Many burger fans I know swear by the venerable California mini-chain “In-N-Out Burger,” claiming it to be the ultimate in ground meat sandwiches. Enough, in fact, that I became instantly skeptical – I guess I just don’t believe that a fast food restaurant could be both extraordinarily popular and very good.
Taking this past weekend’s 36-hour trip to California for my sister’s college graduation as an excuse, I managed to take my first-ever meal at an In-N-Out Burger – the one located at 1065 E. Harriman Place in San Bernardino. My sister, bless her, had convinced the relatives to skip the college’s post-grad brunch, and took all attending members of the clan to this strip-mall hotspot instead. Runs in the family, I guess…?
The In-N-Out menu, as it appears in the restaurant, is deceptively simple. It includes basic burgers, fries, and shakes in the three primary ice cream flavors. There’s more to In-N-Out than first appears, though. I said “as it appears in the restaurant” because, as I found out from my sister, In-N-Out has a “secret” menu. Nice of her to tell me after we ate, right?
Well, other than possibly having an extra patty on my burger, I can’t say I’m THAT sorry she didn’t mention it. The Double Double at In-N-Out is nature’s most perfect fast food creation, or close to it – no alterations necessary. Beyond the ultra-thin yet juicy and flavorful patties that somehow avoided the grease-laden pratfall that Blue 9 frequently takes, the burger’s accoutrements (lettuce, tomatoes that weren’t crunchy, and onion) and two slices of cheese gave it the perfect ratio of burger-topping-bun.
My sister prefers the “animal-style” burger cooked in mustard, avec sautéed onions, pickles and extra sauce. While I’m usually a bigger fan of the cooked onion than the raw, freshness counts for a lot – rather than being assaulted by the raw onion’s toxicity, I was seduced by its pungency. Sautéed didn’t measure up.
The fries were similarly exemplary – made with what the burger wrapper claims were Kennebec potatoes (from Maine?) and cooked in oil that, while cholesterol free, accorded the spuds the perfect grease and flavor. Once again, my sister was the contrarian, ordering her fries well-done, but I think she was barking up the wrong tree on this one, too. They tasted…well…well-done. It may appeal more to those who can’t bear variations on the McDonald’s formula, but I can live without.
Good ingredients, good preparation, and friendly staff (although, coming from New York, I think practically anyone who doesn’t is friendly) have contributed to In-N-Out’s cult status – but also to its financial success. Indeed, at noon on a Saturday, the joint was ROCKIN’. Thank goodness for that, and I hope In-N-Out can keep its standards high through its rumored expansion plans.
Sam Jackson once said*, “Mm-hmm. This IS a tasty burger!” You will too.
*I’m aware he was saying it with regards to the Big Kahuna Burger, but…