French fries may be the most magical food in the universe, from the simplest shoe-strings to a loaded-up mess of tots. They're a delightful snack. They're the perfect side dish. They're a glorious meal on their own. I ate dozens of different fries in all their different iterations these past couple of months, at places both fancy and decidedly less so. Here I present the 12 absolute best.
THE BRESLIN: Seven years in and April Bloomfield's temple of meat at the Ace Hotel is as scene-y (and delicious) as ever. One of the best things on the menu is still the lamb burger, paired with superb Thrice Cooked Chips ($22 w/burger). Thick-cut spuds like these are usually a dry, bland disaster, but not with Bloomfield's triple-frying technique, which ensures several layers of crags and crunch before hitting the fluffy potato-y center. The accompanying Cumin Mayo doesn't hurt, either.
The Breslin is located at 16 West 29th Street between Broadway and 5th Avenue in Flatiron (212-679-1939; thebreslin.com).
SHORTY'S: There are four Shorty's in Manhattan, and they're pretty much all sports bars that serve solid Cheese Steaks (whiz wit, obviously). But the real reason to go here are the fries, which totally nail the crispy/chewy balance and taste like actual potatoes, not just "fryer." The Italian Fries ($6), with judiciously-sprinkled seasoning (garlic, oregano, etc.) and Romano cheese for added punch, are the best of the bunch, but you'll be happy with any one of the fry varieties here, even if you do hate bro-y sports bars.
There are Shorty's in the Flatiron, Upper East Side, Financial District, and Hell's Kitchen (shortysnyc.com).
LAFAYETTE: Andrew Carmellini's always-hopping Grand Cafe in Noho, is more than a bit out of my frequent-dining price range. But for an excellent anytime snack, a cone of Carmellini's Pommes Frites ($10) purchased at the bakery counter is a luxury I can definitely get behind. They're somehow simultaneously light and airy and richly flavored, so you eat one of these fry-mountains yourself without feeling gross afterwards. Heck, you don't even really need the ketchup, nor the homemade mayo, though both are nice options either way.
Lafayette is located at 380 Lafayette Street at the corner of Great Jones Street in NoHo (212-533-3000; lafayetteny.com).
JUNIPER: Juniper looks like a low-key neighborhood joint and the Cajun-leaning menu's completely gimmick-free, which perhaps explains why this Berry Street spot in prime Williamsburg never seems to get too packed. So don't ruin it by telling anyone how great the fries are here! Other things are worth trying, too, but it's the fries—whether spicy, regular, and sweet potato (all $5)—that are all truly crave-worthy. And the Juniper team makes them all look so effortless, with no bells and whistles, which makes you wonder why so many restaurants fail so miserably in the fry department. Must be a lot of love back there in the Juniper kitchen.
Juniper is located at 11 Berry Street between North 7th and North 8th Streets in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-782-8777).
BLUE RIBBON FRIED CHICKEN: The tricky part of cheese fries is not turning the whole boat into a mush pile, and the under-appreciated Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken gets around all that by eschewing liquid cheez altogether with their Fries With the Works ($7.75). Instead, they actually melt shredded, slightly-sharp cheddar on top of their skinny, crispy fries. Add chewy smoky bacon and a touch of sour cream for a pleasant bit of tang and gloppy-ness, and you've got enough delicious food in front of you that you don't even really need to order chicken! But get some anyway, it's good.
Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken is located 28 East First Street at the corner of Second Avenue in the East Villange (212-228-0404; blueribbonfriedchicken.com).
HOUSEMAN: The scene's a bit mansion-in-the-Hamptons, but man do I enjoy Chefs Baldwin and Baumgart's food at Houseman, the duo's Hudson Square/Tribeca-ish neighborhood restaurant. The short menu changes frequently, but the anchor here for me is the Houseman Burger and Fries ($20). Nothing overly fussy, no visual cue that you're about to dive into something special, just a hefty pile of salty, supremely well-executed potatoes. A terrific solo-at-the-bar meal.
Houseman is located at 508 Greenwich Street between Spring and Canal Streets in Tribeca (212-641-0654; housemanrestaurant.com).
LONG ISLAND BAR:That wraparound neon sign has been an Atlantic Avenue landmark for more than 60 years now, and even though the Long Island Bar got new owners and a gentle refurbishment in 2013, it still feels pretty 1950s in here. All the more reason to stop by for a beverage or two of your choice and chef Gabriel Martinez's enthusiastically seasoned, staggeringly good Bowl of Fries ($5). Lively flavors, addictive texture, priced to please. Another round, barkeep!
The Long Island Bar is located at 100 Atlantic Avenue between Henry and Hicks Streets in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn (718-625-8908; thelongislandbar.com).
by CHLOE: The runaway success of Chloe Coscarelli's Bleecker Street vegan cafe (now with a location at West 22nd Street, with plenty of others coming soon) among the Snapchat-set makes it an easy target for haters, but really, nearly everything at this place continues to be fantastic. And that includes the Air Baked Fries ($3.95), with a delightful puffy texture and explosive salty-potato taste. The Sweet Potato version is more soggy than the regular, but the flavor is even more intense. Can't decide? The friendly counterperson will happily combo your order.
by CHLOE is located at 185 Bleecker and 60 West 22nd, with more coming soon to Soho, etc. (bychefchloe.com).
NO 7. NORTH: The waffle fries at this Greenpoint spot are so wan on their on their own that your heart might sink a bit when No. 7 North's monstrous potato platter first hits the table, but don't worry! These Altered Beast Fries ($9) have plenty of taste and, given their pale exterior, a surprisingly dense and chewy texture. On top of that, chef Tyler Kord piles on the pickled onions and jalapenos, the mozzarella chunks and feta crumbles, plus a generous drizzle of his kicky roasted tomato mayo, and you, my friend, don't merely have a plate of fries before you, but an entire, well-balanced meal.
No. 7 North is located at 931 Manhattan Avenue between Java and Kent Streets in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (718-389-7775; no7north.com).
LULU & PO: One of the best, most satisfying meals I've had this year was the Sunday Burger Night special, wolfed down at a rickety table outside Fort Greene's charming Lulu & Po. For $18, my friendly server brought out a superb double-decker burger, a kicky housemade Strawberry soda (my preference, in lieu of the advertised beer), and a stack of perfect deep-brown fries. You get some crisp ones, you get some soft ones, you get some chewy ones, and all are salty and dense with flavor. Chef Matthew Hamilton (formerly of Prune and the US Marine Corps) and his crew know how to make you happy.
Lulu & Po is located at 154 Carlton Avenue, just south of Myrtle Avenue in Fort Greene, Brooklyn (917-435-3745; luluandpo.com).
L.E.S. KITCHEN: Envision cooked-firm fries with three kinds of meat nestled inside (crisp bits of bacon, sliced-up rib eye, clumps of roast pork), pickled thai chilis, creamy cheese sauce, creamy hot sauce, and a runny egg plopped on top. Most gloppy-ass creations like this turn to mush, but not The Kitchen Sink ($10) at the cool-kid hangout L.E.S. Kitchen, where it just might be the best stoned-food dish in town right now. Seriously, if you're 24 and live nearby, how do you not eat this every night?
L.E.S. Kitchen is located at 15 Essex Street between Hester and Canal Streets on the Lower East Side (646-952-2313; les-kitchen.com).
STICKY'S FINGER JOINT Some of the crazy concoctions at this super casual Greenwich Village spot are just kind of gross, but the relatively simple Bacon Mac Fries ($5.51) at Sticky's Fingers Joint succeed on multiple levels. The potatoes themselves have that sought-after puffy/crunchy texture, which stands up well to the several layers of thick cheese sauce, which is in turn nicely complemented by a strewing of bacon bits. Everything's made to order at Sticky's, which means care is taken and the quality is high, but it can take a bit longer than you expect.
Stick'y Finger Joint is located at 31 West 8th Street between Sixth and Fifth Avenues in Greenwich Village. There are also newer outposts in Murray Hill and Hell's Kitchen (stickys.com).