Except for a blip when they were angrily reclassified as “freedom fries,” Americans have had a longstanding love affair with French fries, originally invented by either the French or Belgians in the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson was one of the first Americans to serve them--he requested “potatoes served in the French manner” at at White House dinner in 1802--and ever since then, we’ve put a distinctly American spin on the dish. Most Europeans dip their fries in mayo; we prefer ketchup. We were the first to develop the technology for frozen fries, ushering in their constant presence at restaurants across the country. And while we love French fries on their own, we also have the distinctly American tendency to pile on toppings and add-ons until poutine looks healthy by comparison. There’s something satisfying about a gussied-up plate of fries--they make the perfect blank canvas for a wide variety of flavors and textures. Here are a few of our favorite fry dishes in Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond, and let us know your favorite in the comments.
In 2009, Gail Lillian opened Liba Falafel, a food truck inspired by the falafel shops she saw on a trip to Amsterdam. The truck’s crunchy falafel balls--and toppings like braised eggplant and beet hummus--were such a hit that she opened a brick and mortar location in downtown Oakland in 2014, where hungry office workers can get falafel in either sandwich or salad form. The restaurant also offers the Love Boat, which features crumbled bits of falafel, dollops of spicy harissa, a drizzle of cooling raita and a shower or cilantro atop a bed of crunchy sweet potato fries. The dish manages to pull off the impressive feat of packing a huge amount of flavors and textures--heat, sweetness, creamy richness and crunch--into one bite.
380 17th St. [Map]
Oakland, CA 94612
Ph: (415) 806-5422
Hours: Mon-Fri, 11am-3pm
Facebook: Liba Falafel
Yelp: Liba Falafel Shop
Price range: $ ($10 and under)
Among the many intriguing beliefs that Southern Californians hold--such as “public transit is bad” and “beaches should be warm”--is the controversial opinion that french fries belong in a burrito. While this distresses a great number of Mission burrito devotees, it makes sense that two of the pillars of SoCal cuisine--Mexican food and burgers and fries--would eventually rub up against each other. Carne asada fries are a similar Southern California specialty, in which nachos’ tortilla chips are swapped for fries. At Richmond’s Taqueria La Estrella, owned by the Carmona family, carne asada fries are an attraction so great that it’s advertised on their windows. After ordering (to a soundtrack of Spanish-language Elvis covers) you’re delivered a huge plate of french fries topped with a pile of steak, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, and cheese that creates tall, dramatic strings when you lift your fork. It all tangles together into a delicious mess that could feed at least two hungry people. I ordered the dish to eat there, but my waitress accidentally gave it to me in a to-go box, perhaps a sign that a dish like this is best eaten on the couch at home, hunched over Netflix while sporting pants with an elastic band.
Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue is filled with restaurants competing amongst themselves to see who can lure the most students off their prepaid meal plan. At the sleek, chrome-filled KoJa Kitchen, from owners Alan Tsai, Eric Thai, Mike Hayashi and Hiep Lien, the draw is Korean-Japanese fare with just enough decadence to earn them Guy Fieri’s approval. In addition to koja (sandwiches with fried rice buns), and Korean bbq tacos, they offer a few fry dishes, including their Kamikaze fries. It’s a towering mountain of crunchy-edged waffle fries covered in Japanese mayonnaise, kimchi and enough of spicy, sweet bulgogi to get you through several Econ problem sets.