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An In-n-Out Lovers Thoughts on Five Guys

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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  1. Cool review (and blog, too!)! Even makes me wanna give Five Guys a try sometime. ;)

    One of my friends echoed your comments re the "experience" varying by location, but isn't that the case in many chains? I remember there were two Friendly's (ice cream/burger chain in New England) in my hometown when I was a kid. The one on the other side of town consistently had better service and food, so we always went there.

    And I know I have to try In 'n Out next time I'm on your side of the country. Happy eating out, Eric!

    4 Replies
    1. re: kattyeyes

      Friendly's rocks. Been to several in NJ. My wife's grandmother used to like their liver and onions. No lie. (I used to like the shrimp scampi at Denny's when I was a kid!)

      1. re: ejs1492

        I loved Friendly's before they stopped cooking burgers rare the way we'd ordered them. I was a big beef cheeseburger kid on setup toast with extra pickles on the side, please. And a strawberry soda with no ice. ;)

        I still love to get a sundae there once in a while--their PB sauce is fab!

      2. re: kattyeyes

        "the "experience" varying by location, but isn't that the case in many chains?"

        True for most chains but I think Chik-fil-a is the exception to this. I've never had bad service at a Chik-fil-a. I think its commendable that Corporate goes to great lengths to ensure that all employees are friendly and helpful. All they have to do is expect from their employees and they will likely get it. Could someone please clue in the other chains to this training practice? :-)

        1. re: lynnlato

          I think In-n-Out also is pretty consistent across the chain. That's one reason I prefer it to Five Guys. I prefer the fries at Five Guys, however.

      3. Stuck here in the middle of the country, I've not had the opportunity to try either (I don't get out much of the 5-state area), but the news is out that Wichita's getting the first of several 5 Guys soon. I looked at their menu on the website and I'm cautiously optimistic, even though I'll have to drive several miles out of the city core to get to one. But it's no big rush, because I've got a couple great burger shops in my neighborhood that don't have websites and internet publicity.

        4 Replies
        1. re: podunkboy

          Five Guys is slowly gaining a national niche. They've been popping up in Michigan and Ohio (which is where Friendly's is based, btw.) and since they're going to be in Wichita soon, I guess those of us in flyover country have been deemed worthy by someone out there.

          1. re: Fibber McGee

            Friendly's is actually based in Massachusetts.

            1. re: hynespb

              Hmm, they had a headquarters in Troy, Ohio for quite some time. Maybe that's just a franchise headquarters. Either way, they're not just in New England.

              1. re: Fibber McGee

                I looked it up, the headquarters in Boston are for approx 95% of the company, so it's possible that the area headquarters for the local franchises there is in Troy.

                I used to work for a large national chain, privately held but with different partnerships (we were not franchised). Our corporate offices were in Dallas, which had 15 stores. The national headquarters were in California which had about 500 of the 800 stores or so at the time. Other corporatte offices were scattered over the country based on partnership deals with the original owner.

        2. It's really hard to compare In-N-Out and Five Guys in terms of atmosphere and service because Five Guys is a franchise model and In-N-Out is purely privately owned.

          I've been to several Five Guys along the east coast (DC, Va, FL) and have found wide discrepancies in service and food. In contrast, I think there is much greater uniformity with In-N-Out from store to store.

          1. yum-o! great pictures . . . .and now i have to try 5 guys. that burger looks delicious! and the fries - in&out's only sad point - look yummy. thanks for the great review. i think i'll end up liking both too.

            1. I neglected to mention the fries in my review. We ordered them "cajun style" which, apparently, means that they are sprinkled with a flavored salt. Candidly, I was underwhelmed since I had heard so much about the Five Guys fries.

              I agree that In-n-Out fries are really weak...HOWEVER...have found that they are excellent when ordered "well done"....crispy and delicious. Otherwise, they are limp and soggy.

              Again, I have a hard time picking which makes the better burger...it was really a draw. Both were very good...but different.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ejs1492

                I don't like the cajun fries, my fgrandparents were cajun and putting seasoned salt and other stuff on something does not make it cajun. The key to five guys fries is to get them out of the bag as quickly as possible that way they don't steam anymore. The second time I went I did that and the fries were much better.