Fast Casual Review: Little Cheeseburger from Five Guys
Not too long ago, I still didn’t consider myself a “burger guy”. When DC and Virginia were giving into the burger craze during 2007 and 2008, I was much more apt to order a chicken sandwich if eating out. I just didn’t “get” burgers, and even when James proclaimed Five Guys’ burgers and fries to be “Hall of Fame” worthy back in 2008, I can’t say I had any impulse to try the fast casual chain out.
A few things have changed since then to get me onto the burger bandwagon. Among them was a move out west, and a date with destiny at In-N-Out. Seized by the iconic Double Double (Animal style, of course) I’ve since become the kind of guy who needs to at least try out every fast food and fast food style burger. Some have been adequate (Carl’s Jr., Arctic Circle) others have been painful and overpriced (ahem, McDonald’s and their Angus Burgers.) None have been In-N-Out, and none have been really, truly enjoyable.
A little more than a month has passed since I’ve left In-N-Out’s western footprint, and needless to say, I can’t exactly feed my burger fix with Fed-Ex deliveries from In-N-Out locations in Utah or California. I can, however, try the burger everyone has been telling me to try for the past two years. That’s right, I finally made it to Five Guys, and after putting off the inevitable comparison with In-N-Out, I’m ready to chime in.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: why didn’t I go “all the way” and get a cheeseburger (really, a double burger) with all the fixings? I’ve got a couple of reasons for this, but none of them seem to matter now that I’ve had my first Five Guys experience. What does matter is that Five Guys’ Little Cheeseburger is without a doubt one of the best cheeseburgers a guy can get anywhere in this country for under five bucks, and a perfect example of how restraint with burgers sometimes yields the best results.
First off, I love the feel of their free-standing units. It’s a different ambiance than the one In-N-Out creates, but the free peanuts, malt vinegar bottles on the tables, and paper bags the burgers are served in really help make it an experience. That’s key, because I believe part of taste and flavor is rooted in setting. The other part, of course, is rooted in actual taste and texture. In this case, the 3.3 oz. patty is incredibly good. It strikes me as one of the most beefy patties I’ve ever had, with a loose pack and coarse grind that is far from greasy and incredibly meaty.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints about Five Guys, but I don’t buy them. Some have said the meat is under-salted, but I disagree. Others have said a cooked-through burger just doesn’t fly. I beg to differ – if anything, the searing on the griddle creates a great crust that comes of as slightly sweet. The part about the veggies being “hit or miss”? I guess I got hit, because my tomatoes were fresh and my iceberg was crunchy and plump, while a squirt of mustard on both sides of the sesame seed bun – itself charred on the outside but malty and soft on the interior – was a lesson in burger construction a McDonald’s employee should get.
The cheese wasn’t as ooey-gooey as a an In-N-Out burger, and usually I disdain unmelted cheese. However, I found the unmelted cheese actually enhanced the beef in this case, lending a bit of mild saltiness that didn’t overwhelm the meat. My only real complaint was the grilled onions I ordered, which were surprisingly absent from my burger. I like to think they would have added some sweetness and meltability to the cheeseburger, but as it was, I still enjoyed the burger.
Is Five Guys better than In-N-Out? I’m not willing to go that far. For one, they’re different beasts, and definitely project different experiences. But they both make great, affordable cheeseburgers, and they both stress an authentic experience. So while In-N-Out and its iconic Double-Double will always hold a special place in my, uh, stomach, I know where I’ll be grabbing my burgers for the time being.
Pros: A true burger "experience" at a fast food price. Full bodied meat flavor. Bun has variety of texture and flavor, but complements meat. Cheese is mild and not too salty. Veggies were crisp and fresh. Sear yields patty with juicy nooks and crannies and nice crust.
Cons: Cheese isn't as ooey or gooey as In-N-Out. No grilled onions despite ordering them. Poor food to calorie ratio when compared to an In-N-Out burger.
Grubbing on-the-go: 7.50/10
Overall GrubGrade: 8.75 (Very Good)
Five Guys Little Cheeseburger
Total Fat: 32 g
Saturated Fat: 15 g
Trans Fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 85 mg
Sodium: 690 mg
Fiber: 2 g
Sugars: 8.5 g
Protein: 27 g