough burning hot oil to make you eat with your mouth open (but not enough to make you stop), and a bottom half of perfect crispy pieces pooled in vinegar. I haven’t done any coast-to-coast comparison, but Thrashers french fries in Ocean City, Maryland, would be hard to beat.
Emily Johnson, Editorial Assistant: If I’m peering deep into my soul, my favorite fry is hot out of the oil from the global fast food chain called McDonald’s. Ever heard of it? The truth is that I love all fries: battered, covered in seasoning or herbs, shaped like waffles, or curly. I love the idea of being in a dimly lit French restaurant with a tall cone of fries that I can double dip in mayo and ketchup. But for an everyday, always delicious, 100-percent consistent and attainable fry, McDonald’s has everyone beat. I like to dip two or three at a time in ungodly amounts of ketchup.
Joanna Sciarrino, Managing Editor: I kind of don’t discriminate when it comes to french fries, but my ideal fry would probably be small–medium cut, crispy, well-seasoned, and kind of shaggy on the outside. But I don’t really know where that shag comes from. Maybe they’re double fried? Or batter dipped? Gosh, I hope they’re not batter dipped.
Peter Meehan, Editorial Director: I have no satisfactory answer to this question—I love french fries too much. I think that almost all french fries are good, even lesser fries like waffle fries and shoestring fries. Even sometimes steak fries, but not very often. The worst fries are those at In-N-Out Burger, which only monsters could enjoy. (The garlic fries served around San Francisco are also pretty terrible.)
The best fries I ever had were probably at Joe Beef in Montreal: cut from starchy Quebecois potatoes (the best potatoes, especially for this job), fried in beef fat, brought to the bar in a giant mixing bowl, into which Fred Morin first showered salt and then tossed in an egg yolk, to coat the fries. That was my entire dinner, and I was entirely satisfied.
But since this isn’t a fancy-off, I’m inclined to answer the actual question with the slightly wrong answer of cheese fries. Cheese fries, which I would define any shitty fries covered with or accompanied by shitty cheese sauce, are always pretty good. (The disgustingly gritty cheese fries at the Wiener’s Circle in Chicago are an exception.) They’re better than bad french fries without weird fake-cheese cheese sauce; they might be the apex of Sysco truck cuisine.
My daughters have inherited and/or learned this prejudice from their mother, who is the real cheese-fry freak in the family. My three-year-old sometimes gets the wintertime blues because she can’t go to the Dug Out, an entirely unremarkable seasonal ice cream shack with a deep-fryer down the road from Woodbury Common premium outlet mall, where she digs the cheese fries. And my older daughter, for a writing assignment in her second-grade class, once wrote this:
I know you think that cheeseburgers are the best food in the world but her’s why not. I think cheese fries are betr. I think they are yumme, cheese, often delicious. The best porte of cheese frise is you can eat theme with your fingrs! that way then you watint hif to do the dishis. Did I menchion mom grow up eatan them? So now do you bleve me? And if you don’t then all prove it to you. we can go to a restrant and ordre cheese frise. so come on I think you should blev me I mean come on serisle.
Yor cheese fries love dodr,
Who am I to argue with that?