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.

Taste: 9.00/10
Value: 8.00/10
Grubbing on-the-go: 7.50/10
Price: $4.99

Overall GrubGrade: 8.75 (Very Good)

Nutrition Facts:
Five Guys Little Cheeseburger
Calories: 550
Total Fat: 32 g
Saturated Fat: 15 g
Trans Fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 85 mg
Sodium: 690 mg
Carbs: 39.5g
Fiber: 2 g
Sugars: 8.5 g
Protein: 27 g

42 comments on “Fast Casual Review: Little Cheeseburger from Five Guys

  1. missouri says:

    What, no fries?…

  2. Rhiannon says:

    I’ve yet to try Five Guys. Mainly because I still miss Backyard Burger. Time to move on…:(

  3. terry tate says:

    youre crazy for not getting a double and nothing about the fries? i get mine with bacon cheese jalapenos and ketchup and its quite a burger.

  4. Patrick says:

    Gotta get fries with their burgers. Best fries around! Fresh cut and the portion they give you is INSANE.

  5. Roy Heintzelman says:

    I’d be seriously interested in your review of the burgers at Z-Burger and how you would compare those to Five Guys. I’ve been comparing them for years in my mind, and will withold my opinion until I see your own review. 😉

  6. Peter says:

    Five Guys is fine, but too expensive for me. Over $4 for a quarter pounder? Really? I tried a burger and it wasn’t the “OMG this is so amazing!” experience or taste I had been expecting. It was a burger, better than most fast food burgers, but nothing special and certainly something I could make at home better for a fraction of the cost. The fries with Cajun spice are good, though.

  7. skippymom says:

    I had eaten at the original Five Guys in Alexandria VA since the mid 90’s before what you call the burger wars. They have been around forever to us DC ‘ers.

    I won’t patronize them anymore since they sold out. I spent a good part of 200* – 200* being a mystery shopper for all their new locations that opened up and I have to say their product – in my opinion – has tanked. It is expensive fast food that is not as tasty as it once was. It has become production line and not as good as the original.

    I will give all the locations I have visited credit tho’ for being clean [bathrooms included] and efficient, but I truly wished I had retained a bit more of my knowledge of high school Spanish. Ordering would’ve been so much easier. [At least in the DC metro area]

    I miss “our” true Five Guys. All the others are merely imitations.

  8. Jay says:

    Yea you must have not been hungry if you skipped the Cajun fries and got the kiddie/diet burger!!

    I am not lucky enough to have been to an In & Out, but I can name two burgers better than Five Guys — Bobby’s Burger Palace and Shake Shack. SS’s is absolutely the best piece of food I’ve ever eaten, and Bobby’s burgers are so well cooked and the different burgers he has is amazing.

    I’d also put Fatburger just slightly below Five Guys, mainly due to their crappy buns, and lack of KETCHUP. Though, this is the only place to get fried egg, it seems.

  9. Five Guys is hands down my fav fast food burger. Cheeseburger.. lettuce, pickles and mayo. Grilled cheese w/ green peppers. No fries.

    I love you Five Guys.. and you too GrubGrade. I was pleased to see you loved Five Guys as well. So far we see pretty much eye to eye on almost everything on the site 😀

  10. I don’t think the crusty well-done burgers are for everyone. If you like the crust but like something cooked more mediumish try to find a Smashburger. We have Five Guys in Madison, WI but I seldom go. The burger may be of a higher quality than fast food but I am not sold on it being worthwhile. I do think if you want the true experience you have to get the fries. The fries aren’t for everyone but most people at least like them and they definitely add to the experience. Plus you’d probably give them a 10 for value rating.

  11. J.B. says:

    I love love love Five Guys burgers.
    The nearest one to me is about 100 miles and I still try to make it there at least once a month.

    I always get the little burger (it is quite big enough for me), sometimes with bacon, and I get lettuce, mayo, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, relish and ketchup on mine. It gets a little messy, but it is fresh and good.

    If the burger was inferior, I would complain about the price, but it has honestly never crossed my mind. Instead I sit and get ticked off at home much McDonalds, Burger King and Wendys charge for their “burgers” that taste like they have 10 day old meat mixed with cardboard pulp.

  12. Adam says:

    Thanks for the comments, all.

    Re: the whole no fries deal. I’ve actually had them before and found them just “ok,” although I swiped them from a friend’s sack while we were at a suburban mall location, so I am willin to conceed I need to try them again. As far as not getting fries this time around? Take it or leave it, but I am in the clean plate club in life, and seeing though I was driving, I forced myself to accept thatme + food coma = public health hazard, and getting a side of fries would have been to much, considering I was going to town on the peanuts as it were.

    I’ve never understood mayo on a burger, especially if you’re going to toast it on the grill/grittle. I’m not huge on the taste of mayo (as some of you know) and I’ll opt out if there is another hydrophobic source to give the bun some reinforcement.

    I really want to try to get to a SS or a Bobby’s Burger Place or even one of these other new concepts, like Smashburger, Z Burger, etc. Tough because of my living location and life circumstances, but I’m sure I’ll make it to one of them eventually.

  13. raiders757 says:

    I enjoy Five Guys despite being a bit expensive. That aside, I must chime in on the cheese. I used be a believer in fully melted cheese on a burger, until I noticed the more it’s melted, the less you can taste it. If you can achieve a cheese that is slightly melted, yet the cheese doesn’t quite look as such, you’ll realize that we’ve all been missing out. Because of this, I forgo cheese most of the time, unless I’m making burgers at home.

    I’ll agree as well. Mayo on a burger? Gross! Then again, mayo is gross on anything.

  14. Ross says:

    In the past few months the burger mania has hit DFW area. With in a mile and a half of my job in Arlington, Texas we have In N Out, Smashburger, Five Guys, and the other usual suspects. Five Guys defiantly sells a quality burger, but I do not get the fandom their fries have created. Granted I haven’t tried them Cajun seasoned, but the regular fries were for sure something I’ll never buy again.

  15. Mike N says:

    @Jay – Steak’n’Shake has a new “Royale” burger that’s topped with a fried egg. Haven’t tried it, though, the idea doesn’t really appeal to me (I love their “Wisconsin Buttery Burger”)

  16. Rodzilla says:

    man up and pick a favorite

  17. adde says:

    I think five guys is way too soggy, and the fries aren’t even that good, smash burger is better plus they got chicken if you want that which is awesome fries r better, meatheads is better then both places n the fries are awesome

  18. five guys… just incredible. consistently so. probably my favorite burger chain. i was disappointed when i first tried in-n-out burger, because i had heard people saying it was better than five guys. in-n-out is good, but it just doesn’t compare. and the cajun fries are awesome.

  19. larry says:

    I can eat at 5 Guys {single/mayo/pickles/relish/onions/lettuce/tomato – split a small fry with 3 other people usually}

    Yeah that’s right…I’m in the “mayo on my burger” crowd. For that matter, mayo on dogs, sausages, lunchmeat..pretty much any sandwich that’s not pb&j.

    Ketchup is for fries. Mustard is for corned beef.

  20. Shannon says:

    I just don’t get it, but that is probably my fault at least in part. A few months ago I saw a Five Guys near me and decided to try them out. My burger was overwhelmed by the toppings I chose. I had never gotten such strong, bitter onions on a burger before, and I wound up scraping them off. I still don’t know what a burger from Five Guys tastes like. It didn’t seem all that remarkable. My order did include fries and while they were plentiful, they were overcooked and unseasoned. I’ve made better fries at home. No peanuts were in sight, but since the location was new and the employees were attentive and nice, I will give them another try.

  21. fah fah fah says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, man. And has been said already, if you get the fries…go cajun!

  22. Fah Fah Fah says:

    And RE: Mayo on burgers. It’s extremely common, not weirdly exotic but to each his own. Out here on the East Coast (PA anyway) they call it a California burger lol and you find it on the menu of just about any sandwich shop or food joint with a grill. Mayo, raw onions, lettuce, green pepper and cheese. and it’s awesome. That’s how i get my Five Guys burger 99.9% of the time.

  23. louis says:

    i prefer the regular fries even tho i usually like hot and cajun flavors. a burger without bacon is barely even a burger. its bad enough as it is, i dont think a couple of slices of bacon are really gonna push the envelope. and they have mr pibb and free peanuts which is a big plus in my book.

  24. Chefprotoss or dan says:

    Why on earth would anyone not get the cajin fries? Regular fries… What’s the point? Nice review adam, you should have tried the regular burger though. The first time I tried fg I got the little hamburger and wasn’t impressed. A friend suggested I try the regular cheeseburger with bacon and it was a divine experience.

  25. Matt says:

    I like Five Guys, but anytime I eat there I feel insanely heavy and sick after. It doesn’t seem greasy from the get-go but it sure does after. I do agree with the talk of the cajun fries, they are great. But they need to offer a smaller, individual portion. If I’m dining by myself and want fries, the smallest portion available feeds 2-3 people and I can barely finish the regular-size cheeseburger as it is.

    I used to live in California and got sucked into the In-N-Out craze, but years later after finally getting to try it again a couple times, I realize that In-N-Out is very underwhelming compared to the current players in the so-called “Better Burger Wars”. Either things have changed drastically over the past few years for In-N-Out or the competition has stepped up its game.

    Smashburger is the clear burger winner for me. It started here in Colorado but is rapidly expanding nationwide. I can honestly say it’s the best burger out there in my opinion. The meat is phenomenal, and the soft egg bun combined with the perfect toppings makes for an extraordinary burger.

  26. Francois says:

    Maybe the Five Guys location here is doing something terribly wrong, but the fries I’ve gotten have always been inedibly greasy. You could literally wring out the oil from them. I prefer their burgers over In-N-Out, though.

  27. Piggly Winks says:

    I was not impress w/ five guys @ all. Too expensive 4 a lil bitty patty that doesnt stand out enough to justify the price. Fries r meh as well. Went once 2 years ago & hav no desire to ever go back. Oh & mayo is a must on all burgers 4 me! Mayo 4ever,mustard never,lol!

  28. Lisa says:

    oy, 550 calories for a “little” cheeseburger still scares me! I remember I used to like going here with my friends, becacuse they’d get burgers and fries and I would snack on the free peanuts! I’m never one to turn down anything involving peanuts 🙂

  29. Ed H says:

    I tried them Friday and all I can say is meh. The burgers are no better than the average mom and pop fast food place. They have fresh homemade fries, but so do a lot of mom and pop places. I will say that the hot dogs were creative, but not for me. The best thing about them is the free peanuts.

  30. lz says:

    Five Guys used to be my go-to burger place, until I finally went to Juicy Burger. The beef tastes so good… They are not kidding when they use the word, “juicy.” It’s more expensive than 5G, though, and all their side items are not worth eating.

  31. Scrape says:

    I prefer the regular fries…and those bottles of vinegar are there for a reason…FOR THE FRIES. For full fry enjoyment, one must liberally slather said fries in the vinegar provided…and dip with ketchup, also provided. Then the frys are perfect. Like the chips part of the fish and chips. It adds just enough bite to them to complement the salt and cut through the latent flavor of the burger ALL THE WAY. You order an Animal at In-n-Out…you order it All the Way at 5 Guys…including the mayo. When you add in the copious amount of fries, you really don’t need the full burger, the LBCB is more than enough. Another tip…go ahead and try it when it opens.but you need to visit one that has been around a while and does huge business. Them grills have to season a bit to get the full flavor. I can taste the difference between locations (being that there are about 400 near me in MD), and old grills are better. Its also better to go after the lunch rush when they crew slows down a bit, the burger is neater and they always get your order correct.

  32. Josh says:

    I came across this post while searching for a Five Guys photo to use in my own blog posting. Just wanted to say, great write-up! You’re far more skilled at describing everthing that goes into a great burger than I am! Kudos!

    Have you had a chance to try Shake Shack burgers in New York yet?

  33. […] and rankings of the top burgers in the country. As someone who has experienced both Five Guys (my thoughts hyah) and In-N-Out (sharing the love there), it was naturally my mission to size up all the fuss. […]