Trend Feast

Loaded Fries Go Wacky, Wild and Over the Top

Sep 27, 2023

Loaded Fries Go Wacky, Wild and Over the Top

John Manion never expected his loaded-fries version of the classic seafood tower to become a social media sensation. The chef/owner of El Che Steakhouse & Bar, a South American-inspired hot spot in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, was just having fun when he decided to do something impulsive for a group of friends who came in to dine.

They ordered mar de plata, a heaping assortment of fire-roasted seafood: seared scallops, head-on shrimp, oysters and charred lobster tails drizzled with an ultra-rich lobster and crab Diavola butter sauce. As if that wasn’t decadent enough, they asked for a side of the signature beef fat fries. Manion surprised them by bringing over the dish himself.

“When I dropped the dish off at the table, I impulsively dumped the fries right on top and the crowd, as they say, went wild,” Manion described.

“About two days later, we saw a dramatic uptick in this dish being ordered, and the question everyone asked when it was delivered was ‘Where are the fries?’” he continued. “Apparently, someone at [my friends’] table had taken a video of me dumping the fries onto the dish, and it went viral on TikTok. It's been one of our top-selling items ever since. Never underestimate the power of fried potatoes here in the Midwest.”

That power gets an injection when fries are transformed into loaded fries, which have been growing 59% in the past four years on restaurant menus, according to Datassential.1 Loaded fries have been trialed by three-quarters of consumers and two-thirds of consumers have an affinity for them, said the leading food and beverage market research and intelligence firm. They are expected to grow another 29% in the next four years.2

Part of the appeal for consumers is new toppings and unconventional formats, which are areas of innovation for restaurants. That’s what Manion discovered with increased sales of El Che’s mar de plata, which he admitted wasn’t selling as much until he added the loaded fries component. Other trending toppings across the country include beer cheese, pickled onion, brisket, grilled chicken, crema, chorizo, pepper jack, red onion, avocado, hot sauce, pesto and truffle oil.

American classics meet loaded fries

When Buffalo chicken wings unite with fries, they become Buffalo Chicken Fries. While the combo sounds simple enough, it hadn’t been made official until a California man created the Buffalo Fries Franchise Restaurant and opened The Buffalo Spot in Long Beach, California, in 2013. Ivan Flores’ concoction consists of a heaping of Buffalo chicken nuggets over fries with a special house-made sauce pulling them together. He now boasts more than 30 franchised locations in California, Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

Datassential reports that Buffalo chicken fries were up 86% in the past four years.³ Even Burger King got in on the action in 2015 when the fast-food chain introduced a limited-time offer of breaded sticks of poultry with a dipping sauce. The dish can currently be found on the menu at Victory Grill, a modernized Chicago diner specializing in burgers, shakes and a variety of loaded fries topped with all sorts of tasty ingredients. Additional fun takes on American classics are pizza sauce on fries (up 63%) and Philly Cheese Steak loaded fries (up 38%).4

At Chick-fil-A, Chicken Waffle Fries are one of the most requested items on the secret menu. Here, the dish is all savory and part of the fun is that customers get to assemble it themselves. It consists of a 12-count nugget, large waffle fries, pepper jack cheese, Buffalo sauce and a salad bowl. Guests are instructed to spread the waffle fries on the bottom of the bowl, then sprinkle nuggets and cheese on top, and finally finish with Buffalo sauce.

Loaded french fries…for dessert?

While chicken waffle-loaded fries are typically both sweet and savory, some consumers just straight-up want loaded fries in a dessert format. Datassential reports that funnel cake fries have grown 83% over the last four years, translating into 1% on dessert menus. Further, the report says, churro fries and beignet fries have grown 41% in the last year.5

For example, beignet fries are on menus in New Orleans, considered home of the beignet. Pere Antoine Restaurant serves them two ways: beignet fries sprinkled with powdered sugar as well as Bananas Foster Beignet Fries (beignet fries with sliced bananas and topped with classic Foster sauce of dark brown sugar, banana liqueur and butter). They’re served in similar fashion at another New Orleans staple, Café Maspero, as well as at Tasty Tails, in Dallas.

Globally-influenced loaded fries appeal to masses

Something as easily versatile as loaded fries also gets international flavor across menus. For instance, according to Datassential:

  • Thai fries have grown 144% in the last four years
  • Kimchi fries grew 95%
  • Mexican-influenced offerings like nacho fries grew 83% and carne asada fries grew 65%
  • Greek-inspired fries are up 55%, and an Italian spin on loaded spuds grew 49%.6

At Waterfront Warehouse, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Greek-, Mexican- and Thai-inspired loaded fries are offered on the menu. The Greek version is a hearty portion of waffle fries topped with homemade tzatziki sauce, imported Greek feta, Kalamata olives, organic Greek olive oil, chives and oregano. Guests may add diced chicken or gyro meat for an additional fee. The Mexican choice is topped with chorizo, queso blanco, pickled jalapeños, pico de gallo, chives and sour cream. And the Thai option consists of waffle fries topped with thick-cut pork belly, egg-up, roasted peanuts, scrambled egg, fig marmalade, chives, and drizzled with coconut curry and sriracha sauces.

Additional globally loaded fries recipes to watch are ramen fries, takis fries and sushi fries, which may come with wasabi aioli (gaining 5% in awareness).7

Ready to add some loaded fries to your menu? Check out these delicious recipes from the Simplot Culinary Team:

Maui Fries
We aren’t sure if this dish classifies as a meal or a dessert, but we’re pretty sure you’ll want to try it either way. Crispy fries topped with coconut syrup, toasted coconut and chopped macadamia nuts.
View Recipe »

Ramen Fries
We make a bold move and top shoestring fries with all the delicious flavors of a ramen soup bowl: crispy pork belly, pickled veggies, crunchy ramen noodles and the hot sauce of your liking.
View Recipe »

Sushi Fries
Call us crazy—but only after you've tried this dish. Perfectly cooked Conquest® fries topped with Ahi tuna, sliced avocado, pickled ginger and creamy wasabi mayonnaise with toasted nori strips and sesame seeds.
View Recipe »

Mediterranean Fries
Have you ever put fries in your gyro? We flipped that concept and put the gyro on the fries. The result? A Mediterranean-inspired culinary delight—so good!
View Recipe »

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1-7 Datassential: ReportPro, MenuTrends, and Consumer Preferences, 2023