That pretty much sums up the In-N-Out buns.
Those burgers are not merely a matter of recharging one’s battery, though one of these joints might have been quite crucial to my friend’s survival on his way from coast to coast, as it was the only oasis between miles of burnt brown hills and deserts after he crossed the state line into The Golden Bear. His uncle always compares other burgers to In-N-Out’s, so when his dad visited the area, the man shrugged “well, I guess I should try it”. His friend, who later came here for conference, felt the same obligation as the other non-Californian conference attenders checked out lunch at In-N-Out. By hook or by crook, this chain gets the reputation of conjuring up a regional specialty that everyone should have while staying in California.
After living here for a year, I obliged. It was a sunny day driving back and forth between Milpitas and Berkeley, when I had zero gourmet craving and a simple need to eat a basic lunch. That’s a debatably good time for fast food. Don’t know if most people don’t get cravings, but In-N-Out was insanely busy when we got there. No parking. A waitress went outside to take orders from the loopy loop of cars. Almost all tables inside were taken. As Mudpie informed me, it’s always like this at lunch rush.
The service is nice. That’s one thing In-N-Out does better than other burger chains. People smile at you when they take, call, and give your order. It’s also fast. About fifteen workers scurry in the kitchen to cut, wash, fry the potatoes, flip the patties, toast the buns, that sort of thing. One good napkin comes out on the tray with each burger, so you can’t leisurely pull out a wad thick enough to pillow your dog just to later throw it away.
The visible menu is simple with only 3 choices: hamburger, cheeseburger, or double-double. They’re about the size of McDonald’s, which is much smaller than Burger King‘s and Fuddruckers’. You know how McDonald’s buns always have a distinctive smell that when someone at the back of the room pulls out a Golden Arches box, you sitting in the front immediately know that it’s a Golden Arches box? Well, In-N-Out doesn’t have that. In-N-Out’s $2.15 cheeseburger definitely tastes better than McDonald’s 89-cent cheeseburger, that much I can say.
The Yellow Zipline chain claims that their ingredients are fresh and free of preservatives and additives, as they “do not own a microwave, heat lamp, or freezer“. Their spread is mayo made pinkish with a mild flavor, which does not stand out. The patty is rather plain, however juiced up by copious chunks of lettuce and tomato. The fries, too, are much less salty than you’d normally get at other burger joints, but also denser and starchier, more potato-like so to speak.
As the end of our meal, we felt reasonably full. Though unimpressed. In some sense, kudos to In-N-Out for keeping burgers, fries, and shakes simple. It’s the fast food that defines America after all. However, in this case, the simple way is not the best way. This burger is nothing to swoon about. If you’re conscious about health when eating a beef patty and a slice of cheese sandwiched in a toasted bun, this is the place to go, although it’s kinda like ordering a mayo-laden sandwich and a bag of chips, then drink a diet Coke (which is a horrible liquid, by the way).
If you want cheap, big, good taste, go to Burger King.
If you want expensive, big, good taste, go to Fuddruckers.