clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
An illustration of French fries.
French fries will always be better in NYC.
Lille Allen/Eater

New York Has Perfect French Fries. Just Ask Los Angeles.

“Fries kind of define the overall quality of a restaurant.”

When I moved to Los Angeles from my native New York two years ago, I wasn’t worried about lacking access to the foods from home, but a few months into my new life, I began to realize something unfortunate and shocking: There were no good fries.

That’s a sweeping statement; there are some good fries in Los Angeles. But there are a lot of bad fries: I’ve been served flavorless, pale fries including those at places that are otherwise wonderful. The first time, at the French bistro Gigi’s in Hollywood, for example, I was aghast. My dining mate, a Californian, didn’t get it. “Fries are meant as an extra thing if you need something else on the table. They’re never that good,” she said. What?! No: Fries should be excellent. They should be the indulgence you don’t regret — otherwise, they’re not worth ordering.

Bison au poivre sits on a plate, slathered in orange cream peppercorn sauce; a plate of fries sit on the side.
Fries at Le Rock.
Le Rock

Fries “define the overall quality of a restaurant,” says chef Lee Hanson, behind Le Rock in Rockefeller Center and Tribeca’s Frenchette. He, alongside Riad Nasr, created the gold standard of New York fries at Balthazar back in 1997. Hanson and Nasr’s fries boast a handful of traits that make them exceptional.

Hanson aims for “a crispiness that lingers a bit — because they do get droopy as soon as they hit the table — a tender and fluffy inside, a nice golden-brown color, and well-distributed salt.” To make fries with main character energy, he peels large Idaho russet potatoes, cuts them into long skinny rectangles, soaks them overnight to get rid of excess starch, blanches them in peanut oil, and then cools them on sheet trays. He pops them into the refrigerator until they’re needed for service when the fries are crisped up in a second fry that imbues them with their signature hue.

Since these fries’ debut more than 25 years ago, many other New York chefs have followed suit. “It’s kind of a constant pursuit,” says Jake Leiber, the co-chef-owner of Le Crocodile and Chez Ma Tante, two restaurants with very good fries. “What’s really important always is that you want them to be crispy and you want them to be creamy, and there are a couple of ways to achieve crispiness and creaminess, but it always involves par cooking,” he says.

The crisp fries at Michael Solomonov’s Laser Wolf in Williamsburg (a Philadelphia export, to be fair) take three days to make and are hand-cut, brined for 24 hours, steamed, cooled, frozen, fried from frozen, and tossed with sumac salt for a tingly, umami sensation. “The point of the entire process is to get that super crispy but super creamy on the inside effect,” says Sarah Krathen, the restaurant’s director of operations.

Meanwhile, in LA, the standard for fries, which are decidedly not golden, seem to be those made by In-N-Out Burger, which are ghostly in color and have the mouthfeel of crumbled cement. They’re also flavorless in my opinion.

It’s reinforced at many of the city’s most famous restaurants. At Musso & Frank’s, a handsome retro chophouse, the fries have an unpleasant starchy and dried-out texture. Found Oyster, an otherwise perfect New England-style seafood joint, serves middling fries that are unworthy vessels to sop the delectable white wine-soaked juices from a plate of steamed Littleneck clams. And while Son of a Gun makes a fantastically sharp malt vinegar aioli, it’s paired with a bowl of desiccated fries.

An open-faced burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, and cheese next to a side of fries.
The burger and fries at PJ Clarke’s.
Eater NY

Bryant Gallegos, the chef at L & E Oyster Bar in Los Angeles, has a theory for why LA fries suck. “Everybody wants to serve the freshest thing, so they cut the potatoes and fry them and serve them,” he says.

But fries need to be blanched — and Gallegos learned the technique from the five years he spent in the kitchen of Ludo Lefebvre’s Petit Trois, where the fries are famously fried in clarified butter for added richness (on a recent visit, though, they weren’t crispy enough to my liking). At L & E, Gallegos’ fries are made from Idaho russet potatoes and fried in vegetable shortening. “I don’t want anything on the menu to be a throwaway....even if it’s a side of fries,” he says. I wish more chefs here felt this way.

New Yorkers know New York-style pizza or bagels, but there’s no such thing as a New York fry. Instead, the fry scene in New York is reflective of New York’s food culture at large. That means a lot of serious, high-caliber restaurants across the dining spectrum, which don’t buy fries frozen. Second, there is variety, with options beyond, say, classic frites.

“The fries in New York are great the same way that anything in New York is great,” says Adam Platt, former restaurant critic and features writer for New York Magazine. “They’re all here, you can get any variety of them, and the best are very good.” Platt points out, the brasserie culture here is the second oldest in the world, after France, and fries of course originated in Europe. Many of LA’s fries tend to be purchased frozen, not made in-house; when I spoke with a handful of chefs around Los Angeles, they said that the fry-related conversations they have with one another generally amount to which are the best frozen fries to buy.

When people ask me what I miss the most about New York, I say the fries. This might also have something to do with nostalgia, which is all the rage right now. Ever since the pandemic, we’ve craved tried-and-true experiences, and we’re keeping institutions like Balthazar and the Odeon and Fanelli Cafe jam-packed. It’s no coincidence that great fries, like the classic New York restaurants that serve them, are reliable, well-seasoned, and satiating.

An Ambitious Restaurant Brings Regional Indian Fare Uptown

Best Dishes

The Best Dishes Eater Editors Ate This Week

A.M. Intel

Popular Ukrainian Diner Veselka Opens a New Manhattan Location