Being out here in the Southwest has given us a chance to try many things that we couldn’t get on the East coast. One of the most notorious was the famed In-N-Out Burger. Proponents of this legendary burger joint include Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay. We’ve been trying to steer clear of fast food, but with such a strong pedigree we HAD to check it out.
In-N-Out is kind of the anti-McDonalds, which is a very good thing. They use fresh, natural ingredients, have very clean restaurants and are known to treat their employees extremely well.
First thing I noticed was that on a Tuesday at 8:30 PM the parking lot was absolutely packed. The inside was heaving with customers, the outside patio was full and the line for the drive-thru was almost out of the parking lot. To say this place is popular is a massive understatement.
Their menu is deceptively simple:
Hamburger, cheeseburger, Double-Double (a double cheeseburger), fries (one size), milkshakes, drinks… such a small menu that everything was printed in an extra-bold font and there was still plenty of blank space on the menuboard.
Their secret menu is where things get interesting.
Having done some research I learned that there are ways of having your food prepared that aren’t listed anywhere on the menu. Unsure if I had the terms right, I ordered 2 Double-Doubles Animal Style (lettuce, tomato, a mustard cooked patty, pickle, extra spread with grilled onions) and 2 fries. They knew exactly what I was talking about and gave me my total. 2 double cheeseburgers and 2 fries for 11 bucks! This sounded too good to be true. Surely the burgers were small or the fries were scant.
This was not the case. I unraveled our bag to find a feast.
First, the fries. There was a mountain of them. Looking at the fries I didn’t expect much. I’m usually not a fan of the “thin cut” variety of fries. It turns out, they were really good. They were lightly salted and you could tell that they were cooked in fresh oil. They actually tasted like a potato, and a really good potato at that. I was pleased to learn that they cut all of their fries fresh daily which always earns my respect, but enough about the sides.
Now, to the meat of the matter. The burger was delicious and juicy. The quality of the beef really stood out. This was no frozen patty – and the fact that it was cooked with mustard added a nice little bite to it. There was even a quality bun. It didn’t glue itself to the roof of your mouth as soon as you took a bite. The spread was not unlike a Big-Mac’s special sauce, but, combined with the pickle, lettuce and tomato, it just pulled the sandwich together perfectly. The grilled onions were the icing on the meat-cake. They added a unique accent that you probably wouldn’t notice until it was missing. With the pickles, sweet grilled onions, mustard and spread, there was this sort of sweet-and-sour dance going on. Everything blended nicely, without anything overpowering. Well, almost anything…
My only negative criticism would be the salted burger. Don’t get me wrong, I love and use salt. I also salt beef patties before cooking them. I realize that salt makes everything taste more like itself. In fact, whenever I grind my own meat for burgers, salt is the ONLY seasoning I use – but this had too much. It wasn’t unpalatable, but it was definitely enough to make it undeniable. Maybe if the amount was cut in half it wouldn’t have been so intense, but it could just be me. Whenever I don’t eat fast food for a week or so and come back to it, the salt always jolts me a little. It just seems to me, with all of the spread, cheeses and pickles, it wasn’t really necessary. Luckily, you can order your burgers “no salt,” so it’s easily customizable to personal tastes. I did go to bed that night with a huge cup of water beside me, though.
It was definitely a positive experience, and one worth repeating. Vess and I completely finished our burgers, which is an uncommon occurrence. We were also cursing our overstuffed bellies almost immediately. The tastes are definitely unique, and now that I have had In-N-Out, I think I would have no problem picking it out of a lineup. The service was fast and friendly. The value was outstanding. Most importantly the meal was genuinely delicious, a rarity among fast food these days. Even though it was a little far from where I live, I am glad I had the chance to experience it.