Critic Brad A. Johnson dines at three popular burger restaurants to see which one truly makes the best cheeseburgers and fries.
Every time I write about hamburgers, readers flood my inbox with letters to let me know I failed to include their beloved In-N-Out. They rush to point out that I forgot to mention Five Guys. Or, more recently, “What’s wrong with you? Haven’t you ever been to Shake Shack?”
OK, challenge accepted. I just spent a week eating Double Doubles (and the equivalents) at In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys and Shake Shack to figure out who in this bunch actually makes the best cheeseburgers and french fries. And I’ve come to some conclusions.
To the question of who’s the best, there’s no easy answer. I visited an In-N-Out in Irvine, Five Guys in Costa Mesa and Shake Shack in El Segundo. Likely nobody will be satisfied with my findings, but I conducted the research so here’s the truth.
In-N-Out Burger wins
In-N-Out Burger wins, hands-down, for presentation as well as for service and hospitality. Their burgers are fastidiously packaged and arranged, as if the staff were expecting a commercial photo shoot. And when the hostess hands me my burger and jubilantly says, “Have a super fantastic day!,” it makes me want to do exactly that. It’s infectious. It’s hard not to fall in love. But there’s more to this story.
At Five Guys, they package everybody’s food in a brown paper bag no matter whether you tell the cashier you want it to go or for dining in. I don’t know why they even bother to ask if the packaging is same regardless. At Shake Shack, the presentation is nice but a little sloppy while the ordering and pickup process is completely soulless — a bunch of zombies.
The battle of the burgers
As for the burgers, I’ll have to flip a coin between Five Guys and Shake Shack for whose are made with the best-tasting beef patties. Granted, it’s hard to judge an entire chain by the product of a single location, but that’s the whole point of a chain: what you get at one is exactly what you should expect at another. Sadly, I found the meat at In-N-Out to be punishingly dry — almost like it had been put through a dehydrator. That’s disappointing because everything else about the In-N-Out burger was good.
In-N-Out certainly makes the best buns of the bunch. Five Guys starts off with what is probably a better bun, but they wrap it in foil and cram it into a bag, and by the time I walk 20 feet to my table to unwrap it, the bun is now steamed and soggy, especially the bottom half. Why would they do that when they know I’m eating in the restaurant?
Soggy buns, dry meat, soulless service… who wins? Strictly speaking of the burgers, Shake Shack narrowly takes the prize.
And the best fries?
And the best fries? Five Guys still wins that contest, hands-down.