Cheese Curds Schmeese Curds: Culver's Sides, Ranked

Culver's sides

Lacey Muszynski / Cheapism

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Culver's sides
Lacey Muszynski / Cheapism

Cheese, Please

Culver's is so well known for its butter burgers and frozen custard that the chain has expanded to 26 states, mostly in the Midwest and South. But if you never branch out from those favorites, you'll be missing some real gems on the menu, from the under-the-radar pretzel bites to the famous fried cheese curds — a decadent specialty of Culver's home state, Wisconsin. 

I tried all nine of Culver's side item options in one trip to my nearest location to see how they stack up against each other — and other fast food chains. Here's how they ranked from best to worst. 

Culver's fries
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Best: Crinkle Cut Fries

I know it's boring to rank french fries the best side at a fast food restaurant, but unlike some other chains (cough McDonald's cough), Culver's crinkle cuts are consistent in their greatness. These aren't the crinkles of your nightmarish grade school lunch. 

They're chunky so the inside is soft and fluffy, while simultaneously staying crisp on the outside even until the last fry in the bag. All those ridges hold condiments like ketchup and ranch super well, too. Grab an 89-cent cup of cheese sauce for dipping next time, then thank me later.

Culver's onion rings
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2. Onion Rings

Battered onion rings, as opposed to breaded with crumbs, are lovely to see at a fast food restaurant. That makes these rings more delicately crisp than crunchy. Actual sliced onions are used instead of those cheap ones made with diced onion dough formed into rings (cough Burger King cough), and the onion cooks long enough in the oil that they're easy to bite through. No empty batter cocoon with a mouthful of naked onion here. 

The only complaint is that the bag had two big clumps of rings that were all stuck together, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for delicious battered onion rings.

Culver's chili cheddar fries
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3. Chili Cheddar Fries

Chili cheese fries are just a delightful, messy pile of junk food and they should be celebrated more. Culver's does a stand up job with its version because the base fries are thick and the crinkles hold the toppings. Sure, they go soggy pretty fast under that beef and kidney bean chili — I wish it was thicker, but it had great flavor — but no one's complaining. The chain's fantastic cheddar cheese sauce tops it all off with a creamy, tangy blanket. 

Culver's pretzel bites
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4. Pretzel Bites

Pretzel bites are probably the most unusual side on Culver's menu, but they're absolutely worth trying. The soft, squishy bread balls have a chewy, dark brown outer crust, just like a good pretzel should. Most importantly, they're served hot and with that signature cheddar cheese sauce for dipping, pushing them way beyond a boring bag of stadium soft pretzels. And unlike the nacho cheeze, Culver's cheese sauce actually tastes like real sharp cheddar, without the thick, gloppy consistency of the stuff you'd get with that stadium pretzel. 

Related: Taco Bell's Volcano Burrito, Arby's Wagyu Burger, and More New Fast-Food Items to Try This Month

Culver's cheese curds
Lacey Muszynski / Cheapism

5. Cheese Curds

Here's the thing about Culver's cheese curds: They're great if you don't live in Wisconsin, but they're just OK if you do. As a Wisconsinite, I can get fried cheese curds at practically every bar and restaurant, and most are better than Culver's because they've got a delicate, crispy beer batter coating that came out of the fryer a minute earlier. Things are different in the fast food world because that type of curd doesn't hold up to mass production and wait times. 

Culver's curds have a thick breadcrumb coating that's weirdly flavored with garlic and Italian seasoning. Thankfully, they also have actual fresh, spongy curds inside, instead of the diced cheddar or mozz some places pass off as curds. If you are not spoiled for cheese curd choice like I am, then these are a must-try (and indeed a lot of peoples' first foray into the curd world). Otherwise, get them at your local bar instead.

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Culver's side salad
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6. Garden Side Salad

This is the best fast food salad I've ever had. The greens were varied (almost no iceberg!) and fresh, with very little wilt or brown bits — and I'm picky about my salad greens. The two cherry tomatoes were sweet, and the thick cucumber even had been decoratively peeled in stripes. There was a good amount of shredded cheese and croutons. This is a great healthy fast food option. I just wish I had gotten a vinaigrette dressing packet instead of the ranch since it came in the dipping cup, but that was my own mistake. 

Culver's coleslaw
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7. Coleslaw

Coleslaw is always an afterthought, but at a fast food chain that's well known for fried fish sandwiches and fish fry (which is always served with slaw), it makes sense that Culver's perfected it. The veggies are fresh and crunchy, the dressing is creamy, thick, and a little sweet, and the generous dose of celery seeds adds serious flavor. I was surprised how good Culver's coleslaw was, but I'm not going to rank it above anything fried, let's face it.

Culver's mashed potatoes and gravy
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8. Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

This is where Culver's sides plummet off a cliff. These mashed potatoes were super bland, dry, and not creamy at all, like they had been sitting in a warming tray all day long. The gravy wasn't any help at all, because it just tasted like thickened, overly salt chicken broth. Hard pass. 

Culver's steamed broccoli
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9. Steamed Broccoli

I didn't expect the steamed broccoli option to be any good, and I was correct. Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables, but it never would have been if I was forced to eat overcooked, unseasoned veggie mush like this as a kid. Please don't force this on your kids.