To order a breakfast potato from a restaurant is a blind act of faith. You know what a hash brown should taste like, and if the restaurant manages to meet or exceed your expectations, then you’re happy. The risk is part of the reward—there are few things more satisfying than when something exceeds your low expectations. Even better? Walking into a fast food restaurant and basking in the pleasure of knowing exactly what you’re going to get. Before you consider the hash brown and its place on your plate for breakfast, take into consideration the two distinct camps. There are hash browns proper—grated or julienned potatoes, usually peeled, pressed into a cake formation and fried on a griddle—and then there’s everything else. Home fries, or home-style potatoes—chunks of potatoes pan-fried with onions, peppers, and whatever else you like—are also considered “hash browns,” in that they fulfill the potato requirement of a gluttonous breakfast, but if we’re going to be specific here, there is a difference. Personal preferences aside, a hash brown or home-style potato should taste like a potato; it should not be too oily; there should be a crunch; and it should be salty, but not too salty.
When you don’t have time for brunch or lack the desire to interact with humanity for longer than five minutes, a fast food hash brown really hits the spot. Essentially, they’re French fries that are acceptable to eat before noon and, honestly, it’s a shame that they’re largely unavailable after 10:30 a.m. Make room for them in your diet, but consult this ranking first.
7. Taco Bell
I would not come to Taco Bell for a hash brown because hash browns are not what Taco Bell does best. The hash browns procured were dry—“why so dry?” is scrawled in my notes, next to a splotch of grease. They were also warm but not hot—a very important distinction—and were mealy. I’m not surprised, just disappointed.
There is one single Arby’s in Manhattan and it was spotless, empty, and almost out of coffee when I arrived. I don’t think I’d ever eaten food at an Arby’s before. Their hash brown was a disappointment—tasting overwhelmingly of grease. While the crust was spot-on, the potato contained within was less so and even their fun, triangle shape couldn’t save them for me.
5. Burger King
This is the only place I visited where the staff shoved a fistful of ketchup packets into the bag with my order, fully understanding that what I had just paid for was essentially breakfast French fries. For that reason alone, Burger King isn’t ranked dead last. Foregoing the patty shape for something more tater tot-esque, the Burger King hash browns are much easier to consume in transit, if that’s something you’re concerned with, but they were flavorless and just tasted fried more than anything else.
Now we’re getting somewhere. The Chick-Fil-A hash browns tasted like actual potatoes. They’re also nugget shaped, which I found unnecessary—a hash brown should be shaped like a patty; home fries should be chunked—but flavor-wise, they’re a little better. Still too greasy, though.
3. Dunkin’ Donuts
Like flattened tater tots or tiny latkes, Dunkin’s delightful hash browns should take the whole thing because you can get them anytime you want. Their iteration of the hash brown is just salty enough for you to eat the whole bag without really thinking about it, but not so salty that the first bite sends you howling to the bodega for water. They’re not mealy, not excessively greasy, and actually taste like they’ve been seasoned with something. Season your hash browns! It’s just potato, people! Good third choice and the only reason it didn’t crack the top spot is because of the shape—if a hash brown is of the stringy, grated potato variety, it should be a patty.
McDonald’s not winning this? Sacrilege, I know. McDonald’s hash browns are widely understood to be the best hash browns you can get at a fast food restaurant, and for the most part, I agree. These work for a few key reasons: The shape is a pleasant rectangle, easy to hold and maintaining structural integrity; the taste is that of a French fry, smoothed and deep fried; and the crust is toothsome and crisp, just like it should be. You don’t need ketchup for these hash browns, though it certainly wouldn’t hurt. They are delicious. But for me, they’re not the best.
I have been a Wendy’s devotee since I was a small child and have carried this devotion into adulthood by squealing every time I see one at a rest stop and demanding that we eat there for dinner. Imagine my pleasant surprise when the bag of hot potato I received from the cashier was not a patty, but individual chunks of potato—home fries!—like mini steak fries, but for breakfast. They resembled potatoes, were appropriately seasoned and taste like what you’d get at a brunch spot you’ve never been to but walk by every time, thinking “Oh yeah, this place.” They’re good. Like, honestly pretty good. I’d eat these again.