Emperor's New Clothes

OK, I have to call bullsh*t on a certain cultural phenomenon.  At the risk of uttering a blasphemy, I have to say that In and Out Burger is simply not very good.  It seems to be hot among teens, so I get dragged to it from time to time by my kids, but the burgers are just meh and the fries are simply bad.  Among fast food joints, Wendy's is much better and we have a veritable explosion of gourmet burger places here in Phoenix  (a trend I applaud as mightily as I did the craft beer phenomenon) that are all much better.  As a regional phenomenon that builds a cult following as it spreads east, it reminds me of nothing so much as the similar Coors beer craze in the 70's, where easterners used to illegally carry Coors over state lines to bring some back home (e.g. Smokey and the Bandit).  And Coors sucks too.


  1. Brad Warbiany:

    The fries are bad, but the burgers are great. A double-double with raw onions is a perfectly balanced burger. I do like Wendy's, but it doesn't have anywhere near the clean and fresh taste of In-n-Out. Wendy's burgers that have tomato and lettuce seemed mashed together and the lettuce always seems wilted -- never get any crunch off of it. The lettuce on an In-N-Out burger is always nice crisp iceberg lettuce. Wendy's fries are much better, though (I still need to try these new "sea salt" fries they're advertising).

  2. James Malanowski:

    Okay, you just lost a couple of points ... try the 3x3 with grilled onion. Pure burger decadence. :)

  3. Sandman:

    Agree on the fries. McDonald's are still the gold standard of fast food fries. But I do like the burgers; not cult-following, life changing, but it's a good burger. Plus, they pay their employees pretty well, and it shows.

  4. ben:


    Thought I was the only one. Now there's two. I just don't get In n Out Burger. At all.

  5. Ben H:

    I'm going to have to kind of have to disagree with you here. I don't eat much fast food anymore, but In-n-Out has to be one of the best. I like their fries too!

  6. JJ:

    Reminds me about the hype about Krispy Kreme donuts. We had been hearing about these sublime pastries for years. A friend was trying to get me to invest in a franchise, even though neither of us had ever had one. My wife and I stood in line in Vegas for 45 minutes at 1am to try them. When we finally got them, it was such a letdown. They're just donuts.

  7. John David Galt:

    Navy people call hamburgers "sliders" because, as they put it, "easy down, easy up." The name In-n-Out Burger has always made me visualize the same thing.

  8. epobirs:

    A slider is a White Castle item. If it became a generic term for hamburger it probably indicates that a lot of your crew mates came from the same part of the country.

    I've enjoyed a few In-and-Out meals but have never really understood the mystique. And this is coming from someone who has been driving past the old one on Ventura Blvd. near Winnetka since the early 70s. In fact, I never ate at one until around 1998.

    The place I grew up making treks at 3 AM to enjoy was Tommy's. But just the three original locations that were the sole 'true' Tommy's until the 90s. Tommy's was sort of the Rolling Stones to In-and-Out's Beatles. Among other virtues for those up to no good, they were open 24 hours. In the 80s, back before the Web, if we were up at 2 AM and couldn't think of anything to do, we'd often pile into somebody's car and drive the 30-40 miles from Thousand Oaks to one of the closer locations, either Roscoe+Sepulveda or Victory+Sepulveda. (Roscoe+Sepulveda was bigger and better for hanging out but was also much more likely to be visited by the police looking for certain regulars.) This was after going to one of the big 24 hour news stands, most often the one at Hollywood and Cahuenga. The news stand on Robertson was smaller but had a series of rare arcade machines, many I never anywhere else until they had home versions.

    They didn't add fries (and of course, chili fries) to the menu until the early 90s but they're hugely better than those of In-and-Out. For most of my youth, it was just the burgers with a few other items like bags of chips available. The usual order was a triple chili cheese. Triples weren't on the menu originally but they never hesitated when asked for one.

    Never understood the Krispy Kreme mania. I suspect it was because most people had never enjoyed a really fresh doughnut. One of the advantages for those who work really late or really early.

  9. Mike:

    I grew up in San Diego. There were no In-n-Outs near where I grew up, so I only went to one a couple times as an adult. It was good, but not great. I remember when they opened the first one here in Arizona. The news media was all over it as if Jesus Christ had come to the valley. I would say I've been to In-n-Out no more than 3 times in my life.

  10. Xmas:

    You need a 5 Guys Burgers and Fries franchise out there. It's probably the best fast food burger you can get. Plus, the fries are fantastic. Their base french fry is a curly fry made from potatoes at the location. Part of their shtick is listing where the potatoes used for the fries came from and having the bags of potatoes lying around the eating area.

  11. me:

    So true. I did the almost scientific study of all available burger joints when I came here, and to everyone's great surprise, Wendy's came out on top. :)

  12. perlhaqr:

    Xmas: There's a 5 Guys in Tempe. Drove past it just the other day, actually.

    5 Guys is a remarkably good burger, but here in New Mexico we have the best burger franchise: Blake's Lotaburger.

    I like In-N-Out when I am in an area that has one, mostly for novelty value. I tend to be driving places these days (Thanks, TSA!) and I get so tired of the same old road food all the time. In-N-Out isn't spectacular (and the fries are kinda crap) but at least it's something different when you've been driving for five days.

  13. me too:

    Five Guys. Hands down is the best burger and fries you will get that didn't come from your grill.

  14. Scott Finegan:

    Coors is no longer made the same way it was in the 70's, and hasn't been since it became available nationwide.

    Wendys is far better than 5 Guys which rates mediocre.

  15. Scott:

    I have heard California transplants to Kansas rave about In-n-Out. Tried them on a trip and did not like them at all.
    Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers is my favorite (now in Arizona). And Five Guys is GREAT! Funny though, because Five Guys in the Midwest doesn't have curly fries. I don't care for their fries at all.

  16. NL:

    You can tell it's pretty high-quality for fast food because when you order protein-style (no bun, just a lettuce wrap) it doesn't taste horrible. Wendy's doesn't taste all that great without the bun and McDonald's is actually kind of gross without the bun.

    Also, if you get animal-style they grill the onions into the cheese.

  17. Joel:

    INO is probably exaggerated in terms of the quality of its fast food, but your analysis has a number of basic flaws.

    ONE, you're making a bad comparison of competitor burger places. You need to be comparing things apples to apples - I mean, burgers to burgers. The right comparison is to compare the basic burger - beef patties, pickles, tomatoes, cheese etc - amongst the main fast food burger chains. SO, you'd have to put INO's 2x2 against Wendy's 1/2 lb.Double with Cheese against Five Guys cheesburger, etc. You can't compare INO to "gourmet burger places" anymore than you could compare Outback to Ruth's Chris.

    TWO, INO will likely always be a Western regional phenomenon. Their supply chain is already pretty stretched with the Arizona and Utah locations. They'd have to do some pretty big business changes to go further east, and these changes could seriously damage the brand. I think it'd be pretty dumb to have an In-N-Out with its fake palm trees out here in Chicago, and assuming local sourcing of ingredients, I'm not sure I could get the same taste here in the Midwest on a weekend in January.

    THREE, this "Five Guys is the best burger you can get" is a ridiculous restatement of the same error made by over-enthusiastic INO lovers. Seriously, folks, you're falling into the same trap.

    For my part - again, my preferences only - I think INO's patties always pack a lot of flavor, and I think the size of the INO burger is more accessible to the average consumer, as opposed to the beautiful monstrosities of the Whopper and the 1/2 Pounder with Cheese. That said, I think Five Guys fries are really robust in taste and substance.

  18. Steve S:

    I agree with the New Mexico franchise Lotaburger. Used to eat there almost every day when I worked in Silver City/Hurley.

    Nothing like fresh green chili on top of everything...(seriously, the Pizza Hut down there had a green chili pizza).

  19. morganovich:

    i'm with you on the fries, but the burgers are good for fast food. double double animal style baby.

    wendy's? really. blech. their burgers are greasy to the point that they make me actually feel ill after eating them. i do like their fries though.

  20. Matt:

    Well obviously taste is relative. But somehow burger joints have become a ridiculous cult thing where everybody claims the one near them is the best in the world.

    With that out of the way, I can confidently say that among fast food and quasi-fast food restaurants, Five Guys Burgers and Fries is the best I have had, and national burger chains like Wendy's or Burger King are not even close in my book. Hand-formed patties from beef ground the same day, obviously fresh buns, and the fixings are always crisp. The fries are simple, "fair style" fries, just sliced, fried, and seasoned potatoes. Some people prefer a more engineered fry a-la-McDonalds, but not me.

    It is pure burger-and-fries bliss. I'd love nothing more than to experience an even better burger and fries, but I haven't yet.

    Also, I'm usually not happy with burgers from places like Chili's, Applebee's, and the like. The only full service restaurant I have found with really exceptional burgers is Cheesecake Factory, but I don't care for their fries.

  21. Orion:

    Smart companies create that viral buzz to expand. Not sure if you have them out west or what, but Sonic created this buzz that built and built until they finally opened one here in CT. I haven't been there, and don't really care, but it was a smart business move. I suspect In-N-out is responsible for their own "buzz" and cult following. It can, and should, be created quite organically with little money and lots of effort.

  22. Richard:

    I couldn't agree with you more. I live in Texas but travel all over the country for work and therefore get to sample food both fast and not from all corners.

    When I first was out west and rain into an In and Out I figured since I've heard so many people rave about them I'd give them a shot. I couldn't have been more unimpressed and those tiny little shoestring fries were just annoying to try to eat.

    We now have a couple 5 Guys and Steak N' Shakes here as well and while both make a descent burger I don't ever crave them. I'd probably end up at a Wendy's (which I think are just as good or better than any of those places) instead of paying the inflated prices of the other joints for their uniqueness.

    If you ever come to Texas let me know and I can give you a list of places that have burgers that would make you turn your nose up at all those other places. It'll be fast, cheap, and make you want to go order another burger to take home with you. Here in Texas we just have beef figured out.

  23. Mike S:

    In my own experience, In and Out has yummy burgers, the fries are best when hot and quickly decline in taste as they cool. Wendy's is hit or miss, usually the burgers I've ordered there were limp and greasy with stringy bacon. I keep swearing off Wendy's, and only go as a place of last resort when it's the only place around and I'm desperate (when the kids are starving, and they aren't picky).

    A&W's is pretty good... like In and Out it's cooked when ordered. But it's fairly expensive as fast food goes.

    My preferred quickie burger joint of choice is Jack in the Box. I like the fries, the shakes, and the Jumbo Jack.

  24. Don:

    We have the 5 Guys in SA now, and I've been to the busiest one. My opinion (and the opinion of all my coworkers), not so much. The burger greasy and tasteless, and the fries were almost inedible. I've heard their better elsewhere, but I'm not likely to try another one. I feel sorry for the cow that died for my burger... if indeed it was a cow.

  25. Captain Obviousness:

    It seems like In n Out has really deteriorated over the last 5 or so years - I'm not sure what happened. Over-expansion or change in management? I never liked the fries much, but the burgers used to be way higher quality than any other fast food in this area. I agree that Wendy's has the best quality these days, at least in Southern California.

    I must say, a good thing about In n Out is they don't give you a blank stare with mouth open if you ask for a burger with 3 patties and no bun. Try that at McDonalds and the cashier's head will explode. In n Out is good for customizing your order.

  26. MJ:

    Never been to In-and-Out Burger (though a Five Guys recently opened up in the area), but I'm with you on Coors. Drank it when I was 17, not since.

  27. Craig:

    Of the California transplants that have reached Arizona, I much prefer Fat Burger to In n Out.

  28. Highway:

    Could there be a better discussion to point out how great the market system is?

    Whether you prefer Five Guys or Fatburger or Wendy's or In'N'Out or Jack In The Box or Whataburger or Lotaburger or even Fuddruckers or boutique shops, they're all available somewhere or other, and many of them are available almost everywhere.

    And you could have two people sit side by side and eat consecutive burgers out of the kitchen at two different places and they might have different opinions of which is better. But they can each go to the one they want to go to, and get the burger they like! And you could even go to the particular store you want, if one in your area is better than another.

    So everyone enjoy your burgers!

    (btw, personally, I like Five Guys burgers of the ones available in Maryland, Fatburger didn't wow me (it tasted to me like a higher quality control Whopper) but I'll eat many different burgers. One of my favorite foods.)

  29. Scott:

    I don't know about the Burgers but Coors is awful. God only know what unholy acts occur in that brewery.

  30. Mesa Econoguy:

    Strong sell rating on In 'n Out, strong buy on Midwestern Meats stuffed burgers -


    (jalapeno, cheese, etc.)

    Also outperform on the football-sized baked potatoes.

  31. Not Sure:

    "In n Out is good for customizing your order."

    Not only that- they're good at just getting it right in the first place.

    In 'n Out is the only fast food place I've frequented that's never (ever) screwed up my order. Yes, Carl's Jr. - I'm talking to YOU.

    Regarding In 'n Out's fries- as has been mentioned, they need to be eaten right away before they get cold. The fact they slice them so thin doesn't work to their advantage here, as you practically can't finish an order (even without a burger involved) before they've cooled off.

  32. Roy:

    Amazing. 30 plus posts on burgers. But go back to some recent topics, those that really involve thinking and analysis, only a few posts.

    So I'm gonna note the nobody has championed getting a bananna split at Braum's instead of a buger and fries. At least one of my meals on business trips.

  33. agesilaus:

    We had an In 'n Out here in the People Republic of Gainesville. They lasted maybe 6 months before going belly up. I tried them once and was underwhelmed to say the least. Maybe the quality varies from store to store.

    We just got, or I just noticed, a 5 guys, now I'll have to try them.

  34. astonerii:

    It has a single burger, a double burger, fries a few drink varieties and 3 shakes. That is your choices. Now, if your going out with a few friends, do you want to go someplace where ordering takes all of 2 minutes or a place where ordering can take up to half an hour? This was the only reason I could think of going to In and Out, but my wife does like the place. As for the fries, they are bad 25% of the time, good half the time and pretty good the rest of the time. Depends on salt content, more is better and freshness, seems it is hard to get them fresh there.

  35. former_coyote_lover:

    The secret to INO fries is eat them first. They are great for about two minutes, and age VERY quickly and rather poorly. Eat the fries before the burger. Better yet, ask to have the fries at the time of order, so you can eat them while the burger is getting made. As for the burgers, compare them to other burgers of the same price. I love CJ's top-end burgers, but $5-6? Please, for a family of 5, the price is crazy.

  36. BonafideView:

    In N Out Burger is the best burger in its' price range. Compared to similar priced burgers such as McDonald's, In N Out is amazing. It is rumored that their philosophy is to have no more than five days from kill to grill. A cheap burger that is fresh with no preservatives, additives or bone is a good value. By limiting the menu, service at In n Out is always fast and efficient(and friendly). I agree the fries are not the most tasty. Although they are freshly cut from the potatoes right before your eyes, when it comes to fries I guess I favor the greasier ones. As an opposing view, my sons devour them with gusto. In N Out was one of the pioneers in ordering in a drive thru. Their drive thru line can get extremely long but no one is afraid to get in it because it moves along quickly. Five Guys is delicious with fresh ingredients and good service but is much more expensive. It is not fair to compare In N Out with higher end burgers because that is a different market. In N Out's market is fast food and they excel at it. They are efficient with good service. The burgers are fresh and tastier than other $ 1.50 burgers.

  37. Matthew Brown:

    I think for one thing that the In'n'Out reputation is based on the fact that, even ten years ago, all the other chains SUCKED. All the major fast-food chains have made major improvements in that time; In'n'Out is exactly the same as it ever was, if not slightly lower in quality.

    I also suspect that the further away from its Southern California roots you go, the quality decreases.

    That said, In'n'Out is consistently the most competently run and staffed of all the chains, and its restaurants are absolutely spotlessly clean.

  38. Jeff Spicoli:

    Seattleites are all about Dick's. Sir Mix-A-Lot rapped about the place. But nothing ends a night at the bars like a Seattle-style Cream Cheese Hot Dog from a street vendor.

  39. me too:

    I believe that five guys is the best chain burger you can get. But to say that statement is ridiculous was a waste of pixels if you can't follow it up with something. It was just a grown up way of saying Nuh uh.

  40. BCM:

    One word: Portillos. Awesome burgers and way more variety and great taste. Most restaurants are in Chicago, but there is one in CA, I think. Not saying that INO isn't great - it is, but there are better options.

  41. HTRN:

    Scott, you may be interested to know that Coors went back to it's original all rice adjunct recipe in the mid 90s - the reason they changed the recipe in the mid 70s was due to price fluctuations in the world rice market, leading to utilizing mostly corn products(mostly corn starch)

  42. A Friend:

    Wow, high volume of replies. I have to agree with Coyote, In-N-Out is over-rated. epobirs, thanks for the fond memories: the Newsstand on Robertson!

  43. Elliot:

    I tried In and Out a couple years ago when I was in San Diego. I was told it was great. It was just OK. My wife and daughter were disappointed, too, if I recall correctly.

    I much prefer Carl's Jr. (which I only get when I'm in California and occasionally on the road in Texas).