The Last McDonald’s Still Serving Fried Apple Pies
I’m not one to moan about “the way things used to be,” but when it comes to food, oftentimes unhealthier cooking methods equal tastier products. Cases in point: Serbian fried chicken and Grandma Utz’s potato chips, both of which are fried in delicious beef tallow. And then there’s the long forgotten fried apple pie at McDonald’s, which made the switch to baked in 1992 due to health reasons and has tasted inferior ever since.
Unless you’re over 40 and/or live in Hawaii (more on that soon), you’ve probably never tasted a McDonald’s fried apple pie. Luckily, I live within 20 miles of the one McDonald’s location in the continental United States that still serves its pies fried.
Where to find the last fried McDonald’s apple pies in the continental U.S.
McDonald’s fried apple pies are nearly extinct, save for this location in Downey, California, a city in Southeast Los Angeles County. Built in 1953, the Downey McDonald’s at 10207 Lakewood Boulevard is the oldest McDonald’s still in operation. It was the second restaurant franchised by Richard and Maurice McDonald, so this place actually predates Ray Kroc’s involvement with the franchise.
And it looks like it, too. This McD’s is an old drive-up location with a design straight out of the ’50s. Off to the side is a single tall yellow arch and the chain’s nondescript, pre-Ronald mascot, Speedee, wearing a chef hat that lights up at night. A forgotten tagline, “Your kind of place,” inhabits a blue circle next to a seemingly handwritten McDonald’s sign. Taking it all in, it’s easy to forget this is a towering fast food juggernaut with roughly 40,000 locations worldwide. For a moment, McDonald’s looks like the little guy.
There are no digital order kiosks, no sleek modern fixtures, and there’s nowhere to order food indoors. While there is some seating off to the side in the form of a rotunda/mess hall area, most people choose to eat their meals standing outside the building or near their vehicles, harkening back to when fast food restaurants functioned more like drive-ins and less like DoorDash stops. I wanted to actually spend some time around this McDonald’s. It felt cozy.
So why is this Downey location the only McDonald’s franchise in the continental United States to serve fried apple pies? Perhaps it’s partly because this location is a historical fast food landmark, and the old-school apple pie is therefore all but expected at this specific restaurant. It’s important to note that not all McDonald’s locations operate under the same parameters. For example, in Hawaii, seemingly all of the McDonald’s serve fried apple pies.
Why Hawaiian McDonald’s still serve fried apple pies
In a fascinating 2019 article for Honolulu Magazine, writer Martha Cheng investigates why Hawaii McDonald’s locations serve the products they do, and why Hawaii is the only state still frying its apple pies (with the exception of the Downey location in California).
“People did not like [the baked] as much as the fried pie,” Victor Lim, a McDonald’s Hawaii franchise owner, told Honolulu Magazine. “That’s the reason we’ve been allowed to keep our fried apple pies. Our results prove that there’s a customer demand here in Hawai‘i.”
When a new McDonald’s location opens and it wants to serve a new item, it has to run the proposal past corporate headquarters—and it’s on those franchise owners to make the menu item profitable.
“That’s the same reason we get saimin, we get fruit punch, Spam, Portuguese sausage, eggs and rice,” Lim said. “We are part of the United States, but our culture is a little bit different.”
So the fried apple pies endure in both Hawaii and in Downey, where there is continual demand for it. Since I live so close to Downey, I decided to do a side-by-side taste test of the baked and fried pies to decide which is better. Luckily, there’s another McDonald’s 0.5 miles away from the Downey location serving baked pies, so both were still hot when I conducted the test. Here’s how they tasted.
McDonald’s Baked Apple Pie
The baked pie is doughy, warm, and somewhat flaky. Still, the overwhelming feeling is that the whole thing is just a little bit too soft. Real apple pie has some crust to it, some fat that flakes and crisps up while cooking the oven. This baked product, meanwhile, feels… microwaved. The filling is nice, however. McDonald’s apple pies are filled with chunks of apple, along with cinnamon, sugar, and deliciously sweet and thick pie goo. McDonald’s describes its pie crusts as being “latticed,” so some of that filling is exposed.
I’m not terribly impressed, but a warm baked McDonald’s apple pie isn’t the worst thing in the world. Much like the fries, the pie is best consumed on the spot. It’s warm, soft, and gooey, but definitely should be a tad bit sweeter. McDonald’s made its apple pies “healthier” back in 2018 by reducing their sugar content.
McDonald’s Fried Apple Pie
This fried apple pie comes in a brown box, already signifying a different experience.
The fried apple pie is basically a fruit empanada, and it’s delicious. Upon first glance, it looks rugged. The pie is a solid rectangle full of bumps and pockets of crispy bubbles. While the baked apple pie is more pale, the fried one is a deeper golden brown. Notably, the fried apple pie is not latticed; it’s a solid mass of crust with zero openings. Because of this, the center is likely to stay warmer longer.
Biting into it, the shell is crispy, slightly salty, and fatty. The inside is gooey, warm, and spiced, just like the baked, but the contrast in textures makes the fried pie sing. The fried apple pie is completely indulgent, without the evident strains to appear healthy, making it a breath of fresh air in the fast food space.
Moreover, it feels like a natural fit with California’s breakfast culture. There’s a doughnut taste to the fried crust that reminds me of the many Cambodian doughnut shops around town. The fried apple pie is the type of thing I would happily eat while driving up the 101.
McDonald’s suggests pairing its baked apple pie with ice cream, but the real move is to pair the fried pie with a McFlurry. I really wanted some ice cream to go with this, whereas the baked apple pie was far too soft to complement a cold and melty dessert.
Which McDonald’s apple pie is better?
The fried apple pie is the obvious winner here. McDonald’s baked apple pies are still better than they have any right to be, but there’s something uniquely special about the fried version.
For those of us in the continental U.S. this dessert is a relic from the past, but then again, it really shouldn’t be. For a fast food chain that sells cheeseburgers, french fries, and ice cream, it doesn’t make much sense that McDonald’s would draw the line at frying its apple pies. Back in the ’90s, fat was the enemy. But today? As we try to develop a more loving relationship with fat and embrace the chaos of fast food at its best, perhaps fried apple pies could be primed for a comeback.
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