“Starch Madness” embarks on a quest to find Evanston’s best fries


Illustration by Emily Lichty

Students keep the community informed with updates on the official Starch Madness Twitter account after each matchup.

Samantha Powers, Assistant Campus Editor

Thirty-two restaurants. Fifty-six students. One champion title. This is Starch Madness: the competition for Evanston’s best fries.

When SESP junior Armaan Ajani posted on Snapchat asking his friends if they wanted to join him in a quest for the best fries, they responded immediately and enthusiastically. 

He got the idea from friends who started a “best fries” bracket, but graduated before they could finish it. So, Ajani picked up the torch. He started with about 50 participants and said the number continues to grow.

Over spring break, Ajani made his plan: Participants would be split into teams of three or four. Each group would judge between fries from two restaurants every week. He organized the restaurants into four regions: brunch, burgers, wings and miscellaneous. His 14-point rules list lays out logistics like permitted sauces, transit options and more.

“I was very bored over spring break,” Ajani said.

The group has made it through the first round of the Starch Madness bracket, with the “Savory Sixteen” round set to close on Sunday night. Students keep the community informed with updates on the official Starch Madness Twitter account after each matchup.

McCormick junior Molly Whalen, a judge in the wings region, said her favorite part of Starch Madness is its absurdity.

“So much work went into this absurd thing,” Whalen said. “I just find it really hilarious, and I also think it has been like a really good bonding thing.”

Whalen said trying fries with her team members has been a good icebreaker. Ajani said although most people already know each other, he tried to make sure everyone had at least one friend on their team.

Weinberg junior Christine Jie said sharing a meal with her team allowed her to get to know them better.

“It definitely gives me something to look forward to at the end of a long day,” Jie said. “It’s been a good way to meet people that I probably would not have met or eaten with otherwise. It’s kind of silly, but I really like it.”

McCormick junior Marcos Rios, a self-proclaimed fry-lover, described the experience as “relaxing.” He even went as far as to leave his backpack at home for the excursion — a rare occurrence, he said.

From the start, Rios said he was enthused by Ajani’s idea. Still, he said he was surprised by how many people were willing to participate.

“I was like, ‘Damn, Armaan was able to pull together 55 people crazy enough to do this. That’s really impressive,’” Rios said. “But if there’s anyone that could do it, it’s probably him.”

Rios has been watching the competition closely. He said Bob’s Pizza has his favorite fries in Evanston, but he’s been closely following the brunch region of the bracket –– especially Le Peep. 

Ajani said his favorites for the title thus far are Habibi In and Mid Kitchen. He said he hopes the competition will culminate in a “Frynal Four” party to determine the overall winner.

Ajani said it’s been fun to see the upsets thus far, and he looks forward to seeing which restaurant takes the title. 

“That’s the madness of it all,” he said.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @SQPowers04

Related Stories:

Open Tab: Tomo Japanese Street Food revels in its simplicity

Evanston restaurants use Too Good To Go to reduce food waste

Open Tab: Habibi In is one of Evanston’s hidden gems with great atmosphere and even better food