Living on the East Coast means that ever since I first tasted In-N-Out's glorious Double-Double Animal-Style, for the past decade, anytime I'm remotely near In-N-Out I make it my mission to get my fix. In San Francisco on vacation? In-N-Out. Vegas bachelor party? In-N-Out. Wedding in Los Angeles? In-N-Out. L.A. eating tour? In-N-Out (twice, once on the way to LAX). But the last few Double-Doubles have been followed or preceded by eating Shake Shack's Double ShackBurger, and after all these years, I'm in a strange predicament: trying to remind myself what the fuss was all about.
Fact is, it's not even a close call. Quality-wise, taste-wise, Shake Shack is better. The burger is better. The fries are better (stop with this talk about In-N-Out's "well-done" fries animal-style or not beating out Shake Shack's — it's patently ridiculous — they're woody duds). And the shakes are better. The only thing In-N-Out has that Shake Shack doesn't is the reach (259 locations to the Shack's 13), the history (est. 1948 vs. 2004), and of course, the "secret menu." (Though, funny enough, you could argue Shake Shack kind of has its own versions of a secret menu: special items, those available at different locations, and the rotating custard calendar.)
This will be sacrilege to some. In-N-Out acolytes and West Coast denizens will declare it insanity. Call it uninformed, incomprehensible — East Coast bias. They'll cite the simplicity of In-N-Out's menu, the freshness of the meat. and the crunch of the hand-picked iceberg lettuce. They will note the vibrant red tomatoes, the crisp, vinegary pickles, the toasted bun, and the inexpensive price. (At right, In-N-Out's Animal-Style fries well done.)
In-N-Out's advocates will remind you that the chain doesn't even need to advertise. "I can't explain why it's so good," they'll say, "It just is." They'll note the creativity of how you can order In-N-Out burgers, earnestly recreate them at home, regale each other by writing about, reviewing, and breaking down the "secret menu" and the fabled 100x100 no matter how many times these things have been written about (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2011...). They'll proudly document ordering the entire thing in one go (even though that's been done too).They'll also wax poetic about and sing paeans to that Holy Grail of this hallowed chain: Animal-style.
That's cool. Like I said, I dig In-N-Out — participated in furthering its reputation by recommending it for years. And like I said, for 10 years anytime I was close, anytime there was a remote chance, even if it meant almost missing a plane, I found a way to get my In-N-Out fix. I've watched their eastward expansion patiently as they've opened locations in Utah, Arizona, and now, Texas.