The journey of a thousand pounds begins with a single burger

Five Guys at Liberty Station

Among the many food sites I’ve read earlier this year, I saw a bracket for the best chain hamburger. It happened to run in conjunction with March Madness, and since I know almost nothing about basketball I had more interest in this bracket than who was in the Final Four.

Back to the burgers, the Burger Chain Bracket included Carl’s Jr., Sonic, Jack in the Box, Burger King and Whataburger. The only chains I was not familiar with were Krystal, Culver’s, Steak ‘N Shake and Five Guys. But Five Guys stood out to me because ultimately they won the Chain Burger Bracket beating In-N-Out early in the process. As a In-N-Out devotee, I was shocked. In-N-Out losing to Five Guys? Who were these guys and what made their burger better than In-N-Out?

Luckily for me, Five Guys Burgers and Fries recently opened up a new franchise in Liberty Station this past July.

Plating area

Reminiscent of old school dinners and especially In-N-Out, the interior of Five Guys is red and white. On a personal level, a white color scheme paired with any color says “hey, we like to keep things clean here” and not hide anything behind dark wood paneling. You are welcomed right away with sacks of potatoes and boxes of peanuts (in the shell) you can help yourself to.

According to Wikipedia, Five Guys is headquartered in Lorton, Virginia and has been around since 1986. There are currently two locations in San Diego: this one in Liberty Station right by Trader Joe’s, and another one on the North Island Naval Station.

Unwrapped burger

The burgers are available as little hamburgers ($3.59) or a regular hamburger ($4.99). The difference between the two is the number of patties; little burger has one patty. There are also cheeseburgers ($4.19-$5.59), bacon burgers ($4.39-$5.79) and bacon cheeseburgers ($4.99-$6.39). Unlike In-N-Out, there is no secret menu that I’m aware of. Instead, you can choose from a slew of free toppings.

Toppings include mayo, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, ketchup and mustard. There is also relish, onions (I suspect raw, sliced onions), jalapeno peppers, green peppers, A-1 sauce, bar-b-que sauce and hot sauce. When ordering the burger with “everything” or “all the way” indicates the all the primary toppings. On our first initial visit with this presentation of toppings, we both got a little greedy and went crazy with the toppings. Bad planning. I recommend being judicious unless you really enjoy handling a sloppy burger.

Burger mess

The burger comes wrapped in foil, allowing a steaming effect to the sesame-seeded bun adding to the sloppy factor to the whole eating experience. This is the one burger you cannot put down, lest all the layers fall apart. Even Paul — a big burger fan — admitted that two patties was too much for him. Unlike In-N-Out, the burger patties are thick. A foil-wrapped burger with two patties weighs in at nearly a pound. But the wide variety of no-added-cost condiments makes it an enjoyable burger.

Bacon dog

They also have the veggie sandwich — a choice of condiments, grilled and slapped on a bun sans meat patty, with or without cheese — for $2.39-$2.99. I tried a kosher-style bacon hot dog (which was split and grilled) with a bunch of the toppings.

Fries and boiled peanuts

I was least impressed with the french fries. They come either in Five Guys style — simply seasoned with salt — or cajun-style, which did not pack the punch I was hoping. The fries are freshly cut at the restaurant like In-N-Out’s fries, but they’re larger and in my opinion mushier. I would like them in the fryer a bit longer for a crispier crunch. A regular order is more than enough to feed two people with average appetites. (Mark Evanier feels the same way about their french fry portion.) With such a big meal, something sweet like a shake would have been a nice finishing touch but they don’t serve shakes.

Despite the slew of toppings, In-N-Out burger is still tops in my book. And much like the fans of losing teams for this year’s March Madness, I remain true to the home team.

13 thoughts on “The journey of a thousand pounds begins with a single burger

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  1. Yeah it’s hard to beat In-N-Out. I’ve been curious to try 5 Guys for a while but didn’t know anyone that could get me access into the Naval station. I guess I can finally try them now at Liberty Station. I heard many conflicting things about them, but then again a lot of people think In-N-Out is overrated… (and of course I think NOT.. haha)

    1. Huh. So I guess that the franchise on the North Island opened first? When doing research on locations in San Diego, I was surprised that there were two with only a strip of water separating the two. I agree about In-N-Out. In-N-Out FTW!

  2. Five Guys infiltrated the midwest about a year ago. It’s good but it still hasn’t replaced In-N-Out for this California raised kid. BTW – I guess that Five Guys isn’t too friendly with kids with peanut allergies?

  3. We don’t have In-N-Out here in the mitten but I did appreciate the T-shirt worn in the background =)

  4. Honestly, I’ve never gotten what makes Five Guys or In-N-Out special. I’ll take White Castle burgers anyday.

  5. Five Guys not only offers the free peanuts, but their fries are fried in peanut oil. ❤

    I was unimpressed when I visited an In 'n Out, but I love me some Five Guys! The onions, btw, come sauteed/grilled if you ask for them that way. My usual is a little cheeseburger with grilled onions and mushrooms, plus catsup. Never unwrap the burger completely – the foil is needed to keep everything together!

    The fries… I think that it takes time for a new location to get a feel for making them right. Try again in a few months. At first, they did not thrill me, but when they get them sufficiently brown, they are wonderfully crispy. 🙂 (I take half of the fries home with me – they reaheat well in the toaster oven.)

  6. Donna–
    Seems like burgers are based on region. I recently had a White Castle burger and was pleasantly surprised. Plus they have a movie revolve around it.

    Maybe kids in Virginia have a higher resistance to peanuts? I dunno, seems awfully weird.

    Cara Mia–
    It was fries that ruined the meal for me. I like them crispy and we didn’t even finish a small order shared between two people.

  7. Kids in Virginia just might have a resistance to peanut allergies, it is the Goober state. So, it’s may be either don’t have peanut allergies or leave.

    Anyway, Five Guys burgers are great for the price. And In-n-Out burgers are great for the price. And for value, I’ll take In-n-Out. Even the small Five Guys is a bit much for me.

    But Five Guys wins in the fries department, at least the shop in Cerritos. In-n-Out fries taste like they just dug up the potato and did not wash it. But who needs fries?

    1. Huh. Maybe researchers should look into Virginia and see if there’s an something they can do about kid’s allergies to peanuts. I’m pretty certain that peanut allergies weren’t as prevalent as when I was a kid.

      I agree about fries. It’s all about the burger!

  8. I was just watching an episode of Good Eats (Tortillas Again) and Alton Brown mentions that the allergens in peanuts are located in the protein, not the fat. So the fries should be no problem for those allergic to peanuts. But the open containers of peanuts in the shops would be.

    As for the prevalence of peanut allergies (and other allergies), consider articles like this, which suggest a high rate of misdiagnosis, partially due to not going through in depth testing to determine an allergy versus an intollerance. There have also been promising studies where people with allergies are exposed to extremely small amounts of the allergen, in increasing sizes, in order to build up a tollerance. It works best with people who have severe allergies, for example getting them to the point where an exposure to one peanut will no longer kill them. Perhaps all of the peanut farms in VA mean that the children who grow up there have a good tollerance to it.

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