It’s rare that I get excited about a chain of restaurants. Our expectations have gotten so low for chains that we will eat a greasy, uninspired burger at a dump like Round Robin, Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesdays, containing up to 1,940 calories, and imagine it is good. Then I went to a Five Guys, and I saw the light. I hadn’t had such a good burger at a chain since California, with their infamous In-n-Out and Fatburger, or the Midwest’s Steak ‘n Shake. Five Guys blows them all out of the water, like a Red October patrolling the burger seas.
How do they do it? Simply by offering a better product. For one, their beef is fresh ground and never frozen, and their fries are made to order. That’s right, they don’t sit under a heat lamp to dry out. They are fried in pure peanut oil, with no sprayed-on coatings or other bullshit; it’s a sliced, fried potato, served plain or with Cajun spices if you desire. This will slow down your order somewhat, but we waited no more than 5 minutes. And it was worth every second.
Their menu is simple- a single or double burger with the options of bacon or cheese, and a few fresh toppings- all of which are free. They also serve beef hot dogs, with optional cheese or bacon, and grilled cheese or veggie sandwiches for vagitarians (note- not a misspelling). They helpfully list the calories of each item right on the menu board, and offer detailed nutritional info on their website. Beverages are Coca-Cola soft drinks with free refills; a fresh lemonade or real iced tea would be welcome; for shakes you can go to Island Burgers and Shakes, Steak ‘n Shake, or the Shake Shack. This ain’t no diner.
While I can enjoy a fried burger, they are meant to be grilled. You get a touch of crispy char on the outside which seals in the juices. I ordered a double bacon cheeseburger with fresh jalapenos and grilled onions. They come wrapped in foil for easy eating, and was juicy enough to not require ketchup. Darth Milk, our resident ketchup addict, even went light on the red stuff. The gals ordered singles and were sated; I must say this is one time when a double is warranted. The singles aren’t tiny burgers but at 3.5oz are no jumbos either. Besides, when you eat a double with bacon, you get some incredible texture and mouth feel- the crisp bacon, then successive layers of char and juiciness between. It’s a masterwork. They don’t slouch on the bacon, either- it is fresh fried and crispy, not so thin that it crumbles apart, nor so thick that it’s chewy.
I opted for the regular fries and the gals got Cajun (it’s a Louisiana thing). The Cajun fries were fine, but nothing special to me. Next time I’d just bring Tony Chachere’s seasoning to throw on the excellent plain fries. These ain’t pommes frites but they are perfectly tasty skin-on fries, served in a cup- the regular size is enough for two, and a large can feed three easily. In NYC this is quite the bargain for well made food. It looks like The Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien has some competition for best burgers in midtown. Five Guys may not have Sam Adams, but there’s more space to sit here, and no pretentious tourists acting like they’ve discovered the lost city of gold. And the burgers are equal; both are some of the best you’ll have anywhere.
Five Guys started in Washington D.C., but are popping up everywhere– even in the wilds of New Jersey. Hopefully they’ll be open late, but it seems in Jersey they are popping up in strip malls, so it is unlikely. They are definitely worth the trip if you like a good char-broiled burger- if you miss the Anthony Wayne, the Red Chimney and the Short Stop, let Five Guys bring back the memories. You’ll still want to make a pilgrimage to Miss Ann’s Snack Bar in Atlanta for a Ghetto Burger someday, but until then, Five Guys can handle your burger jones.