May 27, 2014 06:00 AM

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The search for the country’s best French fries is on!

When we hear the words “French Open,” the grand slam tennis tournament which began in Paris on Sunday, our brains automatically go to “French fries.” (And yes, we know about the Belgium versus France who-had-frites-first debate, but humor us a little, okay?)

In the spirit of the French Open, we teamed up with Tennis Channel to find the best fried spuds in the country. To tackle this huge task, we first asked some of the most famous French chefs in the world to weigh in: Le Bernadin’s Eric Ripert, Mr. Chocolate Jacques Torres, Cronut creator Dominique Ansel, cookbook author and TV chef Jacques Pépin, Daniel’s Daniel Boulud, pastry chef François Payard and many others were only too happy to help narrow the massive field. Then we got scientific.

We took their suggestions, added some of our own and sent a team of anonymous tasters to over 50 restaurants all across the country. Each reviewer scored the fries on five criteria: appearance (How did they look when they hit the table?), temperature (They better not have been sitting too long!), texture (Burnt-crispy? Limp? Just right?), flavor (Could you taste potato, or just oil and salt?) and what we call “overall french fry gratification,” which is a look at the big potato picture.

One warning: The following slideshow may cause fry cravings so intense you’ll want to hop on a plane just to go try them, so proceed with caution.

Elizabeth Ribuffo/PEOPLE.com

After tallying up the scores, N.Y.C’s Balthazar took home the top fry prize. The New York Times reported that some prep cooks at the restaurant can peel eight potatoes in a minute. Given that the pommes frites are one of the most-ordered dishes at Keith McNally’s see-and-be-seen Soho bistro, there’s a serious need for speed. “In my opinion, these are the best fries in New York City. They are freshly cut and cooked every time and no matter what I’m eating there, I always order some for the table,” said Ripert. And our tasters agreed: “I truly felt sad when I reached the bottom of the paper cone and ate that last little fry. They were that good.” Said PEOPLE senior food & lifestyle editor Sonal Dutt, “If I were given three wishes, a never-ending supply of Balthazar frites would be one of them.”

COURTESY NOLA

The 22-year-old Nola, Emeril Lagasse’s festive-casual spot in New Orleans’ French Quarter, is known for creative takes on local favorites like boudin balls, shrimp and grits and po’boys. But Torres says the fries are a standout as well. “They are house-cut and they are just perfectly done … light and crunchy, and just the right size. I don’t know his secret, but they are just perfect.”

COURTESY AQUITAINE

Forget silver cups or paper cones: An order of french fries at Aquitaine, a wine bar in San Francisco with a distinctly Parisian vibe, is served in an adorable wooden clog. But even without the funky footwear presentation, these spuds, which come with a generous dusting of paprika, have earned their rep as one of the city’s best plates of potatoes. “These are homemade fries with a twist. They’re topped with a spice that makes them so addictive,” said Ripert.

COURTESY L'ECOLE

As part of their studies at the International Culinary Center, students work at L’Ecole, the in-house restaurant, where they’re managed by chef-instructors and even get graded on their efforts by diners at the end of their meals. The addictive Russet Potato french fries, which can be customized with truffles, deserve an A-plus: They’re blanched in hot water first and then fried twice to assure that they are perfectly crispy. “Every single fry was cooked just right and seasoned just right,” said one taster. “Every single one. When’s the last time you got an order of fries like that?”

Courtesy Bnarasin/Foodspotting.com

If you’re going to name your restaurant Left Bank, you’d better serve good pommes frites. Pépin assures us that it’s the case at this bustling brasserie. “The long and crunchy french fries are fried in duck fat. They’re just right.” he said. The tempting-looking hand-cut potatoes come out of the kitchen piping hot in a paper cone and pass the true test of French-fry fabulousness: They stay pleasantly firm, even after they’ve cooled down.

COURTESY Donkey Kong/Foodspotting.com

Visitors to the Santa Monica outpost of Father’s Office, Top Chef judge Sang Yoon’s cultishly popular gastropub must put up with a few particulars: No table service, no substitutions, no ketchup. (Relax! The fries come with garlic aioli.) But judging from the crowds, they’re happy to order the mini metal shopping carts filled with delightfully crispy matchstick fries. “The sprinkling of fresh parsley after they’re fried adds a nice fresh flavor and goes nicely with the aioli,” said one taster. They’re the ideal companion to the Office Burger, which comes with Maytag blue cheese, gruyere, caramelized onions, and bacon, and is consistently ranked as one of the city’s best.

COURTESY AU CHEVAL

Though “cheval” might mean “horse” in French, in the culinary world, the term Au Cheval means to top a dish with an egg. And that’s exactly how the french fries are served at this West Randolph Street bar-meets-diner. The fried orb is layered on top and you’ll also get two accompanying dipping sauces: Mornay (bechamel with cheese) and garlic aioli.  Things are going to get messy (and “magical” according to one taster) once that yolk starts to run, but it’s a worthy sacrifice.

COURTESY PIKE STREET FISH FRY

Pike Street Fish Fry is a tiny, seafood spot known for its late-night hours and satisfying fish-and-chips. Before the fries reach diners, the spuds are put through an elaborate, multi-step process: They’re soaked, sliced by hand, blanched and, finally, fried until they’re crispy. Along with basic ketchup there are several other sauces on offer such as curry ketchup, harissa, lemon aioli, and chili mayonnaise.

COURTESY NORTHERN SPY FOOD COMPANY

Duck fat, that ever popular potato-frying tool, makes an appearance at Northern Spy Food Company, a popular locavore spot in Manhattan that’s named for one of the state’s most famous apples. Less like fries and more like chubby potato wedges, these crispy morsels are fried twice in the fat and then seasoned with it for an utterly rich flavor. “The sweetness of the duck fat almost lingers when you exhale,” said Ansel. They’re paired with a malted spiced yogurt that’s the perfect blend of creamy and zesty and might inspire you to break up with ketchup forever.

COURTESY SAUS

At Saus, fries aren’t just another thing on the menu. Instead, there is an entire menu devoted to fries. These hand-cut beauties are made from double-fried Russet potatoes that have been allowed to age for about a month so the water content decreases (which means fewer soggy spuds on your plate). They can be customized with toppings like poutine, truffled mushrooms or pork belly and for dipping, there’s an an impressive array of 16 different sauces made with ingredients like peanut butter, Duvel ale and white truffle oil. Part of the fun is experimenting to find your happy-place fry combination, which means there’s always a reason to come back.

COURTESY BOISE FRY COMPANY

The staff of Boise Fry Company has some thoughts about fried potatoes. As their web site says, ‘Fries should be cooked with natural and healthy peanut oil, fries should not share fryers with other foods, and fries are indeed entrée worthy.” (It’s also worth adding that the restaurant’s motto is “We love fries with burgers on the side.”) This restaurant takes spuds so seriously, they’ll first ask you to choose their potato type from the six on offer. Next you select a slicing style such as shoestring, curly or po’ball (picture a sqiushed tater tot). Finally you’ll get to play around with the numerous salts (cinnamon-ginger!) and dipping sauces (blueberry ketchup!) which means that there’s a seemingly limitless number of possible combinations. We think the purple fries done curly are lovely to look at, packed with flavor and as much of a conversation piece as any statement burger.

COURTESY DUCKFAT

When a restaurant is named Duckfat, like this small sandwich shop is, it shouldn’t surprise you that they serve Belgian-style spuds that have been fried in the stuff. Eating these local Maine frites is a downright sensory experience: “Duck fat gives the fries a deeper, richer flavor that keeps you going back for more and more,” said one taster. “I had to exert some strong self control not to order a second round.”

COURTESY BLUE DUCK TAVERN

Why does Blue Duck Tavern call their thick-cut potatoes “Triple Fries?” They’re referring to the three-part cooking process that involves boiling in water followed by two rounds of frying, the final time in duck fat. A single order takes about 24 hours to make from start to finish, and you can taste the loving labor in every bite. “It was like eating the crispy, fleshy, salty potato wedge of your dreams,” said a taster.

COURTESY HYDE PARK

You could say that batter makes it better at Hyde Park, where the fries are first dipped in buttermilk and flour before being fried to a crispy finish. Black pepper and spices give the coating a kick that resembles fried chicken, and diners have the option to order a zesty cheese sauce if they’re craving even more heat.

COURTESY JONESY'S EATBAR

The staff at Jonesy’s EatBar, a gastropub known for their locally-sourced ingredients, isn’t afraid to get creative with their potatoes. Fries are given their own section of the menu, and customers can opt to turn an order into a meal by choosing one of five tempting-sounding preparations: Bacon macaroni and cheese, truffle aioli, buffalo sauce with blue cheese, vegan chili or Thai chili sauce. The potatoes are sliced thick and fried extra-crisp, so they’re sturdy enough to withstand their saucy accompaniments.

—Lexi Dwyer

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