Awesome restaurants that have mediocre fries

From fast food restaurants to steakhouses, french fries are a staple side dish. No matter where you travel, you can generally rely on french fries as a greasy, crunchy, crispy-hot menu item that will provide a certain level of comfort. They're familiar, they're expected, and for most diners — they're good. Whether you like them crinkle-cut, straight, smothered in cheese and chili, or dipped in a milkshake, there are many reasons why Americans consume, according to National Geographic, nearly 30 pounds of french fries per year.

But not all french fries are the same. A plate of good french fries can hit all the right spots, whether you're craving salt, a crispy snack, or a hangover treat to sop up any residual alcohol in your stomach. But a plate of bad french fries is downright awful. Whether they're too soft, soggy, tasteless, or bland, or always cold when you order them at a certain eatery, mediocre fries can ruin a meal.

Unfortunately, despite some awesome restaurants' widespread, national, and even international popularity, they still haven't been able to nail down the perfect french fry — even if fries make up a large part of their business.

If you consider yourself a true fry connoisseur, these are the fries you'll want to skip the next time you order out or dine at a popular chain.

In-N-Out's bland and crumbly fries

In-N-Out boasts a strong cult following, so when Los Angeles Times columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson ranked In-N-Out's french fries as the worst in the country last year, chaos ensued. According to Peterson, "Before you tell me there's a way to 'hack' these fries, or somehow make them better, either by loading them with American cheese and secret sauce, or by ordering them well-done, I will grant this: It certainly doesn't make the fries any worse. Just as dumping the fries into a dirt pile on the shoulder of a highway access road and running over that pile with my car would also probably not make the fries any worse."

Strong words for french fries. Peterson claims that In-N-Out's appeal is all in the culture that the chain has built up around itself and the fries are lackluster at best. Sure, they're fresh, because In-N-Out is generally always busy, but they're also bland and crumbly, he notes. And he's not wrong. In-N-Out's best menu item is, arguably, its burgers. The burgers are what made In-N-Out famous from the start, when the first restaurant opened in 1948 as the first drive-thru hamburger stand in California.

So, if you've never been to In-N-Out before, do yourself a favor the first time you go. Don't put high expectations on In-N-Out's fries. Just savor the delicious burger and go on with your day.

KFC's disappointing attempt at fries

Before you argue that KFC is not an "awesome" restaurant, consider this: KFC has more than 23,000 restaurants, in more than 140 countries and territories around the world. Compare that to other chicken restaurants. Chick-fil-A, for example, only has 2,400 restaurants, in 47 states. Bojangles' doesn't even have 1,000 restaurants, as of last year, clocking in at just 759 combined company-operated and franchise restaurants. When it comes to the chicken fast-food industry, KFC reigns supreme. And while their chicken is "finger lickin' good", there's one thing that the restaurant hasn't yet perfected: fries.

Initially, all KFC offered in terms of potato sides were mashed potatoes, and then potato wedges. And as much as KFC strived to make their potato wedges a suitable fry replacement in the U.S., it never worked. (Meanwhile, KFC locations across the world were treated to french fries of varying types, like loaded french fries in Bahrain, and "zinger" fries, also in the Middle East.)

In 2020, the brand introduced its Secret Recipe Fries to the U.S., fries coated in the same secret recipe combination of spices that graces KFC fried chicken. The results, however, are disappointing. After so many years serving fairly delicious potato wedges, KFC should've just stuck with those. The fries aren't that crispy, are kind of soggy, and lacking when it comes to salt. While KFC did a decent job mimicking the herby flavor of its fried chicken, the taste just doesn't work on fries.

Chick-Fil-A's less-than-stellar waffle fries

Much like In-N-Out, Chick-fil-A has its own cult following and regardless of what you think of the chain's politics, you have to admit that the chicken is pretty good. From the original nuggets to the grilled nuggets, the classic chicken sandwich to even the homemade lemonade and thick milkshakes, Chick-fil-A has a pretty good menu and, unlike as is the case with many other fast-food restaurants, when you eat at Chick-fil-A, you don't feel terrible afterward. It's like fast food with a false side of health.

But when it comes to fries, Chick-fil-A falls to the bottom of the pack for one primary reason: the shape. Yes, waffle fries are good, but Chick-fil-A's waffle fries can't stand up to the better fries on the fast-food scene. The shape lends itself to less crisp, more sogginess, and when you're competing for best fries, you can't have any sog. It's not acceptable.

Now, Chick-fil-A should get a nod for the amount of salt in its fries. With 180 milligrams of sodium per serving, Eat This, Not That! reports that Chick-fil-A fries contain the least amount of sodium per serving than any other fast-food french fries. And the good news is, you can't even tell the difference. You won't really notice that anything is lacking. However, that's still not enough to make up for the less-than-stellar overall taste and texture.

Chili's heart attack waiting to happen fries

As far as sit-down, casual dining spots go, Chili's is good. However, if you're perusing the Chili's menu and considering the fries, hold up. You can do a lot better than that when it comes to ordering a side or even an appetizer.

Chili's serves fries several ways — as a plain, kind of sorry side dish, and then as a cheese-laden appetizer. And while you can hardly go wrong with cheese-covered french fries, the Chili's Texas Cheese Fries with Chili and Ranch is a heart attack waiting to happen. Clocking in at 2,310-plus calories per serving, the fries are tempting, but they're not worth what you're giving up in calories.

When the average diner only needs about 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day for adult women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day for adult men, according to the U.S. government, do you really want to give up the majority (or more) of your daily calorie intake for a plate of subpar fries? Yes, cheese is good; chili is good; ranch is good. But when it's all piled atop Chili's fries, you can do better. The fries themselves are a sad excuse for a french fry, thin and covered with spices in a bleak effort to make up for the otherwise bland taste, and so when you add all that other stuff on top of it, you might as well skip the fries and just have a bowl of chili and cheese.

Five Guys' fries are a greasy mess in a bag

Like In-N-Out, Five Guys is known for its burgers and the burgers are delicious. They're cooked fresh, topped with whatever you want from a whole plethora of topping options, and then served with a side of complimentary peanuts that you can pick up as you move through the order line. (The peanuts are a big part of the appeal of the Five Guys' experience.)

So you have your delicious, piping hot burger topped with all your favs and you have your peanuts, which go great with a cold Coke. Then there are the fries. After all the good Five Guys offers, the fries are a major disappointment. It's definitely no surprise that the fries are 1,314 calories per serving; they're more grease than french fry and all that grease is soaking through a paper bag onto your table, lap, car seat, whatever. It's just plain oily and gross, and makes for an overall soggy, limp fry. If they were possibly topped with some cheese and chili for that amount of calories, and served up in a boat versus a bag, they might be somewhat redeemable, but as it stands, Five Guys' fries are best avoided.

Dairy Queen's sodium-packed chili cheese fries

When you specialize in one item, and you do one thing really well, it's good to focus on that one thing. It's something that Dairy Queen could learn. While hardly anyone could deny the appeal of a Blizzard or a Dilly Bar, Dairy Queen's savory food menu as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. But then, what can you expect from them? They were founded on a rich history of ice cream and for more than a decade, ice cream was all they did.

We could talk about the sad chicken strips and salads on the Dairy Queen menu, but this list is about fries, and there's plenty enough to say about these soft, flavorless little guys. They're just lacking when it comes to flavor, texture, crisp factor, etc. But it gets worse — if you level up to Dairy Queen's chili cheese fries (perhaps you're hoping to redeem the original fries with a bit of flavor), you'll find that a serving comes with 2,280 milligrams of sodium, for more sodium than literally anything else on Dairy Queen's menu. It's definitely not the item to order if you're watching your blood pressure.

Sonic's "bleh" fries

Again, here's another restaurant that's found one thing (or actually a few things) that it does really well, and that should stick to that rather than attempting to offer a whole range of other items. And it's not even like Sonic's really great items are that far off from fries — have you ever tried the chain's tots? They're amazing! Crispy, crunchy on the outside, soft and piping hot on the inside, just the right amount of salt; and you can get them with various toppings, too. Plus, you can shamelessly eat tots at any time of the day; they're a perfectly acceptable breakfast food.

But when Sonic steers away from the tots that the brand does so well, and gets into french fries, they really drop the ball. It's a conviction that many diners hold, with Reddit users describing the fries like so: "too much salt and never cooked all the way ... Sonic fries just taste funky to me, I can't seem to place the taste." Another Reddit user simply noted that Sonic fries are just "bleh."

The main takeaway? When dining at Sonic, go with what Sonic does well — tots, chili dogs, specialty drinks, and ice cream — and stay away from the less-than-ideal and totally "bleh" fries.

Taco Bell's out of place nacho fries

Taco Bell has no business serving fries. It's like if Panda Express or Olive Garden started serving fries. French fries aren't even the right cuisine. They don't match any of the other items on the menu. They stick out like a sore, sad thumb. Yet, still, Taco Bell throws out its attempts at french fries every few years, seeing if they'll actually stick this time, when all they really do is falter and fail.

Yes, Taco Bell makes a fair and good attempt at Taco Bell-ifying its fries, calling them nacho fries, but they're really just regular, seasoned fries with a side of nacho sauce. Can we really expect more from Taco Bell, though? The same restaurant that makes taco shells from Doritos and throws the bare minimum ingredients in a flour tortilla and calls it a burrito? Probably not. But that's why Taco Bell fans enjoy Taco Bell. 

One Eater reviewer called the Taco Bell nacho fries sauce "more chemical than culinary" with "little discernible taste" and an absolutely surreal hue of yellow — all of which are correct. As for the fries themselves, they were deemed thick, with a texture akin to instant mashed potatoes.

Carl's Jr. and Hardee's calorie-laden disappointment

Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, the same chain that goes by different names in different geographical areas, aren't exactly known as restaurants to visit if you're watching your waistline. When it comes to french fries, especially, you really run into some hidden calories, sodium, and fat. The natural cut french fries are okay, as far as fries go, but the criss-cut fries, the chain's version of a waffle fry, pack 900 milligrams of sodium, 450 calories, and 29 grams of fat, just for a small order.

What about the taste and texture? As far as fries go, they're not the worst you could order. But when they're packing that much sodium, calories, and fat, you could go with better fries at better restaurants. Or, you could just go ahead and order one of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's' tastier items, like their burgers and breakfast sandwiches, and really make your calories worth it.

The fries are Popeyes' worst side dish

Popeyes delivers stellar Southern-style fast food. From fried chicken to biscuits, red beans and rice to coleslaw, the menu serves up some seriously delicious eats. However, why would you go with the brand's Cajun fries, when you can order actual Southern, side dish staples that are legitimately good?

Popeyes ought to stick with what it knows best — fried chicken and other Southern foods. Just because you put Cajun seasoning on french fries, that doesn't make them necessarily Southern or Cajun at all. It just means you put something similar to Old Bay on there and called it a day, because you know that some poor sucker will fall for your french fries in the drive-thru, just because you're a fast-food restaurant and fast-food restaurants supposedly know french fries ... right? 

Diners, do yourselves a favor and, if you've only tried Popeyes' french fries, and you've yet to discover the tasty mashed potatoes and gravy, as well as the Cajun rice, branch out from the french fries the next time you're at this fast-food chicken joint.

Burger King's pale and bland french fries

As far as American fast food goes, Burger King is a staple, up there with Wendy's and McDonald's ... yet the restaurant's fries fall short. Bland, pale, and overly soft, they're not as satisfying as you would hope. Luckily, Burger King has a really nice replacement option on its menu, something that neither Wendy's nor McDonald's offers: onion rings. Burger King's onion rings are crunchy, full of flavor, satisfying, and come with a zesty dipping sauce (though some strongly disagree in regards to these onion rings). So if Burger King does onion rings so well, why can it not seem to get its french fries right? Even Burger King's chicken fries — oddly yummy ground chicken forced into the shape of a fry and coated in thick, crunchy, fried batter — are better than the chain's regular fries.

Order the onion rings as your side the next time you're at Burger King and you'll never go back to BK's fries again.

Raising Cane's soggy, steamy pile of fries

Another chicken restaurant, Raising Cane's is on the smaller side, with only 500-plus locations worldwide. Popular in college towns, the restaurant offers a very limited menu, primarily limited to chicken strips, a special dipping sauce, fries, toast, and lemonade. And all of it's good, except for the fries.

Raising Cane's gets high praise for its chicken strips, which are super crispy and high-quality, and its dipping sauce packs a kick of flavor that's tangy with a bit of spice, without overdoing it. The two paired together make a heavenly combination. But the restaurant should've taken a bit longer when it came to developing its fries.

The fries, once you get them, are often soggy. This is because Raising Cane's packs your meal away in a styrofoam container. By the time you get to your car or home, all of the steam from the food has soaked its way into your french fries, resulting in a moisture-soaked, falling-apart pile of french fries. The fries also lack in flavor, with not a lot of salt, forcing you to dip your fries in the special sauce if you want to taste anything beyond bland potato.