Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Washington DC & Baltimore >
Feb 14, 2002 10:32 PM

Is "5 Guys" worth stopping for?

  • c

We'll be driving through the area on our way to Florida. We've heard this local hamburger chain serves up the best burgers in the entire country. That's what Zagats and Roadfood are saying...What say you Virginia Hounds?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. They're excellent. But a double double animal style at California's In 'n Out Burger is the best. Five Guys has better french fries though.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Joe

      I have to disagree with the other posters. Five Guys' fries are quite good, but I thought their hamburgers were awful - unbelievably greasy - my girlfriend and I both felt awful after eating a cheeseburger there, and their hot dogs are also mediocre. Also, their Old Town Alexandria location is very dirty. Much, much better hamburgers can be found at Longhorn in Sterling, VA; Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse in Gaithersburg, MD; Kingfish (only at lunch) in Old Town Alexandria; and Texas Roadhouse, in Pasadena, MD (near BWI airport)

      1. re: Todd

        You wouldn't like In 'n Out Burger although I might argue that their grease tastes better than Five Guys which, as grease goes, is still quite good...for some.

    2. I had a "5 Guys" burger for the first time recently, after reading about them for a long time. I definitely enjoyed it - good, messy burger, very fresh and prepared to order, and fab, greasy fries. Don't forget to grab a handful of peanuts while you're waiting for your order!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Nancy

        Sounds good enough to me to stop the SUV - Thanks Wash-Baltimore Hounds. We'll try their newest place in Woodbridge (they have a web site) which seems to be closest to 1-95 and furthest from the traffic in Alexandria. Hopefully, it will be opened by early May.

        Thanks again!

      2. Where are you coming from? Yes, I definitely think you should stop by Five Guys. They have by far the best hamburgers and french fries that I've ever had. The hamburger joints that I've been to in the L.A. area (especially In'Out Burger) don't even come close to Five Guys, in my opinion. I have only been to the locations in Springfield and Alexandria so I don't how the Woodbridge location is.

        17 Replies
        1. re: Harsha

          Respectfully but Zagat (for what it's worth) lists In 'n Out Burger as the highest rated hamburger in Los Angeles with a food rating of 22. It is tied with the Apple Pan while Cassell's (more similar to Five Guys) has a 20. I've had all three along with Tommy's (yes, with chili) and still like In 'n Out the most. I would even go so far as to say that the first bite of a double double animal style (that's with extra spread, grilled onions, double cheese and pickles) is as good as the first bite of any Michelin three star restaurant that I have even been in. (Serious hyperbole here!) The philosophy of Thomas Keller who at his French Laundry only serves portions that have three or four bites because he believes "that each bite after the first loses a little bit" is particularly appropriate here. Several bites of a double double will not stand up to several bites of, say, a gorgonzola dolce toasted pistachio risotto or homemade ice cream topped with forty year old gold label balsamic but it comes close.
          I must ask if you had grilled onions on a double double with extra spread when you were at In 'n Out?
          Five Guys is excellent, ONE of the best burgers in D. C. Don't forget there are a number of bars that make 1/2 lb burgers with good toppings that are as good if not better. In truth the first Five Guys at Bailey's Crossroads simply introduced a bar burger and Thrasher style fries to a semi fast food operation. It is excellent.
          But given the choice between the FIRST bite of a Five Guys burger and the risotto I would choose the risotto. My decision is not the same when compared to In 'n Out's double double animal style.

          1. re: Joe
            Joe (aka French Fry Freak)

            Prior to 1967 McDonald's used fresh potatoes which were stored for two weeks in darkness then peeled leaving some of the skin on. They were then blanched and hung on a wall for several hours. Finally they were cooked in a mixture of 70% animal fat and 30% vegetable oil. In 1967 they stopped because this is a labor intensive process that was forcing them to raise their prices at a time when Burger King, Gino's and others were using frozen potatoes. Until 1981 or '82 you could still get the originalMcDonald's french fries at the first Ray Kroc Mcdonald's in Des Plaines, IL. Today that has been torn down.
            McDonald's #2 is in Downey, CA and has been faithfully restored to its original 1951 (?) building. Immediately next to it is a small building which chronicles the history of McDonald's with a number of photographs on the walls. There are also actual pieces of equipment from the '50's and '60's including potato peelers along with a pictorial history of the original McDonald's french fry and the original "real" milkshake.
            There is not a McDonald's on the face of the earth which makes their french fries like this any more.
            In Spokane, WA a man tried to buy a McDonald's franchise in the late '50's. For whatever reason he was not able to. Frustrated but determined he went to southern CA and took a job at a McDonald's. He learned how to make their hamburgers, shakes and french fries. He met their suppliers.
            Then he moved back to Spokane and opened "Panda" a hamburger joint styled to look exactly like a McDonald's. Selling McDonald's original food. Some time in the '60's the name of Panda changed to Dick's (not related to Dick's in Seattle). But the food didn't change.
            Today, almost 45 years later, the food still hasn't changed. His is the only restaurant on earth that still sells McDonald's original food: hamburgers, shakes (his version of the "Speedy Service System") and the authentic 100% original french fries.
            At lunch time every day over 100 people will line up at his windows with the lines spread all over the parking lot. A contemporary McDonald's two blocks down the street might have five or six people-peak-at its counter with never more than 10 or so cars on its property. Back at Dick's a line of cars a block long will be waiting to get into the parking lot.
            USA Today spotlighted Dick's of Spokane several years ago as the second highest grossing independant fast food restaurant in America (behind Atlanta's Varsity).
            As In 'n Out Burger has America's best hamburger Dick's (with McDonald's original french fries) has America's best fries.
            Note that I said America's best. The world's best are in Brussels.

            1. re: Joe (aka French Fry Freak)

              Thanks, Joe. Two very illuminating posts.

              1. re: Joe (aka French Fry Freak)

                Amazing posting, Joe, thanks. I think you'd have had more response if you'd posted it on our Pacific Northwest board....or General Topics, though...


                1. re: Jim Leff

                  I actually had a post about the Spokane Dick's on the Seattle board several months ago mentioning their french fries and there were one or two responses. There is also a locally famous Dick's Drive In in Seattle (which I've been to) that annually is voted best fast food in Seattle. But it's not the same despite the name. I was actually quite surprised that the french fry story didn't receive a lot more response. It was quite a big deal in '67 (?) when Mcdonald's made the switch. They actually had an advertising campaign which highlighted their "improved" french fries that they were introducing. I had a friend in college who for lunch would have four orders of french fries and a coke, nothing else. After they made their switch he told me that he never went to McDonald's anymore.
                  One of the reasons I'm so loyal to In 'n Out Burger is that they are EXACTLY THE SAME as they were in the '50's. They only sell three items: hamburgers, french fries and shakes. Well, and cokes and coffee, too. But nothing else. They still dry their french fries in a T towel, use fresh beef, real cheese, etc. To the best of my knowledge they are the only fast food CHAIN (as opposed to individual restaurant) that I know that does this. Their average gross revenue per store far outdistances McDonald's or any other similar group. Frankly the hamburger they make is pretty much the same as what most hamburgers tasted like forty and fifty years ago. What puts them over the top is the combination of grilled onions (on the grill all day like Philly grilled onions for cheesesteaks) which melt into two thick real American cheese slices and "spread" which is their version of "secret sauce" aka Russian Dressing. Combining all this with the "juicy" (aka "greasy") double or quadruple hamburger just puts it way over the top. Throw in leafed lettuce and sponge rolls and a first bite worth flying to the West Coast for.

                  1. re: Joe


                    That's a fascinating story. I'm not quite as enthusiastic as you about the original McDonald's fries or In and Out's Hamburgers (do you really mean it that you think the original McD fries and current Dick's are the best fries in America? Or do you mean the best fast food fries?), but they are clearly superior to their chain peers.

                    I'm fascinated with Dick's in Spokane, which I didn't know about (I'm familiar with the Seattle Dick's). Are their prices higher than McDonald's? Is the food available as quickly as at other fast food outlets? And did McDonald's ever go after them to try to shut them down?

                    1. re: Dave Feldman

                      I remember in the late 50's when I was in elementary school going to hamburger drive ins with names like Golden Point, Autoburger, Merrill's (The "Big M" burger), etc. Some, like McDonald's, used fresh potatoes. Some used fresh potatoes with the skin left on. Most, if not all, used oil which was mostly fat to fry them in. But I don't remember any other fast food place having french fries that tasted exactly like McDonald's. I do remember in th early '60's my high school friend mentioned above insisting that McDonald's fries had a particularly unique taste and crisp texture that was different from any other that he tried. Thus the four bags.
                      About three or four years ago I finally made it to the original location of Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City. I went for their ribs and sauce but the most surprising thing I found were their french fries. They were fried in PURE LARD. That's pure, 100% lard. A taste that then reminded me of fries that I had when I was a kid. Bryant's were greasy potatoes; actually excessively greasy. But the flavor was incredible. In D. C. on the Maine Avenue wharf there was a seafood stand that sold fried fish sandwiches and french fries among other things. It was called "Benny's." Well Benny's french fries were identical to Arthur Bryant's, i.e. they were fried in pure lard. (As an aside there is a currently ongoing discussion on the Pennsylvania board about potato chips cooked in lard in central PA which also have a truly unique taste also.) There was something about the taste of lard/70% animal fat that gave potatoes this "taste." (I also wonder if Nathan's french fries at Coney Island were once fried in lard or a mixture because I remember having them when I was a kid and thinking they tasted something like Benny's; today they seem different somehow lacking that unique flavor.) In England I have been to fish and chip places where the chips are hand cut thick and fried in, I believe, cottonseed oil. I have been to others where they are fried in lard or a mixture. (Best I have ever had were in Penarth where a few years back they still wrapped the fish and chips directly in newspaper.) The ones fried in lard or a mixture I thought were better. Today most every restaurant or chain or individual stand has abandoned using lard/70% animal fat to fry potatoes in. Decades of health consciousness along with what I believe are lowered standards of taste have allowed this. Some places (like Five Guys) have started using peanut oil to fry potatoes in. Thresher's in Ocean City started doing this, I believe, in the 1920's but I believe I'm correct in saying that Thresher's was an attempt to recreate the Belgian french fry where the potato was fried twice. (I also wonder if Thresher's were fried in lard or a mixture at one time themselves?).
                      In 1980 or 81 I was in Ocean City one summer and ate Thresher's french fries. They, as usual were incredible. The next day I flew to Chicago on business and had some time that night. In my rental
                      car I drove out to Des Plaines and went to the original McDonald's where they still served the original fries. McDonald's were better. They were greasier. Not heavy greasy like Arthur Bryant's cooked in lard but just, well, slightly greasy. Good greasy, if you will. The flavor was In the fry. When I had Spokane Dick's fries for the first time (I've been there five or six times now and have met the owner who told me how he started; he was in his early '80's when I met him several years ago.) I knew they were McDonald's original fries. It was the flavor of the grease in combination with the crispy potato from the shoe string cut and the bits of skin left on (which tasted great when fried!) which was lacking in the Arthur Bryant french fry. And salt really set it off. The owner by the way claimed that storing the potatoes for two weeks in darkness took much of the starch out of the potato and, for him, this was a key.)
                      I do believe that McDonald's had the best french fries that I have ever had in America. I also believe that In 'n Out burger's double double animal style or four by four is the best hamburger that you can get today in America. (And it's first bite is the best. Why? It's the juiciest!) There are 1/2 pound bar hamburgers cooked over charcoal and semi fast food stands like the Charcoal Pit in Wilmington, Delaware or Kincaid's Grocery in Fort Worth, Texas (cooked on a grill) that seriously challenge In 'n Out with their 1/2 pound burgers. Both of these are legendary by the way. But I prefer both In 'n Out and the original McDonald's fries because of their unique flavors. One from the combination of "spread" and long grilled onions melting into a thick slice of cheese along with GREASE. The other because of the salty, slightly greasy crispy potato with the flavor that the 70% animal fat had imparted.
                      The common denominator to both flavors, quite frankly, is grease-exactly that which we have been told is unhealthy for us and we should do everything in our power to get away from. Even the half pound hamburger at Wilmington's Charcoal Pit has juice that spurts out in your mouth when you take the first bite if it's cooked rare. Kincaid's burger, like In 'n Out is cooked on a grill, in its own grease.)
                      There was nothing unusual about how Arthur Bryant's potatoes were cooked. Fresh potatoes dropped in a basket into a cooker filled with lard. Just like Benny's. But they were not double cooked like the Belgian or Nathan's or Thresher's. There was no real "texture" to them. No crispness. McDonald's incorporated both, the flavor of grease with the double cooking which allowed both texture and flavor. The potato itself was NOT excessively greasy like Bryant's.
                      I have had french fries ("frites") in Belgium that I thought may have been better. I have also had some really interesting fried food in Italy which could possibly challenge both. Fritto Miso is fried fresh seafood and an occasional fried fresh vegetable where both are fried in olive oil. When done correctly there is NO grease. The best I have ever had of this is at two restaurants: Al Porto in Milan and Al Covo in Venice. At Al Porto they are served on a plain brown cardboard tray to illustrate that there is so little grease. But the flavor of the olive oil is in the food. Just as the flavor of the 70% animal fat is in the McDonald's fry. Unlike McDonald's (and especially the ultra greasy Arthur Bryant's) the fritto misto is "dry" when touched. But it is really flavorful. A flavor distinctly gained from being fried in fresh olive oil.
                      Lard, olive oil, 70% mixtures-all of these are missing from most American frying today. (Fried chicken is a topic for another time by the way.) But in closing while I do believe that the original McDonald's are America's best fries I have to confess having sat in Al Porto in Milan, eating fritto misto and wondering what french fries would taste like if double cooked in fresh olive oil after having sat for two weeks in darkness to remove the starch.

                      1. re: Joe


                        I have really enjoyed your dissertation. Next time you are in chicago you may want to check out hot doug's a fairly new "palace of encased meats" (hot dog stand) That sells (not as standard but as a special menu item) duck-fat fries.

                        Last time I had them, well I don't think the fat was quite hot enough and the fries soft and oozy and not crispy but they may have worked it out by now.

                        1. re: zim

                          Thanks for the suggestion. I'm actually in Chicago several times a year but you have no idea how addicted I am to the Italian Beef at Johnny's on West Melrose in Elmwood Park. (I prefer it over Al's.) Not that I am given to hyperbole (!) but the possibility exists that could be the absolute single best "beef" sandwich (i.e. cheesesteak, roast beef po boy w/ debris, beef on weck, etc.) in the entire country. And, when I write about driving out to Des Plaines in '81 I should note that I returned to Elmwood Park and the ORIGINAL Al Gelato for what arguably was the best commercially produced ice cream in America...ever. We won't talk about Garrett Pop Corn or the Dove Bars that I carried back on dry ice in an airplane.
                          But I'm not given to hyperbole.

                          1. re: Joe

                            I wouldn't call what you've said about johnnie's hyperbole at all, just the plain unvarnished truth

                      2. re: Dave Feldman

                        I don't know about the prices; I didn't notice. No, they are NOT as quick. I've waited as long as ten minutes at Spokane Dick's but much of this could have just been how busy they were. As for going after them, well, I've long wondered why Mcdonald's hasn't done a "test" resturant servings its own original food. I even sent a lengthy letter to Hank Greenburg asking about this, noting Spokane Dick's and received a brief one paragraph cryptic response about their new "juicy" hamburgers from their new improved cooking methods which they were introducing.
                        All they need to do is go to Spokane and look at the comparable lines or lack thereof.
                        There was a reason why McDonald's became so successful. I believe they long ago forgot what that reason was.
                        In 'n Out didn't. Nor did Spokane Dick's.

                  2. re: Joe (aka French Fry Freak)
                    Vital Information

                    Ray Kroc's original McDonalds in Des Plaines IL is not torn down, but neither does it serve food anymore. Instead, it is a frozen McMuseum. On the other hand, I always thought that McDonalds corp had a lot of chutzpah to declare the Des Plaines location the original.

                    Your story about how McDonalds gave up on their fry technique to save money reminds me of my constant complaint that McDonalds and all the others have given up meat quality to maintain their hamburger price points. I mean, the hamburger prices have remained roughly the same for years and years and years, what gives?


                    1. re: Vital Information

                      They now promote the Downey location creating the impression that it was the original. For me it is quite frustrating to go there and be served McDonald's contemporary food. The last time I was in Des Plaines was in '81 when you could still get their french fries and original shakes although then they had gone to frozen beef. I actually drove out from downtown just to eat there. (But then again I also drove specifically from Seattle to Spokane just to eat at the Spokane Dick's. And back which was about 500 miles. It was worth it.)
                      I should note that Vancouver has a great fast food chain called White Spot which has several locations which feature authentic car service. They also use fresh beef and slice fresh potatoes as well as make real shakes. For me they don't have the charm of Dick's but they are awfully good.
                      I could be wrong but I think the original McDonald's in San Bernadino was torn down. I have good friends who grew up there in the early and mid fifties and they insist that the burgers there were better than Ray Kroc's McDonald's. But I think they ate their burgers with chili on them similar to what Tommy's does today. If this is true (and I'm not certain if it is) could the original McDonald's have also inspired Tommy's? Or was the original McDonald's merely spinning off what probably had been around since the '20's or even earlier? Of course this could lead to the discussion about White Castle and Wichita and who served what we know as a "slider" in Wichita before White Castle?

                  3. re: Joe

                    I sincerely appreciate the time and effort - I wish I had time to do both places - just passing through on the way to the wasteland of fast food - Central Florida.

                    I really appreciate all the Hounds' help! You guys are the best! If any of you need info on Ft. Lauderdale which does have good eateries - just post and I'll help.

                    1. re: Joe

                      If you are waxing nostalgic about burger places that haven't changed their original mission or quality, you're talking Apple Pan in West L.A. They haven't changed their decor or menu a bit since they first opened in the 1940's. Hamburger, cheeseburger or hickory burger, egg salad sandwich for the faint of heart. Crispy, hot fries. Homemade apple or banana cream pie with fresh whipped cream. That's it. Quality forever. And plan to wait for a seat at the counter. No booths. I was eating there one night when George Lucas came in for takeout burgers. His limo idled at the curb while he picked up his food.

                      1. re: zora

                        Now there's the mark of someone who has achieved true wealth and success. A limo, a driver and a serious burger to carry out.

                    2. re: Harsha

                      We'll be traveling south from NJ - The reason we're going to try the Woodbridge location is that it appears to be the closest one to 1-95 and with the traffic in the area....Do you know if it is opened yet? It is their newest location.

                      So far, only one Hound did not think the place was great. Some people don't like a griddle burger and it seems that is the way they do theirs, but if the meats good, its a great product. Everybody, including the one complainer, acknowledges that their fries are terrific. Can't wait to get there!!

                    3. Last time I went, the french fries were good (but I've had just as good at Thrashers or the other fries places at the beach boardwalk), but I made the mistake of getting the regular size burger which is 2 patties. Next time I'll get the jr. size because I felt bloated.
                      But the bun was thin & got mushy! I was disappointed by that, and I hadn't contributed towards the mushiness with ketchup & mustard. I've had thicker buns at fast- food joints...