It’s a classic case of East Meets West. Jets versus Sharks. Left Coast versus Right Coast. Take two identical twins, separate them at birth, put one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast, and you’ll have two people with matching DNA but different personalities…products of their upbringing, values and environment. Such is the case with the often-compared Five Guys and In-n-Out. They’re really the same...but different.
Growing up in Arizona, my first encounter with and In-n-Out burger was when I visited my sister at college in California, at the age of 14. The love affair, and associated weight-gain, hasn’t ended and has only been intensified by In-n-Out’s proliferation throughout the western and southwestern United States. Now I can satisfy my craving down the street, instead of driving to California. But this story is not about In-n-Out, it’s about Five Guys. In-n-Out is merely the barometer against which I judge a “higher end” fast food hamburger.
I had been meaning to get to Five Guys for years, but never quite made it. Started in Washington, D.C., it has expanded throughout the East Coast via an aggressive franchise operation. Visiting our in-laws in New Jersey, my wife and I paid homage to President Obama’s favorite burger at the Hackensack, NJ, location. Beyond that, I’ll leave politics out of the discussion. My experience with Five Guys is limited solely to the location in Hackensack; I have heard many times that the Five Guys “experience” varies significantly between locations and that quality is sometimes inconsistent.
Bottom line: Five Guys makes a very good burger, but I don’t think it can be compared to In-n-Out. They are two totally different animals. (no pun intended) In my humble opinion, both burgers are very good. The beef is well seasoned, the buns each have their respective virtues (Five Guys seems to have more potato flour), and the toppings are fresh. Clearly, Five Guys offers a much greater variety of toppings, including jalapenos, barbeque sauce, A-1 Sauce and Hot Sauce. Beyond that, they’re both comparable in terms of quality, presentation and taste…depending on your personal preference. Each one is leaps and bounds above what you would get at the “other” fast food places, even if you factor-in the so-called “deluxe” burgers now offered at chains like McDonald’s. (Did someone say “Anus Burger?”) My wife, who doesn’t like In-n-Out, loved her burger at Five Guys. I like them both.
The differences are mainly about personality, and are representative of their respective geographies. I love the “newness” of the Western United States. But I also love the authenticity and history of the East Coast. In-n-Out: new, squeaky clean, efficient, clinical, polite - - almost to a fault. Five Guys: a bit worn, service is secondary, it’s solely about the food - - not the experience.
The kid working at In-n-Out reads the Bible. The kid working at Five Guys reads Hustler. But both will give you a great hamburger.
Photos can be found at www.ericeatsout.com
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