Bicoastal Burger Wars

If you’ve been reading my various posts about hot dogs in the past, you’ve probably figured out that I love true “Americana” food. Now I have certain criteria: tastiness, freshness, price. But overall, I’m willing to try anything once. One of my friends, who’s an American but now lives in Paris, said to me recently, “When I come to LA, I plan on eating everything the French would find absolutely disgusting. Like hot dogs with tater tots and chili on them.”

So when I kept hearing about the “ultimate” burger place in DC, I was intrigued. I hadn’t done a lot of research on restaurants or food, given that I was mostly visiting relatives and family friends, and this being my thousandth trip out there. But time after time, someone kept saying something like:

“Wait, you’ve never been to Five Guys?”

“Don’t they have Five Guys in California?”

“Even Obama goes to Five Guys.”

Now, I was in high disbelief, because as any Californian knows, the ultimate burger place is In-n-Out. They are leftover from the heydays of burger culture, where a drive-thru meant fast, good tasting food at a quality price and a commitment to freshness. Never been to one of those? Yeah, I’m not sure I have either, but In-n-Out comes pretty close.

Their menu is simple: about 6 items and then the “secret” items you can request off-menu. In-n-Out is also unique, because unlike the corporate run burger places, they are still a family-owned business that relies on not over-expanding their empire (they only have stores in CA, Nevada, and Arizona) and treating their employees as if they are partners in the business.

To be fair, not everyone loves In-n-Out – it’s not a gourmet burger, but it is pretty damn tasty and pretty damn cheap, and there’s a drive-thru.

So one night, before a Nationals game, we headed over to the Five Guys by the stadium.

“This is the one Obama went to,” my dad pointed out.

We ordered, the most complicated process being how to quickly decide which condiments on the overhead board would make the tastiest burger. Grilled onions, mustard, lettuce? Yes. Jalapenos? No. Fries? We might as well try both the plain and the spicy Cajun ones.

In feel, Five Guys was shockingly similar to In-n-Out–white and red tiled interior, guys in aprons taking the orders. They were just missing the little paper white hats and pictures of classic cars with palm trees in the background.

The burger was good, everything hot and slightly melting together in proper burger fashion. I was surprised that every order includes a double patty on the burger, albeit two thin patties. The fries were thick slices of potatoes, just crisp and hot enough. The spicy Cajun ones were addictive at first, but then left that slightly greasy-salt coating on the interior of your mouth. We agreed that next time we would just order the regular ones.

In final conclusion, I liked the burger, but I felt it really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Just another place catering to frat-boy/drunk food tastes. I’d rather go to a place like the Smokehouse in Oakland with its cast of characters and wonderfully thick patties that drip juice and fat if I want a frat-boy burger. There’s something I love about indulging in the most American of habits: beef, dripping in juices and fat, piled high with cheese, and a paper wrapper (that you might even lick if no one is watching).

But I can’t say I want one most of the time. I still prefer In-n-Out’s simpler burgers that satisfy that craving enough, without feeling like you’re losing all sense of self-control.

But I will give Five Guys this: the fries were pretty good. Way better than the unpeeled, slightly-odd tasting ones from In-n-Out.


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