Mozzarella sticks were once appetizer menu stars—the thing everyone at the table scrambled to snatch up while the cheese was still piping hot and extra pullable. They remain a big hit, when you’re eager for some happy hour snacks, but due to their popularity, several fast-food restaurants ventured into the fried mozzarella stick game. Each, like the restaurants themselves, is quite unique.
Since not all cheese sticks are made the same, we decided to taste test the fried cheese pieces at a variety of fast-food restaurants to find the best ones. We specifically chose fast-food options, ones most often with a drive-thru instead of fast-casual places that require you to sit down to eat. The multitude of options were quite different, so there is most certainly a right option for your cheesy preferences. Here, we offer our opinions and rankings so you can get the best fried cheese experience possible.
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The cheese sticks at this classic carhop establishment were the best we had, hands down. The crust is perfectly flaky and flecked with little bits of Italian seasoning. The cheese can stretch for miles (we exaggerate), but you’ll satisfy your cheese pull itch most certainly. You don’t even need the marinara sauce, which frankly wasn’t the best anyway, so just grab a small and bask in the crispy fried cheese glory. Get a cherry limeade to wash it down, too.
Hot out of the fryer, these cheese sticks are crisp and ooey-gooey melty, and they’re even better than some of the ones you’ll find at sit-down establishments like its parent company’s other brand, Buffalo Wild Wings. (The same company, Inspire Brands, now also owns Sonic, by the way.) But we gave the nod to Sonic’s sticks over Arby’s simply because the crust felt more homemade, less factory extruded. Here again, you don’t need the marinara. It’s a bit too sweet.
Best Unique Cheese Bite
Winner: Culver’s Wisconsin Cheese Curds
If you’re not familiar with this staple of America’s Dairyland, it’s time to seek out a Culver’s. (They’re no longer only a Badger State staple, so you probably live closer to one than you know.) The fast-food brand, famous for its ButterBurgers and Concretes, shines bright for something you once had to travel to eat: cheese curds. Each piece of un-aged yellow and white cheddar is fried to crispy perfection. Chew in bliss—and listen for the squeaks.
Runner-up: Dairy Queen Fried Cheese Curds
The home of Blizzards and Dilly Bars serves up a mean cheese curd. Like Culver’s, each piece is individually fried to buttery golden brown, and every piece offers that telltale squeak against the tooth. But the crust-to-curd ratio was a bit skewed to the crust side, which wasn’t the optimal curd experience. Still, if you have no Culver’s, you’ll not regret adding an order of these to your meal.
Others We Tried
Captain D’s: Big cheers for the creative sauce application—honey mustard instead of marinara. It almost put this one over the top because it really works. But their slender physique (i.e. not a lot of cheese) was a mark against them. Still, anytime we’re in this fast-food seafood establishment, we’ll be getting them. The crispy, crunchy crust is seriously a delight.
Burger King: You’ll want to hurry if you’re curious to try these, as they’re only available for a limited time and sometimes not available at all. (We had to visit three stores to find them.) And honestly, don’t go out of your way. They’re good—in that they’re fried cheese, and that’s always a good thing—but they’re nothing special. Now whatever happened to those Mac ‘n’ Cheetos?
A&W: Fun fact: Culver’s was born of exasperated A&W franchisees who wanted to strike out and do their own thing—and one of those things was of course bringing beloved cheese curds to their menu. A&W’s Cheese Curds feature Wisconsin white cheddar, as you’d expect. They’re crispy and crunchy, but they’re not as well executed as you’d like. Plus, a yellow cheddar curd is a bonus because it has a slightly sharper taste. These were a little flat with all white cheddar.
White Castle: Honestly, anytime we’re craving White Castle, it’s usually late, and several events have led to thinking a late night sliders run is just what the doctor ordered. So naturally, who’s going to argue that an order of cheese sticks isn’t necessary? But if you’re eating them on your own, you’ll probably find them a little lacking. They’re good even better than anything you can bake at home—but there’s nothing really special about them, we’re sad to say.
Zaxby’s: They’ve honestly nailed the perfect chicken finger (and that sauce—yum!) but their Fried White Cheddar Bites don’t get any praise from us. The puffy crust overwhelms the cheese—so much so, you might not even know there’s cheese in there. Honestly if you’re craving a Zappetizer, the Buffalo Dip and Tater Chips are the way to go.
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