Cheese Fries at Wieners Circle ($3.60)
It felt odd to eat these at 3 p.m. and not 3 a.m., but they are delicious at any time. The fries are golden, salty, crispy, and freshly cut. They’re topped with a bright orange ladleful of Merkt’s cheddar, which was hot and smooth. These fries make me think that Wiener’s Circle is wasted on beer-soaked palates.
The Wiener's Circle, 2622 N. Clark Street, Chicago IL 60614 (map); 847-699-8590
Wisconsin Cheddar & Scallion and Amish Blue & Smoked Bacon at DMK Burger Bar ($3)
How could I visit DMK and not try two styles of cheese fries? The fries here are also strong contenders for some of the best in the city. They’re soft with just enough crispness to hold up the toppings. The cheddar and scallion version was the most successful, as the sauce is sharp, and the scallions provided a little crunch. The blue cheese fries used a sauce, which was nice when there was a clump of cheese included and boring when there wasn’t. The bacon added a bit of smokiness, which helped, but overall the cheese flavor and consistency was better with the cheddar sauce. Cracked pepper over both dishes was a welcome touch.
Cheese Fries at Jerry’s Sandwiches ($5.45)
The rustic cut fries with cheddar spread at Jerry’s are thin, hot, and come with molten cheese running down the side. They were, interestingly, the only cheese fries presented to me with a side dish of ketchup. I can’t see an occasion when anyone would actually order these, given that sandwiches are big and come with two sides, but they’re a solid option when you just want a snack and beer. These went very well with my Metropolitan Generator Doppelbock.
Cheese Fries at Hot Doug’s ($2.25)
Hot Doug’s cheese fries don’t get the same attention the sausages do, but on this list, they’re the star. The fries are fresh cut, soft inside, and crispy outside. The sauce is also spot-on—it coats the fries well and doesn’t overwhelm them. You’ll still taste the fries and also a smooth, mild cheese.
Chili Cheese Fries at Handlebar ($6.25)
The chili cheese fries are made with ancho-spiced vegetarian chili and jack cheese. The chili carried the dish. Spices were balanced, and the fries themselves had flecks of salt. Thinner fries don’t always hold up the toppings well, but these were crisp enough to handle the chili.
Crispy Fries at Au Cheval ($9.95)
Au Cheval puts an egg on everything, so why not their fries? It turns out that it’s a pretty killer cheese fry topping—dipping a sauced fry into the yolk is salty and delicious. The fries use mornay sauce (made with butter, cheese, flour, and other ingredients), of which there’s a thin layer below the egg and a little container on the side. Spread this generously over the fries before beginning to eat them. The other sauce is a garlic aioli, which I occasionally speared a fry into for a different flavor.
Cheese Fries at Toon’s ($6.50)
These were the simplest of the shredded cheese fries, and using multiple types of cheese provides different flavors. I added Louisiana Hot Sauce to these, to great effect. The fries were soft enough to soak up the pepper sauce, and I liked the thickly melted cheese.
Kimchi Fries at Del Seoul ($6.95)
These win prettiest cheese fries, hands down. They were also one of my favorite renditions flavorwise—the fries were crisp and there’s sweetness from the pork belly and acid from the kimchi. Cheddar and jack cheeses were melted together, and sour cream added creaminess. The scallions and sesame seeds were nice additions, and each fry had a bit of the topping.
Ghetto Fries at Max’s Italian Beef ($4.19)
As soon as I came across these in my research, I knew they would have to be included. Giardiniera is another awesome cheese fry topping, and Max’s fries are spicy from the giardiniera and sweet from the barbecue sauce, which provided a really nice balance. The fries on top were crispy and the Italian beef gravy made the fries at the bottom soft. The cheese was sharp Merkt’s cheddar. Also, I never expected to find a green olive in my cheese fries, but I’m not complaining.
Welsh Rarebit Fries at Paddy Long’s ($4.95)
I’ve long been a fan of Welsh Rarebit itself, so including these was a must. The sauce, which is usually served on toast, consists of cheese and beer melted together. Paddy Long’s uses Alpha King, cheddar, and Gorgonzola, and adds herbs and spices. It’s a fairly mild and thin sauce, but there’s a depth of flavor. These could definitely have used more sauce, and next time I’d ask for extra.
Vegan Cheese Fries at Pick Me Up ($8.25)
Since Handlebar used dairy cheese, I felt compelled to include one vegan offering, so I headed to Pick Me Up for their cheddar and seasoned fries. The fries here were probably the weakest, since the insides weren’t soft, but I wouldn’t have guessed that the cheese sauce was vegan. It’s a solid pick for a vegan offering.
Pick Me Up Cafe, 3408 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60657 (map); 773-248-6613
Deluxe Gravy Chips at Pleasant House Bakery ($5)
The thick cut fries here are topped with skirt steak, gravy, and aged cheddar cheese, and I feared that they might stray too close to poutine territory. But since the cheese was shredded, and not in curd form, we’re going to roll with it. Each chunk of potato soaked in the gravy, the cheese melted over each piece, and there were small nuggets of steak. This is one heck of a fantastic side dish and exactly what I want to eat while drinking Scotch.
Waffle Cut Fries with Cheese at Franks 'n Dawgs ($4.75)
The fries here are incredibly simple and really well done. The grilled spring onion cheese was mild but flavorful, while the fries themselves were twice fried, so they were crisp but the insides were pillowy. Like Hot Doug’s, the sausages get the attention here, but you should strongly consider an order of fries.
Cheese Fries at Muskie’s ($2.45)
I go to Muskie’s for the single char burgers and stay for the cheese fries. They use Merkt’s cheddar from Wisconsin, which is an electric orange color and has a serious sharpness. Obviously, I love it. The downside is that it clumps faster than other cheese sauces, so if you’re going to go here, eat the fries first. The fries themselves are thin and crispy.
Muskie's Hamburgers, 2878 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60657 (map); 773-883-1633
Waffle Fries with Blue Cheese, Jalapeño Bacon, and Scallions ($7.99)
Bacon is an underutilized cheese fry topping. While I didn’t get any jalapeño flavor from the slivers showered over the fries, there was a gentle smokiness that played well off the blue cheese. This was the same topping combination as the blue cheese fries at DMK Burger Bar, but here it was sprinkled over waffle fries. Waffle fries are exceptional for holding toppings, and I was able to get each component on every fry.
Goat Chili Cheese Fries at Little Goat ($11)
Little Goat nails the philosophy of dousing all the fries with toppings. But the fries are thin, so they wind up being extremely soft, and eating these absolutely requires a fork. The goat chili consists of ground meat, chickpeas, and kidney beans in a tomato base, and the sauce melts four types of cheese together. I wished for a little more seasoning, and this is the largest serving of cheese fries I encountered, so you will not want to attempt it solo.