Burger Battle: West Coast Homer Votes In-N-Out

I got into L.A. a few days before Bryan did last week, and I confess that In-N-Out wasn’t the first place I headed. Since I flew into Long Beach, I swung by my old ‘hood and a fabulous dive called Casa Sanchez for some real, honest-to-God, why-doesn’t-this-exist-out-East Mexican food. What a relief to hear the person in line before me order cabeza tacos. What a delight to sip the first Orange Bang I’d had in four years. And how delish my chorizo con papas taco (a whole $1.20) and asada quesadilla were.

So I was a bit full heading into dinner, now soaking up some ocean breeze near my hotel at LAX. PJM’s Aaron Hanscom and I headed over to the In-N-Out to continue my journey through the myriad tastes of L.A. remembered but not duplicated anywhere across my new East Coast stomping ground. I didn’t even attempt the neapolitan shake — one of the In-N-Out code words (and yes, I did share some with Bryan, including the 4×4, before he and the Daves went) for the three flavors together — and didn’t finish my Double-Double animal style with animal-style fries (cheese, grilled onions, thousand island — like the burger). But as Patrick Poole noted in his pithy response to Bryan’s review, need one say more than “animal-style”?

Note the broken french fry hanging off the edge. The puppacita was sitting on the bench there, with the lovely view of planes landing at the Westchester/LAX location. Before I knew it, she had the fry sticking out of her mouth and tried to spirit it away. She’s never tried to steal a Five Guys fry, though that’s likely because I order the cajun ones just to get some flavor.

Which brings me to my impression of Five Guys. When you take a native Angeleno and transplant that SoCal denizen to the East Coast, it’s all about settling. There’s Baja Fresh and California Tortilla (misnomer) in lieu of real Mexican food, there’s a random gyro sandwich offered on a pizza menu in lieu of the fabulous Firehouse Greek restaurant in Tarzana. Instead of classic mom-and-pop joints like Pink’s or Johnnie’s Pastrami (which I also got to hit before leaving town), the D.C. metro area is dotted with your standard assemblage of Applebee’s and Cheesecake Factory.

And, of course, Five Guys, which is accorded the same saintly status out here as In-N-Out enjoys out West. Five Guys is good. Not much flavor to the burger, but juicy as Bryan says. A fair number of topping offerings, but maybe cheese choices or red onions would add a bit more flavor to the burger. There are free peanuts along with a warning sign asking you not to take them out of the restaurant. They also offer hot dogs with any toppings you choose. I find them especially handy during Lent as they make an interesting grilled cheese with your choice of toppings, like jalapeno and grilled onions, or a veggie sandwich (as does In-N-Out — and they have special sauce!). Bryan makes a great point on the extra portability of In-N-Out — if you’re road-tripping it, getting a burger with sauce and grilled onions won’t drip and also lets you savor the burger and bun flavors a bit more than if you’ve got topping overload.

Maybe I’m just being a homer. But it would be nice to get the same fiesta for one’s taste buds out here that you can get on the West Coast.

See Round 3 of Burger Battle: A Big Dog Goes Wild for Animal-Style at In-N-Out