All fast food fries in New Zealand, reviewed and ranked
Summer Reading: Alex Casey goes on an odyssey to find New Zealand’s best fast food fries.
First published April 3, 2021
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I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve gone burger crazy in recent years, largely because of the growing range of meatless options available. And as someone who is a firm believer that the order of eating combos should be burger first, then fries, my experience of fries is often dull and stone cold the moment I approach them. This week, as the hot fry industry finds itself in the face of an absolute overabundance of thingsI wanted to reconnect with the humble fry and celebrate their place in our lives.
A note on scope and metrics: This is a fast food ranking, which means I’ve only visited chains that call themselves fast food, or have a drive-thru, or have their own internal delivery system. One obvious omission from this list is BurgerFuel, the home of high-powered fries (or is it mostly high-powered aioli?). Unfortunately, BurgerFuel calls itself “fast and casual” (which also describes how quickly I walk to the kitchen when there are free promotional cupcakes on offer), so they’re banned.
Kumara? It’s a different conversation. Corners? Way to drive a wedge into this particular discourse. Criss Cut? More like Criss Angel, because I don’t have the ability to handle that kind of sorcery today. This classification concerns the good old French fries. The chippy. The fried apple, if you consider yourself the queen of France. Each batch was consumed without sauce or additional seasoning, solely on an “as is, where is” basis and all in sadly quick succession:
9) Burger King ($3.30)
When I arrived at Burger King at the bottom of Queen Street, I immediately clocked a former reality TV star, which I think we can all agree is a very good omen for any fine dining establishment. The celebrity in question was the Rt Hon Ben Blackwell, a First Sight NZ married former groom whose wedding I attended in 2017. Later I would message him and get his feedback on his BK fries. “They were rubbish,” he disclosed, “dry and lacking in salt.”
I have to place Burger King firmly last in the frying stakes. Extremely inconsistent shading, extremely dry, almost no discernible flavor. I desperately stuffed five in my mouth at once and was momentarily transported to H20 Xtream in Upper Hutt. It’s 1998. I grab a bowl of chemical-tasting wave pool chips to celebrate my friend Jasmine’s birthday. In an instant, the happy memory is gone. It’s 2021. I’m alone, upstairs in a tired Burger King, tasting so little flavor that I suddenly fear I have Covid-19. At least I scanned.
8) Wendy’s ($3.50)
While I respect and admire Wendy as a female pioneer in a male-dominated industry, these fries frankly set the movement back 100 years. Of course, they are generously sized – often borderline Salad fingers length – but there is no magic here. They are pale, slightly salty and thicker than average, a classic fairground fry without any fun. These poor fries are just begging to be tossed in a pan of newspaper with sweet tomato sauce, but I have to play by the rules of the experiment. As is, where is. No exceptions. As I ate bland, starchy fries, I watched the brave folks of Queen Street strolling back and forth across the grand Civic crosswalk. A businessman on a Beam scooter nearly ran over an old lady. A seagull hitched a ride on the roof of a boy race car adorned with sexy woman stickers. Maybe the carnival was right in front of us from the start. I took a handful of Wendy’s fries outside to feed the daredevil gulls and they all flew away immediately.
7) Tacos Bell $3.50
“These might be a little hot,” the young lad warned as he slid across the Taco Bell tray with a really knockout bag of chips on top. A co-worker told me fries aren’t part of the Taco Bell canon in the US, so I was curious to see their take on a Kiwi classic. These iconic “Mexican Fries” were coated in a boatload of sweet, spicy, a little smoky seasonings and lots of tomatoes. And boy was it right – they were hot as hell.
Biguns. I don’t want my fries to taste like Biguns. Props for a very generous portion, but overall an overwhelming and confusing dining experience. A former radio personality from The Edge came in as I was leaving. Celebrities: are they really like us?
6) Dominoes ($4.99)
I’m not going to lie, every part of Domino’s frying experience was a surprise. I didn’t expect my name to appear in the lights, misspelled as “ALY” in store like I was a real star in the making. I wasn’t expecting the handmade coffin-style cardboard box. And I was NOT expecting fancy laces – last year’s Dominos being a chunky oven chip experience. They were dusted with a yellow seasoning, with the occasional suggestion of oven-roasted black bits. Frankly, I was dumbfounded.They were cold, but I’ll wear this one. Aly, always late. Perhaps because they had sat in the box for a few minutes, they were slightly soggy and had a moody chalky consistency that contrasted with the sunny yellow hue. “I love the size,” says my fellow French fries reviewer, “it’s like McDonald’s halfway through its growth into adult KFC.” He ate another. “They taste like oven fries. Not the best oven fries, but strangely I still love it. We are far from the lowlands now.
5) Texas Chicken ($3.60)
It was the crispiest golden girl group I’ve ever laid eyes on. Texas Chicken is a new experience for me, but I was curious about their fries which have a little chicken salt for your nerves. “We fry things. This is what we do. So of course we have the best fries,” the website boasted. “Straight and crispy cuts, they go perfectly with our chicken. But they are good enough to have on their own. As for all of Texas, I’ll be the judge of that.
The first thing I wrote after the first bite was “Bird’s Eye major vibes”. Remember when Bird’s Eye Golden Crunch Oven Fries first came out and there was this commercial with the family shouting loudly through film? Exactly the same energy. When you bite this fry, it bites you back. “Better than BK, better than Wendy’s” muttered my accomplice through a sharp case of potato throat, “those are right in the middle for me.”
4) Carl’s Jr ($3.30)
What an absolutely CLASSIC fry. Carl himself touts them as “premium, skin-on, naturally-cut fries” and frankly, he’s right. These fries don’t look very seasoned to the naked eye, but from the first bite, some kind of sorcery happens with the salt. They really taste like they’re seasoned with the depth of a neighborhood, but in a completely invisible way. Dazzling in its simplicity and confidence, the only downside was having to resist the urge to drown them in mayonnaise. Remember when Carl’s Jr opened and you could use all the mayonnaise, sauces and salsas for free? Take me back.
3) Pizza Hut ($3.99)
I had high, high hopes for the Hut. It was probably mostly out of nostalgia for the days of the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants, the cheerful “0800 83 83 83” jingle and that distinctive trapezoidal roof. “I feel very nostalgic eating these chips and playing video games,” my chip accomplice said. I felt nostalgic for New Lynn, bright green jelly and limp service, and puke on the drive home.There is one important thing about these fries. As the only crinkle cut offering available, these curvaceous numbers can grab more salt and flavor in ways their straight siblings can’t. Alas, they are also extremely thick and can get really soggy, really quickly. The best ones are yum, but as you progress the yields dwindle. Like life, really.
2) McDonald’s ($3.40)
A divine frying experience. Obvious, timeless, sure, inevitable. When I washed up at Britomart McDonald’s, I was warmly greeted by this comforting little bag like it was an old friend. These fries were pale, salty and slightly moist, just like me. They were extremely uniform in length, shade, and shape, and while I didn’t want to give The Clown any props, sometimes you just can’t mess with a classic. They are, of course, dramatically improved with McDonald’s ketchup, but I had to resist. The rules are the rules.
Just an aside, if you’re aiming for a “dinner and a show” from your food, these fries are perfect for making Chip Morse. As I picked up the chippies, two high-flying lawyer guys nearby started talking about “the case” and “their salaries” at an alarming volume. They were both eating burgers from the Gourmet Range but, oddly, neither of them ordered fries. I guess money can’t buy taste. I sucked up the crumbs and left, completely satisfied if not a little thirsty.
1) KFC ($3.79)
Before I start, I know: KFC fries can have their bad days. But the lot I evaluated in their posh Fort Street concept store was world class. First, they were so hot that I felt my fingerprints burning. But rather than pain, I felt exhilarated and ready to finally fall into a life of organized crime without the cops on my tail. The man next to me, also struggling with the heat, grimaced sheepishly as he dropped a fry in agony. He might join me on the first diamond heist. potato on a zoom call. But what really sets them apart is the chicken salt, a signature seasoning so coveted that they stopped leaving shakers because people kept poking at them. They’re crispy but not crunchy, chewy but not too soft and, as the New Zealand leader wisely pointed out. and KFC expert, exist entirely without sauce even needing to enter your thoughts.These fries are just the perfect circumference – more body than a small yarn, but not so thick that you feel like you’re becoming a
Congratulations Colonel, you have triumphed over Clown, King and Wendy to earn this coveted victory.