Curly, wedge, crinkle-cut, shoestring or waffle: No matter how you like your fries, chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a fan of one of America’s most popular restaurant orders. Every year, the average American eats 30 pounds of these delicious, salty potato sticks. Whether you enjoy making your own crispy version from scratch or picking them up at the drive-thru, you, like most of us, are probably no stranger to the classic American french fry.
So, who’s mastered the art? Five Guys Burgers and Fries, a fast-food chain located mostly on the East Coast. The chefs are incredibly picky about their potatoes, only selecting spuds that grow in Idaho north of the 42nd Parallel. They’re even more selective about how the fries are prepared, requiring cooks to shake them exactly 15 times before serving. This meticulous process leads to a tasty result—but with a dark secret: it’s the unhealthiest fast food fry in America.
It’s no secret that French fries served crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, are the golden standard. But this Manhattan hipster favorite goes a step beyond others to assure the crunchiness of its spuds: introducing The Breslin’s thrice-cooked chips. These long, medium-thick slices of Idaho russet potatoes are first boiled, then fried twice in a sunflower and canola oil blend before receiving a dash of salt, and presented either as a stand-alone dish or alongside a feta-topped, chargrilled lamb burger. Only thing left to request: a side of cumin mayo for dipping.
With a slogan that reads “burgers on the side,” you know this is a place serious about its spuds. The potato reigns supreme in this state, and between the vast selection of sauces, seasonings, and spritzers, it’s possible to never try the same thing twice. The ordering goes like this: walk in, choose from six varieties of potato including purple, yam, and sweet, then decide how you’d like it cut. Next up, the dressing. Perhaps you’d like your curly Yukon gold fries topped with malt vinegar and served with a side of blueberry ketchup (that’s right: blueberry), or you might be craving a russet fry with rosemary garlic salt and Thai sour cream. Or why choose at all? Enlist some friends, and sample away.
At this family-run stalwart, the mountain of fries that comes in even a small order borders on the ridiculous—so no wonder the college kids keep coming back. Located on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, “The Dirty O” has a reputation for decadent spuds: hand-cut and peeled Idaho potatoes, twice fried in peanut oil, and served golden and crunchy on a cafeteria tray. The Original even has its own dedicated fry station, where you can order them with sides of gravy, cheese, or ketchup. 3901 Forbes Ave.; (412) 621-7388.
When it comes to delivering the perfect fry, it’s all in the name at this Portland sandwich shop. The locally sourced potatoes are twice fried in a healthy coating of duck fat that results in a crunchy exterior but leaves each fry’s interior fresh and tender. They’re then served in paper cones with a handful of specially made dips like smoked mussel mayo and chopped egg and caper mayo. Being close to Canada, Duckfat also offers its own version of poutine, topping those same crispy fries with a heaping of local cheese curd and house-made duck gravy.
Since its 2011 debut, Jasper’s has won a following for its bar offerings, including a menu devoted exclusively to fries. Seriously. You get to choose your fry (thin, thick, or sweet potato), your seasoning—options include smoked paprika and truffle, Parmesan, and herb—and, for an extra $3, add a cheese curd–based poutine. Word on the street is that the smoked cheese fondue is “to die for.” Jasper’s also obliges with a late-night menu ideal for entertaining the Tenderloin neighborhood’s after-hours crowd. The highlight? A helping of thick-cut fries, naturally, topped with buffalo mozzarella curds and hot brown gravy.
Late-night crowds line up at the counter of this tiny Capitol Hill neighborhood eatery for some of Seattle’s best fish and chips; after all, the fries alone are worthy of the wait. They’re hand-sliced, fried to perfection, and served in paper cups with dipping sauce (the tangy chili mayo is a perennial favorite). And while it’s hard to beat a helping of these crispy gems after an evening out boozing, Pike Street Fish Fry outdoes itself every third Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. by serving its fries for free.
This go-to source for upscale comfort food also has a reputation for creativity (ever heard of a Philly Cheesesteak soup?), and its fries are no exception. Chef Patrick Long specializes in Parmesan truffle fries, shoestring cut and tossed in truffle oil immediately after he takes them out from the fryer. He then tops them with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley. Pair them with a plate of BBQ pork biscuit sliders, and you’ve got yourself a satisfying southern meal.
Celebrity chef Michael Mina’s dinner-only restaurant offers up generous cuts of beef that are both organic and hormone-free—and its fries get the same attention to quality and detail. Mid-thick cuts of potato get dunked in duck fat to provide both their rich flavor and crispness, and an order covers three seasoning and sauce combos: rosemary herb accompanied by a side of spicy ketchup; onion-dusted with sour cream sauce; and smoked paprika with smoked barbecue sauce.
The fries at this Uptown neighborhood gastropub are consistently voted Denver’s best: they’re thick-cut, extra crispy, and simply put, phenomenal. They also come in four “World Famous” and original varieties, including Buffalo (doused in wing sauce and blue cheese crumbles with a side of dressing), and a Bacon Mac & Cheese that regular costumers swear by. Factor in a dash of nostalgia from the setting within a restored 1950s soda fountain.
Made with starchy baking potatoes -- flavored with garlic, fresh herbs and Pecorino Romano cheese -- and tossed with just a little extra-virgin olive oil, these fries emerge from the oven crisp and delicious.
One small serving of the fries contains a staggering 530 calories, but most people don’t order a small (especially since upsizing will only cost a couple bucks more). Instead, a large fry order contains a whopping 1,310 calories. That’s more than half the average recommended amount for a pretty active adult man for the entire day. To put it in perspective, that’s as many calories as a Five Guys hamburger patty, bun and milkshake combined.
The calorie count is also substantially higher than most other fast food fries. McDonald’s, often touted as one of the nation’s most fattening restaurants, packs a mere 510 calories in their large order of fries—less than half of Five Guys’. That said, a Five Guys large is way larger, weighing in at 568 grams vs. McDonald’s 178.
What your fast food worker won't tell you
What your fast food worker won't tell you
After we cook something, we put it in a holding cabinet and set a timer.
When the timer goes off, we’re supposed to throw it out. But often, we just reheat the food. So for the freshest meal, come between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. More people are in the restaurant then, so we’re cooking and serving new food constantly. (These are the worst meals you could order at a restaurant, by the way.)
That plain chicken breast may have been a healthy choice out of the package...
But sometimes we have to slather it with butter just to make sure it doesn’t stick to the grill. On the other hand, these healthy fast foods can satisfy unhealthy cravings.
There’s usually a way to get expensive menu items for less
If you’re craving a Big Mac, for example, order a $1 McDouble with no mustard or ketchup and then add shredded lettuce and Mac sauce for a small charge. It’s basically a mini Big Mac, and you can get two for less than the cost of one Big Mac. Check out more trivia facts you probably didn't know about McDonald's.
Most fast-food joints clean everything with super-concentrated chemicals at the end of the day
That includes the grills and the drink machine nozzles. If you’re one of the first customers in the morning, you may be getting some of that chemical residue on the food or in the drink you order—or, worse. You won't believe what was found on the ice in some fast food restaurants.
Those grill marks on your burger?
Not real. They were put there by the factory. If you want REAL grill marks, it's probably best to make your own at home with one of these burger recipes.
Most of us will cook something fresh for you if you ask
But if you want to make sure your french fries come right out of the fryer, order them without salt; that forces us to cook you a new batch. Then you can add your own salt, and they'll still taste the same. That's because of the secret ingredient that makes McDonald's fries so addictive.
Avoid asking for “extra” of something, like cheese or sauce
As soon as you say “extra,” we have to enter it at the register and charge you for it. Instead, just tell us you want us to “put a good amount on there” or “not to be skimpy with it,” and we’ll load you up.
Yes, our chili is made from what you think:
Meat from old burgers.
It makes me laugh when someone comes in and says she’s trying to be healthy—and then orders a salad with crispy chicken
At McDonald’s, some of those salads have about as many calories as a Big Mac. In fact, a small order of french fries contains four fewer grams of fat than a packet of our ranch dressing. Also, be wary of these "healthy" fast food choices that definitely aren't.
We’re timed on how fast we get customers through the drive-through...
...so we always prioritize those in line outside over anyone at the front counter. And after you leave the drive-through, use this trick to keep your fries crispy the whole way home.
One of my coworkers once got so mad that he spit in someone’s food
He was suspended for three days. Most of us would never do something like that.
Here’s a good way to know how clean a fast-food establishment really is:
When you get your drink, bend down and look up into the ice chute. If you see mold and other stuff growing in there—which is more common than you might expect—they’re not cleaning the machine as often as they’re supposed to.
Those gorgeous pictures of our food in our advertisements?
They’re airbrushed and touched up with fiberglass and paint. It probably takes two hours to make that picture. Obviously, we’re not going to be able to replicate that.
Please, please, get off your cell phone
I’ve had people pull up to the window, pay, and drive away without their food because they’re talking on the phone and not paying attention. Then they’re mad at me. Here are some more crazy stories from drive-through workers.
At most fast-food restaurants, it’s tough to give away free food
Especially things like burgers, because they’re inventoried. We can sometimes give away French fries, ice cream or drinks because we get those ourselves, but it depends on which manager is on duty.
We hate it when you order an ice cream
Most of the time, we’ve got to make it, and it’s already melting by the time we hand it to you. If you order four or five cones at a time, it’s almost impossible to get them to you before they melt everywhere, and then you want new ones.
Here’s something that surprised me when I started working at McDonald's:
Our clam grills are set at 750 degrees, and they can fully cook a regular beef hamburger in just 38 seconds, a quarter pounder in 70 seconds. The first time I ever saw that, I was like, 'Ewww.'
We’re happy to replace something if we mess up, but...
We can usually tell when you’re making up a story to get free food. There was one guy who found a pebble in our parking lot, put it in his food after he ate most of it, and then asked for a replacement. Another lady took 10 tacos home. The next day, she brought just a few of them back, showing us that their lettuce was brown. She wanted another 10 tacos. But of course, if you leave tacos out for 24 hours, the lettuce will turn. Love tacos? Here are some fun taco recipes to try.
Some fast-food workers definitely follow the 10-second rule
I have seen people drop food and then pick it back up and put it on the grill.
No, most of us do not donate our leftovers
I can’t believe how much food we throw out every day, especially at the end of the night. You, however, can do your part. Here's how you can cut back on food waste at home.
All fast-food restaurants are not created equal
Even restaurants within the same chain can vary widely depending on the owner and manager and what kind of standards they set.
When you take three handfuls of napkins or fill your purse with ketchup packets...
I don’t know what you call it, but I call it stealing. You’re just making things more expensive for everyone.
Please don’t ask what ingredients are in our fried chicken coating or in our special sauce
All of our recipes are proprietary, so they don’t even tell us what’s in them. But we can tell you why McDonald's Coke tastes better than anywhere else.
At some restaurants, managers get a bonus if they hold onto their employees and keep their turnover rate down
That gives us an incentive to keep people who aren’t very good, even if they don’t know the difference between a French fry and a screwdriver. And I’m not exaggerating; I’ve had employees who were that bad.
Most of us, even the managers, aren’t making much more than minimum wage
You wouldn’t believe the stuff we put up with for that kind of money. People constantly talk to me like I’m a two-year-old. I’ve had customers throw drinks at me and cuss at me. I’ve been held up at gunpoint.
At Taco Bell, most of our food does carry over, so we reheat it and serve it the next day
That’s why I never take my lunch break early. Plus, fast food can have some weird effects on your brain.
For the best deal at McDonald's, order off the dollar menu
You can get a lot of food for the same price as a meal and it will fill you up more.
We were supposed to wear gloves when we made food
But a lot of times my co-workers didn’t do it, and that really skeeved me out. Here are more dirty restaurant secrets the kitchen crew won't tell you.
Most of us don’t wash our hands as much as we should
Even though there are signs everywhere reminding us it's the law.
Look around to see how much trash is in the parking lot
And whether the bathrooms are dirty and if the dining room is picked up. When things that are so publicly visible are neglected, you can bet that even more is being neglected in the back and in the kitchen where no one can see them. That's just one of the things restaurant health inspectors wish you knew.
Once your order is in at the drive-through...
We have two minutes to get your food before the screen turns red, and the manager asks what’s going on.
We do laugh at you behind your back
Like when you mispronounce our menu items or when you think we can’t hear you through the drive-through speaker, yelling at your husband or kids.
When it was slow, sometimes we would all take the garbage out...
And smoke marijuana in the back. Really, it's true. Want more crazy food service stories? Here's everything your waiter isn't telling you.
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
Even if you don’t mind loading up on those extra calories, there are plenty of other numbers that make the Five Guys large fry a little frightening. They have 57 grams of fat, the equivalent of more than six Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and 1,327 milligrams of sodium, making the fries saltier than six restaurant salt packets. As for sugar, the fries aren’t too bad, with only 6 grams. But that doesn’t quite make them healthy.
Regardless, we think Five Guys fries are absolutely incredible—perfectly crispy on the outside but fluffy on the inside. Worth the $5 price tag? Most definitely. Worth the 1,310 calories? Hmm…we’ll let you weigh in on that.
The Wendy’s Harvest Chicken Salad has almost as much salt, fat and sugar as most people should eat in an entire day.
This salad may look and taste delicious, but it’s pretty awful nutrition-wise. Containing 570 calories, 37g sugar, 23g fat and 1,300mg sodium, “It’s almost a full day’s worth of salt, fat and sugar in a bowl,” said Heinrich. “I say ‘A’ for effort, ‘F’ for healthy.
Sorry, BK lovers — the burgers may delicious, but the salads aren’t healthy at all. “The biggest concern for me is the amount of sodium in this salad — 1,660 mg,” Samuels said. “That’s almost a day’s worth of the recommended amount of sodium in just one meal. And let’s not forget about the multiple fried items in this salad — fried chicken, croutons and bacon.”
Nutrition-wise, this salad doesn’t offer much, she said. “It’s just romaine lettuce and cherry tomatoes — those are the only veggies,” Samuels said. “It also has 610 calories per serving, which is about the same amount as a Whopper.”
Customizing the Taco Bell salad can help make it healthier.
First things first: Taco Bell’s power bowl isn’t exactly healthy. “Weighing in at a whopping 20g of fat, 1,230 mg of sodium and over 50 carbs, this bowl from Taco Bell is definitely a ‘power’ punch to your diet,” Heinrich told HuffPost.
Still, all hope is not lost. “The one positive is that you can customize the bowl, and the website is very helpful in laying out how many calories are in each ingredient. If you take the extra time, you may be able to create something healthy,” Heinrich said.
Carl's Junior's chicken salad offering only uses iceberg lettuce.
While Carl’s Juniors’ popular charbroiled chicken salad is low in calories (280 without dressing) and high in protein (32 grams), the rest of the salad is pretty “blah.” “They only use iceberg lettuce, and other than that all they have veggie-wise is a few slices of tomato and red onion,” Heinrich said. “The rest is cheese, croutons and chicken.”
Although Jack In The Box’s Grilled Chicken Salad is too high in sodium (1,093 mg), it has a few other redeeming qualities, Heinrich said. “The ingredients are mostly vegetables, and grilled chicken is a great source of protein,” she said. “Plus, it’s only 350 calories without the dressing.”
To make it healthier, she suggested going dressing-free and removing the black olives and cheese.
McDonald’s is perhaps the most popular food chain out there, and if you frequent those golden arches, we have some good news — their Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad is actually pretty good for you.
The salad has a great variety of leafy greens, Samuels said. “It has romaine, baby spinach, baby kale, Lollo Rossa lettuce, red leaf lettuce, red oak lettuce, red tango lettuce, red romaine lettuce, and red butter lettuce,” she said. “It also has a nice variety of vegetables, including black beans, roasted tomatoes, poblano peppers.” The salad is relatively low in calories, at 350 per serving without dressing.
There are a few issues with this salad, though. “It contains a whopping 1,070 mg of sodium,” Samuels said. “Plus, the cilantro lime glaze has a ton of preservatives and questionable ingredients, like propylene glycol alginate.”
Be sure to take the dressing's nutrition into account when considering Subway's salad.
If you’re looking for a nutrient-dense, low-calorie salad, Subway’s popular turkey breast salad is a good option. “This salad has a wide variety of vegetables compared to the other salads,” Samuels said. “It includes more nutritious salad greens like spinach, and also has cucumbers, green peppers, red onions, tomatoes, and black olives. It’s lower in calories (344 calories per serving), and has one of the lower sodium contents I’ve seen for fast food salads (560 mg), which is still considered high, but not as high as many others.”
The one thing to watch out for? Dressing. “The nutrition facts for this salad don’t include dressing, which is deceiving as we know because of the additional calories and sodium from the salad dressing,” Samuels said.
Good news, Chick-fil-A fans: Nutrition-wise, it doesn’t get much better than this salad. “The Grilled Market Salad at Chick-fil-A may be one of the best nutritional salads offered in the traditional fast food salad arena that I’ve seen,” Heinrich said. “It’s high in protein and fiber and not a disaster in sodium and fat. It has nice portions of fruits and vegetables.”
To make it healthier, Heinrich suggests removing the blue cheese and keeping the dressing light. “This is a fantastic salad to grab-and-go on occasion when you’re in a ‘find a healthy food’ bind,” she said.