The Best Fast Casual Fries, Ranked from Meh to Mouthwatering
Who offers the best fries to pair with your fast casual burger? We found out.
Fries aren't just a side. They're the side. They can make or break your cheeseburger meal. So, the fact that so many chains seem to just skate by with mediocre fries is astounding. Too often we silently accept—and eat—meh fries, chalking their sogginess or lack of flavor up to the burger-eating game. That changes today. Today, we celebrate the good fries, the crispy potatoes that truly enhance your meal.
We already know who makes the best French fries in the fast food arena, so we've turned our tastebuds to major fast casual chains, like Shake Shack, Steak 'n Shake, Five Guys, and others, to find out whose spuds are superior. We'll admit that this felt like an impossible task at first, but with key criteria—potato flavor, crispiness, saltiness, and overall quality—in place, clear contenders for the top spots emerged. And, hey, we'll never pass up a challenge that involves eating mountains of fries in the name of service journalism. Without further ado, here's what we found.
The flavor of fresh potatoes shines through with these thicker-cut, skin-on potatoes... if they don't come overcooked (in two different orders we tried, the fries were a bit tough, and slightly burnt tasting). The plain fries, like many of the menu items at BurgerFi, lack overall seasoning. However, they're improved immensely when dipped into ketchup and add-on (for an upcharge) sauces including ballpark-style cheese sauce and a smoky bacon-jalapeño ranch (which sadly only fills half a tiny, plastic sauce cup). To guarantee your fries won’t be lacking in flavor, they can also be ordered Urban Style with aged parmesan, fresh rosemary, parsley, and garlic aioli, or Truffle Style with truffle oil aioli and aged parm, as well as versions with chili and cheese or simple cajun spices.
At first glance—after we tore open the brown paper bag that housed the steaming food—Wayback's French Fries look bland. Beyond a few salt crystals here and there, you'd be pressed to find any other inkling of seasoning. So, when we bit into the first few fries we pulled from the little cardboard boat they came in, we were hopeful that the flavor would come from elsewhere, like the soft potato-y center.
Unfortunately, that's not the case. These fries are mostly flavorless on the outside and the inside. On the bright side, every fry comes perfectly cooked—roaring hot, and equal parts crispy and soft—but without any seasoning and baked-in flavor, you have to rely on dipping sauces to enjoy them. Not the end of the world by any means, but not ideal either.
Fuddruckers’ fries look... tempting, we say reluctantly. They’re thick like steak fries, curved along the side as if sliced from a real potato, thin along the third edge. The wedges are colorful with a dark-orange powder plus black bits of what must be pepper. The fries have heft, which seemed promising, but... you can eat just one. The fries aren’t icky. The flavor is okay, just dull. The outside is firm but not a bit crispy. The inside is a bit mealy, and since these have ample-size interiors, that’s a lot of so-so spudness. The seasoning powder adds a slight chemical tang. We like a saltier fry, although a quick shake can remedy that. Unless you eat fries as a conduit to ketchup, you’ll have no real reason to pack away your whole portion. Next time we’ll try the onion rings.
True to name, Fatburger’s Fat Fries are several times thicker than what you’ll find at many chains, which is perhaps why the bag itself seems to come with a probably-perfectly-reasonable-but-still-less-than-the-supersized-American-portions-we’re-used-to amount of fries. They’re crispy without a hint of sogginess, complete with a fluffy center that reminds you that these fries were in fact whole potatoes at one point not so long ago. However, one big drawback is the complete lack of seasoning, including salt. This might not be a problem if you’re taking the food home where you can presumably shake salt into the bag until your heart's content, but might prove annoying for those who are eating them on the go.
Fries add such joy to so many meals. So why don’t restaurants try harder? At Steak ‘n Shake, the standard burger sidekick is called Thin ‘n Crispy Fries. Such taunting! They look as appealing as they sound. Thin sticks of deep-fried potato, close to gold but not quite there, beckon from a cardboard holster. But, despite the restaurant’s retro vibe and hand-dipped milk shakes, these fries fall as flat at the signature smushed/smashed burger patties. The thin sticks jut out temptingly, so much so that we had to pop a couple, then a couple more, into our mouths even before unwrapping the cheeseburger. They’re… fries. Not bad, not special, not crispy, not soggy, not salty, not salt-free. Just well-named. Their handy little size is such a tease; we downed a few in spurts throughout our lunch. Burger, fries. Burger, fries. But we left the rest, and then noticed a a bit of a downside: the oily aftertaste may not be worth the caloric sacrifice.
The super-cool, standout thing about Smashburger's flagship fries is that they come seasoned with rosemary, garlic, and olive oil. If you're tired of eating nothing but regular fries in various shapes and sizes like we admittedly ended up halfway through this potato-filled adventure of ours, these offer a welcome twist. Importantly, the additional flavors are built on tasty fries, a solid foundation. They're the type of fries that truly taste like potatoes, with an ideal texture that reminds us of McDonald's fries. Our only wish is that Smashburger fried them for just a tad longer to cut down on the number of extra-soggy spuds in the bunch.
Unlike this regional chain's delightful fried chicken sandwich, the fries at Zaxby’s miss the mark overall, though they do deliver potato-y goodness. They’re crinkle cut and filled with fluffy potato, but the exterior is unevenly seasoned. When you get the right amount of seasoning, the fries have a little bit of kick and saltiness. Some bites, though, give you naked fry while others overwhelm you with the seasoning. At the end of the day, they’re merely good—certainly not the best, but far from the worst.
Of all the shoestring fries in all the world, these might be the thinnest and crispiest we’ve tried. Utterly addictive, the long, skinny strips of potato come right out of the fryer to get dusted with their fry seasoning, which consists of salt, garlic, onion, paprika, and turmeric. What’s truly amazing about these spudsters is their supreme crispiness makes them enjoyable even after they get cold (if any of them even survive for that long), yielding to more of a potato chip experience. They’re also served with your choice of ketchup or Freddy’s fan-favorite Fry Sauce, which delivers a ketchup-mayo hybrid with the same mixture of spices for perfect compatibility with the fries themselves.
Shake Shack makes the best cheeseburger in the fast casual space, so it's only fitting that the NYC-based chain serves up damn-near the best fries. They possess the kind of greatness you take for granted because they're always delicious, no matter where you are or what time of day. Shake Shack fries are so consistently good that you don't have to think about them, let alone worry about them. All you have to do is enjoy them—and maybe try to savor them because they disappear so quickly.
Of course, they're crinkle cut fries, which provides two major advantages over many other types of fries: extra surface area for added crispiness and ridges (crinkles!) to better catch and hold salt crystals. Inside, they deliver on the earthy potato flavor you crave alongside a juicy cheeseburger. They're the kind of high-quality fries you can easily eat naked or dipped in simple Heinz ketchup and not feel like you're doing it wrong. In fact, the only wrong move here is not ordering them every time you hit up your local Shack.
Among the deluge of signs touting its own greatness, inside a Five Guys you’ll find a sign that says where the potatoes used for your fries were grown. They care about those potatoes. And you know what? It shows in the finished product. It's possible when eating fries at Five Guys to remember that this mass-produced foodstuff was made from a vegetable. That's a helluva achievement even among fast casual chains and a testament to their overall quality.
These fries aren’t so thick that you’d group them with steak fries, but they’re not skinny either. They have a nice crunch on the outside and the inside is a soft, fluffy potato that tastes like it was cut today and not weeks ago in a factory before it was frozen or stored in a bucket of water. The unbeatable freshness—plus the lovely balance of crispy and fluffy textures—makes the buttery potato flavor in these fries shine.
In other words, do not fill up on the free peanuts while you wait for your food. Do your best to be patient until you can dump your cup of fries onto your burger's unfurled foil wrapping. They deserve prime real estate in your stomach.