(While Marie and I take a week off from food writing, our friend Neal will be filling in with a week’s worth of reading about some of the meals that he’s enjoyed while out in southern California on business. Enjoy!)
In-N-Out Burger is one of those places that people say you have to visit when on the West Coast. I first tried it earlier this year and I was sad to say I wasn’t terribly impressed. As far as burgers go it wasn’t any better or any worse than a dozen other places I could eat back home in Atlanta. It was good though, just nothing to write home about. On this trip I figured I would give it another try, mostly because I knew Grant would enjoy a proper review of the place, but partially because I suspected my first visit was a fluke. I wanted to give it another chance.
When I landed in Irvine today I was starving. My seat on the plane was in the last row and by the time the lunch cart reached the back of the plane all they had left was a tiny bag of peanuts and a Diet Coke. I wasn’t due to land until 12:45 so I assumed my coworkers would be eating lunch before picking me up. I was prepared to have to wait till dinner to get any food, so imagine my delight when they arrived and informed me they had waited. They immediately asked what I was in the mood for and I quickly said In-N-Out Burger. A good burger sounded like exactly what I needed.
This chain began in 1948 as the first fast food chain with a proper drive-thru window and the menu has not changed since. To the uninitiated the lack of choices seems a bit daunting. I am not kidding when I say that the menu lists 3 sandwiches; the Double Double, the cheeseburger and the hamburger. For sides you get fries or fries. And for a beverage you can choose from the usual soft drinks, tea or milkshakes. That’s it. There isn’t a chicken sandwich in sight. They do offer other variations on the basic burger, such as the Protein burger which is just a hamburger wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun, or the 4 X 4 which features four all beef patties, but this is a burger joint and nothing else.
Seeing as how I hadn’t eaten since 7am Eastern Standard time I opted for the Double Double, which unless you specify otherwise comes with lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions and their famous “spread.” This tastes a lot like Thousand Island dressing melted down a bit. I added an order of fries and a real vanilla shake.
In-N-Out prides itself on everything being fresh, and we waited quite a while for our food. This particular location is adjacent to the University of California Irvine campus and gets quite a large lunch crowd during the week. Given the near perfect Southern California weather (it was 73 when we ate lunch today) I was a bit disappointed to see that the did not have patio seating of any kind. The dining room is agreeable enough though, looking a lot like a revamped Steak-n-Shake with their stainless steel counters and white tile. The staff still wears the white soda jerk outfits too, complete with the paper hats. It was charming to say the least. The service overall was outstanding.
I left this time feeling a lot better about the place. My burger was very, very good. I still think that Five Guys back home is better, but In-N-Out is definitely miles better than anything I’ve ever had from Wendy’s. The unfortunate part of this is that their fries are terrible. Yes, they are fresh, but they are slimy greasy things that hang limp when you pick them up and don’t have any kind of seasoning on them. I had to bury them in ketchup just to get to the bottom of them. The shake on the other hand was marvelous. It’s hard to mess up a vanilla shake.