By Henry Houston and Ryan Nguyen
A roundup of the best french fries isn’t an original concept. The Los Angeles Times delivered a power ranking earlier this year. Good journalism needs to think locally, so we swiped the idea and applied it to some restaurants in Eugene and Springfield.
We came in with high ambitions: We wanted to visit as many fast food joints as possible. We were constrained by a smaller budget, daylight and appetite.
You may think, ‘Why isn’t my favorite brew pub on here?’ Well, you wouldn’t put the Oregon Ducks football team against the Oakland Raiders, would you? The two teams are in different leagues — no matter how bad you may think the Raiders are.
And the same applies to fast food french fries versus fancier fries.
1. Giant Burger
As soon as we walked into Springfield’s Giant Burger, we immediately wondered if we’d found our Holy Grail. Located down Main Street in Springfield, it may seem like a long trip for someone in Eugene, but it’s worth the excursion — where else offers a 5-lb burger eating challenge?
Giant Burger has three types of fries: standard, shoestring and Irish chips. It also has the fry variations you’d expect at the classic burger place, like chili fries and spicy fries.
It’s a trusting restaurant, too. Rather than giving out a tiny two-ounce container, the restaurant let us loose with a large bottle of ranch.
The standard cut offered crunch, but after breaking it in half, we could tell these fries were real potato. The shoestring fries reflected their name. The fries were floppy and skinny, and yet, as the heat left the thin fries, they still maintained a consistency that kept it edible.
The Irish chips were a surprise. After coming fresh out of the fryer, they were nothing like a bag of potato chips. Their flavor had a distinctive taste to it, and after asking the server what it was, we found out it’s the ingredients to au jus sauce.
All in all, Giant Burger’s simply salted standard-cut and shoestring fries work as a blank canvas that won’t overpower the restaurant’s sauces. Trust us, you won’t have any fry survivors.
Giant Burger: 3760 Main Street, Springfield, 541-747-3399. Open from 11 am to 9 pm Monday to Saturday. Closed Sundays.
2. Hot Mama’s Wings
Hot Mama’s pound of fries — a dark-yellow fry with a thickness somewhere between a classic straight-cut fry and a thick steak-cut fry — have a surprising amount of potato flavor that ends with a satisfying salty crunch.
For an extra charge on top of the $5.50, you can also add one of Hot Mama’s many wing sauces, expanding your fry experience. The fries are thick and rigid; if you don’t chew them enough, they’ll hurt sliding down your throat. But love hurts, and Hot Mama’s fries are perfect for snacking.
Hot Mama’s Wings: 420 W. 13th Avenue, 541-653-9999. Open 11 am to 10 pm from Tuesday to Thursday and on Sundays, and from 11 am to 11 pm on Friday and Saturday. Open 3 pm to 10 pm Mondays. Happy hour is from 3 to 6 pm on weekdays, 10 pm to closing Fridays and Saturdays.
3. Killer Burger
The fries from Killer Burger are the perfect sidekicks to the burgers. Even all alone, the fries deliver quite a punch. At $5.50 (a steeper price on the fry-scale, like Hot Mama’s), the fries came with a free choice of a fry sauce. They were a bit thicker on the fry spectrum and paired well with their assortment of condiments, like mayo, mustard and spicy BBQ sauces, which made the fry experience worthwhile at Killer Burger.
We decided to pay 50 cents so we could have two sauces (house sauce and spicy BBQ), and we were in fry heaven. The house sauce really makes the fries worthwhile — imagine a tangier sauce with more body than In-N-Out.
Killer Burger: 50 W. Broadway, 541-636-4731. Open 11 am to 10 pm Sunday to Thursday, 11 am to midnight Saturdays and Sundays.
4. El Super Burrito
El Super Burrito is well known for its namesake burritos, so we weren’t expecting much from a non-burger place. For $3, you get a lot of bang for your buck. These fries have a less complex flavor than Giant Burger’s or Hot Mama’s. The perfectly crispy and fun crunchy texture gave these fries a leg up, and it didn’t hurt that curly fries are just geometrically more fun than their straight-cut cousins.
The diverse array of sauces also helped. The fries easily absorb El Super Burrito’s salsa verde and fry sauce.
One thing that knocked these fries down was the atrocious half-life. For about 5 minutes, these fries are pretty good, but after a few minutes, they more resemble cold McDonald’s fries.
El Super Burrito: 2566 Willamette Street, 541-485-0619. Open daily from 9 am to 8:30 pm.
5. The Zingaro
Zingaro’s red food truck is parked among a few of its food-truck brethren at Beergarden. It’s one of those long lines of food trucks that make choosing where to eat after drinking a pint — or four — difficult. It took a few minutes for the fries to come, and what arrived was a small basket of thick fries, costing $3.
It wasn’t greasy, a departure from the typical fry experience. The thickness maintained heat, but problems emerged, as they do with thicker fries. It sounds oxymoronic, but the fries seemed to be more potato than fries, meaning less crispiness and more potato chunk.
And the typical order of fries comes with just a small side of ketchup — essentially the cook telling us, “Sauces aren’t needed here, because the fries speak for themselves.”
Sure, it has kind of a bold seasoning, but it just didn’t seem like enough. Then again, we weren’t drinking from Beergarden’s huge beer menu, so maybe we just didn’t get the full picture of the fries.
The Zingaro: 777 W. 6th Avenue, 541-760-8483. Open 11 am to 9:30 pm Sunday, 11 am to 9:30 pm Tuesday through Thursday (closed on Monday) and from 11 am to 11:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays.
6. Little Big Burger
The word “little” in Little Big Burger, a Pacific Northwest favorite, could easily scare away a burger lover. Despite its name, we heard it was a great place for french fries (which cost $3) because of the truffle oil.
After a five-minute wait, we were served a pouch of hot, greasy fries coated with white truffle oil. It had the makings of a frontrunner with their light golden color, and they arrived hot to the touch.
Something wasn’t right about the fries. Maybe it’s the taste of truffle oil, and it wasn’t just in the fries. It seemed to be present in the “catsup,” too. The oil overwhelmed any flavor that the fries had.
Being responsible journalists, we Googled what truffle oil is. And, boy, there is quite a large amount of controversy surrounding it. It’s been called a garbage olive oil with perfume sprayed on it. We wouldn’t go that far.
Yet, Little Big Burger’s fries could’ve been the all-American fry: golden, crunchy and piping hot. Instead, we get an American fry attempting a French accent.
Little Big Burger: 1404 Orchard Street, 541-357-4771. Open 11 am to 10 pm every day.
7. Albee’s NY Gyros
The counter at Albee’s NY Gyros is slightly too high to be comfortable for a sit-down restaurant, but it’s the perfect height for shoveling garlic fries into your mouth. For $3 you get an overwhelming amount of garlic and then some fries. You’ve got a garlic aftertaste, regular taste and even before-taste — the garlic scent of the fries can be smelled from a foot away.
As for texture, when the garlic mingles in your mouth with the actual fries, it makes the near-overwhelming flavor a bit easier to swallow. The fries are simply a vehicle for the garlic. Eating these will take a toll on you.
Adding sriracha sauce, one of a few available condiments, brings a zang to the garlic’s tang. This isn’t a huge knock on Albee’s fries. For fans of garlic, this is your place.
Albee’s NY Gyros: 391 W. 11th Avenue, 541-344-0010. Open 11 am to 9 pm Monday to Saturday, noon to 7 pm Sundays.
8. Mandy’s Family Restaurant
OK, Mandy’s is a new restaurant, and it’s a great 24-hour space. We’re not knocking the other items by putting its fries on the bottom of the list. In fact, ordering plain french fries is something of a special request, because we couldn’t find it on the menu. On the menu, you only see poutine-style fries.
So maybe these fries are just meant to be second fiddle to another main ingredient, and there’s nothing wrong with that — Batman needs Robin.
Mandy’s Family Restaurant: 1491 Willamette Street, 541-654-0382. Open 24 hours, every day.