Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Five Guys Burgers vs. In-N-Out

The blog for the NPR show "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me" recently did a post about transporting In-N-Out burgers on an airplane cross country and then holding a taste test.

The result: The burgers were still good — even though they looked less-than-appetizing in the photos.

Photo courtesy of NPR.

Despite the chain's fervent fan base, In-N-Out is still only in five states: California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Texas. And the vast majority of those locations are in the Golden State. That gives it a certain allure in the Midwest and East Coast.

When we visited New York earlier this month, I was excited to try Five Guys Burgers, which I perceived to be an East Coast attempt at creating the same kind of cult-like status. (I learned later there are already Five Guys locations in the Bay Area — duh — but at the time I figured it was an exotic treat.)

The Five Guys chain started about 25 years ago in suburban Washington, D.C., and now has more than 1,000 locations. Like In-N-Out, the most popular option seems to be the double burger — though at Five Guys, the double is the regular and the single is the "little" burger. It seems designed to foster America's obesity epidemic.

The food was good, but not mind-blowing, and not nearly as good as In-N-Out. When I mentioned this at the time, Kelly said, "Of course, you would think that." I'm assuming she was referring to me being West Coast till the casket drops. Even so, there's something about the way an In-N-Out patty melds with the sauce and cheese to create a transcendent experience. It's more than the sum of its parts — it's a succulent delicacy that goes beyond mere burgerdom.

Both chains are known for their fries, which to me is ironic. The Five Guys fries came in an absurdly large container and were OK but a little overcooked. In-N-Out fries, meanwhile, are usually the opposite — undercooked and a tad foamy. (If you're smart, you ask to have them double-fried to get a crispier flavor.)

In both cases, it's the burger that matters, and it's hard to compete with In-N-Out.

West siiiiide.