America's favorite burger: it's an honor that burger behemoths Five Guys and In-N-Out have long battled for.
In-N-Out is easy, breezy, beautiful, California. Its classic look and emphasis on fresh ingredients has won it a devoted following over its decades of existence. Five Guys is a family brand from Virginia, and a literal band of brothers - Jim, Matt, Chad, Ben, and Tyler - each play a unique role in the business.
Both are devoted to the same god: good burgers. But they worship in different ways. In-N-Out's sleek, photogenic sandwiches couldn't be more different from Five Guys' generous, unfussy stacks of beef and bun.
But which way is better? At Business Insider, it's our job to eat everything and tell you all about it. So on a recent trip to the West Coast, I went to In-N-Out. When I returned, I went to Five Guys. Here's how my meals compared.
In Los Angeles, I rode an e-scooter to an In-N-Out in Hollywood.
The interior was cheerily decorated with retro booths, neon signage, and red-and-white tiling.
In-N-Out's menu is stunningly simple — there are only four non-drink items on it.
Of course, its secret menu is no secret. You can ask for any item "animal style", which means "smothered in grilled onions and special sauce".
In-N-Out's condiment stand is also remarkably minimalist. It contains two things: ketchup and spicy pickled peppers.
I grabbed a cup of both.
After a bit of a wait, my meal came out in a bright red box. I'd ordered a Double-Double, animal style ($4.35), animal-style fries ($3.95), and a medium soft drink ($1.75)
My previous experiences with In-N-Out and Five Guys are about equal in number. I'd gone to both before, but not for many years.
As a result, I didn't really remember what the food tasted like.
I started with my animal-style fries because as an experienced fry-eater, I know that fries go soggy very quickly.
Unfortunately, the biggest thing I forgot about In-N-Out is just how bad their fries are, even slathered in a delicious sauce and grilled onions.
I thought maybe the sauce was making the fries soggy, so I pulled out an untainted fry and tried it on its own. Nope. Sad, bland cardboard.
I moved onto my Double-Double, animal style.
A Double-Double contains two 2-oz beef patties with melted cheese, tomato, lettuce, and pickles. Animal style adds In-N-Out's secret sauce and grilled onions.
This was one of the freshest bites of burger I've had in a while. The beef tasted like it'd been carved off the side of a cow that morning.
All the vegetables were crispy, fresh, and flavorful, and they were expertly squeezed between two plump buns.
For such a tall burger with so many components, the Double-Double is remarkably clean-built. It's just gorgeous.
I decided to give the fries another chance, this time with a fork.
Fool me once, shame on you ...
Fool me twice, I resolve never again to order fries at In-N-Out. Maybe I'll try them extra crispy next time.
Naturally, I went back to my favorite part of the meal: my burger.
It was so juicy I had to keep an eye on the steady trickle of sauce down my wrist.
But even though it was sauced up and bursting with juice, the burger had the perfect balance of flavors and textures.
I polished off the burger in no time and felt pleasantly full afterward.
The fries, however, went in the trash.
In New York, I took the subway to a Five Guys restaurant near Union Square in Manhattan.
Five Guys uses the exact same color tiling — red and white — as In-N-Out. But somehow its spaces feel more stark and functional.
Its menu is also bigger. Although fries are the only side it sells, the chain also sells hot dogs and sandwiches.
I found a seat in the back. Five Guys' walls are littered with news clippings about how great their burgers are.
One weird quirk about Five Guys is that they have barrels of free peanuts.
I guess they really don't want you to leave hungry.
Otherwise, Five Guys' condiments options are just as sparse as In-n-Out's. There's ketchup and A1 sauce, and that's about it. However, toppings are unlimited and free anyway.
My meal consisted of a cheeseburger ($8.75) and regular Cajun fries ($4.55)
Again, I started with my side of fries before I dug into my burger.
Since I'd ordered the fancy fry option at In-N-Out, I had to do the same at Five Guys.
But these fries were a world — some might say a country — apart.
The Cajun fries were crispy, spicy, and delicious as potatoes can be.
The Cajun seasoning had a great kick to it, and the garlic powder covers up the slight bitterness of the potato.
But it was time to move onto the star of this show.
I tried to build a burger that was similar in build to a double-double. Two patties with melted American cheese, topped with tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, and grilled onions. Sadly, they forgot the grilled onions.
But grilled onions or not, my first bite quickly revealed the burger's greatest strength: the beef.
The beef tasted fatty, fresh, and flavorful. It was a little on the well-done side, but I didn't mind too much.
However, everything around the beef was not quite as impressive. The bun was wimpy and couldn't handle the volume of its contents.
The cheese wasn't exactly melted, and the toppings had been thrown on without much care. Did I mention they forgot my grilled onions?
I returned to my ever-faithful companion, the fried potato. I gladly clogged up my arteries with these crispy-outside, soft-inside spud sticks.
About halfway through this burger, I was already starting to feel full.
And even though the beef was fantastic, nothing else about this burger compelled me to keep eating.
The fries, on the other hand, were another story altogether.
After my meal, I had an important decision to make. And this time, the winner wasn't clear. Both Five Guys and In-n-Out offer great-tasting food and a fun dining experience.
But in the end, the better burger wins. And In-n-Out's double-double is put together with such precision and care that it puts the other burger to shame.
In a perfect world, I'd eat In-N-Out's burgers with Five Guys' fries. But alas, the world we live in is a divided one. And in this particular battle between east and west, the west wins.