Carne Asada Fries, The Can't-Miss Mexican-American Fast Food

June 27, 2014

(Photo by Sarah Ventre - KJZZ)
The delicacy in question.
(Photo by Sarah Ventre - KJZZ)
Healthy eater Steve Goldstein bravely tries the fries with Nick Blumberg.

There are just some foods that, when you try them for the first time, it kind of feels like your whole life has been leading up to that moment. At least, that's how it felt the first time I ate carne asada fries.

I had never even heard of carne asada fries until I moved to Arizona. It's often a late-night order, like a giant slice of pizza or some greasy Chinese takeout. With a few variations, most plates are a mound of french fries topped with carne asada, guacamole, cheese, and sour cream, with a side of hot sauce.

In the course of reporting this hard-hitting news story, I went and picked up an order of the fries, which I discussed and ate with our Senior Producer Sarah Ventre.

"It's important the guacamole and the sour cream are on different ends of the container so you can control the distribution, which is, I think, key to the consumption of carne asada fries," Ventre said.

We even dared the healthiest eater in the KJZZ newsroom, Steve Goldstein, to take a break from his usual afternoon fruits and veggies to try a couple bites.

"Mmm, that's very tasty," Goldstein said. "I can see that being addictive. Let me get some more of the sour cream in there."

"Were you apprehensive going into this?" I asked him.

"I was apprehensive, because my co-host decided to build it up into something that would scare me!" Goldstein said. He's right ... I did.

San Diego usually gets the credit for inventing carne asada fries. To learn more, I talked with Joaquin Farfan Jr. His family has been running taco shops in San Diego for decades. The chain Farfan's parents started is called Lolita's.

"We feel strongly that we were, if not the first, one of the first to introduce these types of plates out here in San Diego," Farfan said.

Interestingly enough, Farfan said they actually got the idea to add french fries to the mix from their tortilla distributor, who knew of a taco shop in Arizona doing just that. Lolita's first added fries to a burrito, and then rolled out a plate of carne asada fries in the late 1990s. Farfan said they caught on fast.

"Who would have thought french fries in a Mexican taco shop would be as popular as they are? We never thought that. For our five locations, we use over 10,000 pounds of french fries a week. It's crazy," Farfan said.

San Diego food writer Erin Jackson said when she was introduced to carne asada fries: "It was like this unexpected moment that changed my life forever."

Some people compare carne asada fries to poutine, a Canadian dish made up of fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. Jackson, who actually hails from the Great White North, said that comparison only goes so far.

"People tend be consuming carne asada fries after several beers or late at night, which is kind of a similar thing with poutine. [But] I don't really think that's a fair comparison, other than in terms of calories and when you're making the decision to eat the dish," Jackson said.

And speaking, begrudgingly, of calories: "It's 2,000 calories, so that's like a whole day's worth of calories, and then two days worth of fat," said nutritionist Amy Hall. If she were advising someone with high cholesterol or blood pressure, Hall would tell them to lay off the carne asada fries.

"But for anyone else, I guess if you just had it once in a while, it wouldn't be too bad." Even better if you split it with two or three other people.

"It does have a lot of protein in it, so that's good," Hall said.

While it's not the pinnacle of healthy eating, there's just something irresistible about the lure of this Southwestern specialty.

"In the beginning, when it was introduced, it was just the young kids," Farfan said. "But now you have parents, grandparents, everyone into the french fry craze."

If you're looking to get some carne asada fries, my favorite spot for them is Filiberto's, but if you ask Ventre, you should try Rivas in Tempe. We'll let you be the judge.