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Los Angeles Burger Wars: Five Guys Versus In-N-Out

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News of a Five Guys opening in Los Angeles stirred a melee of feelings among Angelenos: intrigue, suspicion, hunger. But for In-N-Out diehards, imagine a rumbling of guffaws; puffed-up chests full of sheer loyalty to the very meaning of "animal-style." I fancy myself an In-N-Out diehard, so I took on the taste test for all my fellow burger lovers.

At the Fox Hills Mall in Culver City, the site of L.A.'s first Five Guys, the only sign of disgruntled feathers was impatience: waiting for my burger order to be called (I’m #78; they're only on #47). It opened its doors just last week, and since then, every single person inside this new in-mall eatery seemed like they've been eating burgers a la Five Guys their whole lives.

Photos by Lien Ta.

LA Burger Wars
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Fans, it seems, are made instantly. The walls are adorned with custom-made signs singing the years-collected accolades of Five Guys: The "Willy Wonkas of burger craft" said The Washington Post (in 2000); "Good burger, no doubt" said Orlando Sentinel (in 2006). Man, order #78 can't get in front of me soon enough!

The Five Guys menu is simple. You can choose from a burger or a cheeseburger, with or without bacon; or a "Little" version of any of the aforementioned. Unless you say "everything," you must announce the toppings your burger desires (pickles, tomatoes, onions, jalapeño peppers, et al.). Me? I'm waiting for a cheeseburger topped with mayo, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles -- classic. And a side of fries, regular, not Cajun-style please.

Approximately 16 minutes later, order #78 is called. It is presumably my order -- I am, after all, holding the ticket bearing the number, 78. It all arrives in a bag, even though I'll be dining in. I pull out my burger; it's wrapped in silver -- and it's heavy.

It's not my burger. This burger has two patties. Mushrooms. Big square-shaped onions that appear to be grilled. Ketchup, mustard and mayo. While I paid over $9 for my burger and fries, a $9 price tag wouldn't cover an extra patty (the toppings, however, are free, free, free).

(Writer's note: Turns out, a regular cheeseburger includes two patties. Who knew? If you want just a single patty (like I did), order a "Little". The menu is not as simple as I thought.)

I eat it anyway. The meat is endlessly juicy. The patties (both patties) are free-form patties -- not perfect O's; I find the extra clumps of ground beef around the edges endearing, like I want to munch on these bonus bits first. The pale yellow bun is the best kind -- just an edible vehicle for holding your burger without getting your paws (too) dirty. It's not trying to be a hero; instead, it takes to the mold of your thumbs and fingers like Silly Putty. Truthfully, I did want the mushrooms (I wanted bacon, too) -- so it was a welcome topping (albeit kind of bland). The grilled onions, however, were a waste of flavor-masking calories and someone's dicing efforts.

Nothing like In-N-Out's "animal-style" grilled onions.

Obviously, I'm going to compare. You could say you've seen me at In-N-Out for two consecutive meals (and it would be true). We, in Los Angeles, have been waiting with bated breath for Five Guys to arrive -- just so we could make fun of it.

Confession: After at least six bites of my Five Guys double-cheeseburger, I was concerned. It was just so ... good. A lingering good that put the – gulp -- fear in me that I would have to admit that Five Guys was better than my beloved In-N-Out.

I walked into In-N-Out feeling resigned. I ordered my usual: Double-Double, "animal-style." Fries. Sigh.

It was when I took my first bite that I started laughing. I might've even stood up. I was so thrilled to remember its taste, together, in my mouth of what In-N-Out is, "animal-style" or not.

For such a satisfying burger, there is something oddly healthy about an In-N-Out burger. Yes, there's crisp lettuce and bright slices of tomato, but two of its meat patties (grilled in mustard if it's "animal-style") will never weigh you down like one Five Guys patty will. The secret sauce -- what you'll hear is commonly described as "like Thousand Island" -- is heaven in drizzled coral form. And again, with "animal-style," you get pickles and the aforementioned grilled onions -- a fine dice of a cute pile of caramelized-just-enough onions.

I love this burger. It tastes like Southern California.

Quick Guide to L.A.'s Leading Fast-Food Burgers:
Five Guys, 6000 Sepulveda Blvd. #1301, Culver City; 310-391-0603
In-N-Out, 13425 Washington Blvd, Culver City; 800-786-1000; visit website for additional locations