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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.