The Greatest Burgers In the World

The real reason I have come to California is for one thing and one thing only: In-N-Out. A.K.A. the greatest burger place ever. No burger place, nay, no fast food place can compare to the glorious burger joint known as In-N-Out. It is truly a shame that they are only on the Western part of the country, but that makes them all the more special when I get to come to this side of the country.

Their menu is small, only a couple of items to choose from, but each item is perfect in every way. My personal favorite thing to order is a cheeseburger, animal style. Their sauce is amazing, an absolute revolution in burger technology. Yes, I know it’s pretty much just Thousand Island sauce, but it works, and it’s amazing.

If you haven’t had In-N-Out before, and you have the opportunity to, DO IT. And get a cheeseburger. If you don’t get the cheeseburger animal style, at least get the fries animal style. Or both! Both is good.

To be completely fair, though, the fries are generally undersalted. This is why I recommend them animal style. They’re really good when it comes to texture and done-ness, but yeah, needs more salt. HOWEVER, this is the only fault I have found with In-N-Out.

So, yes, try all you wish to convince me that Whataburger or Five Guys is better, but you shall ultimately fail because I know in my heart what is true.

 

65 thoughts on “The Greatest Burgers In the World

  1. In a world that includes Whataburger, it borders on the unimaginable that someone could come to such an erroneous conclusion by pure thought. Surely some misbegotten soul has led you astray. Free yourself from the In-N-Out dogma.

    Sorry… Couldn’t resist…

  2. We’ve got In-n-Out down here in Texas, too. I wasn’t really impressed, and best I can tell, what people really like is the “secret” menu (e.g. the “animal style” you mention). Which is hell for the hearing impaired; how can you verify they’ve got your order right if there’s noth8ng to point at as backup? Thank God I’m not allergic to anything, too.

    Anyway, leaving out the confounding factor of the secret menu, in my opinion they weren’t as good as Five Guys or Whataburger, and definitely not as good as our local burger joints like Moonie’s in Austin.

    YMMV, but try some of the above if you visit Texas.

  3. We finally have one in Oregon, but I haven’t tried it yet. It’s about a 4 hr drive away, and I haven’t made the trip yet. If you ever come to Oregon or Washington, be sure to check out Burgerville, our regional fabulous chain. They focus on Northwest sourced ingredients, the burger sauce is amazing and the seasonal milkshakes are a religious experience.

  4. A: There are no In-n-Out east of where they are now because the current CEO, wife of the now-deceased founder, believes there is a limit to how far they can stretch their supply chain and maintain their quality standards. I respect her judgment even as a bemoan the consequences for those of us in the East.
    B: They are indeed the best. There’s a reason I can usually tell you how far I would have to drive to get one (Currently 918 miles. I could get there by dinner tomorrow).

  5. YES! I am also in Texas and I love Five Guys! Mooyah’s is also pretty good. Although the best burger I have ever had to date was from a little bitty store called Abby’s in the town I live in. Little bitty as in a grand total of about 12 chairs in the whole store. Best. Burger. Ever.

  6. I tried one on a trip to Vegas in 2005 and was immediately hooked. Didn’t have another until 2012 when I went to LA, but I did it right: When I saw that one of my hotels had an In-N-Out *right next door*, I ate there three times in two days.

  7. While there are burgers that I find slightly better, In-N-Out has an outstanding burger that is easily the best bang for the buck out there. For only $4.xx with tax, a Double Double might not look like much at first glance, but biting into it… Everything is nearly perfect. Lettuce isn’t something I’d normally rave about, but a lot of places’ lettuce (McDonald’s, I’m mclooking at you) is just dark soppy garbage. In-N-Out’s lettuce is still crisp and juicy. The beef has never been frozen.

    I don’t even get anything animal style. The Double Double is close to cheeseburger nirvana, for ultra-cheap.

  8. I agree. That is why, when I travel out west, they are my first stop from the airport and my last stop heading back to the airport!

  9. I don’t like gloppy sauces on my burger, but I still like In-N-Out without the sauce. I order it the same way I do at any other burger place — mustard, ketchup, and onion only. My friend in LA likes the double-double animal style, and it drips everywhere, including on his clothes if he’s not careful!

    Five Guys is decent, but I really don’t care for their buns — too doughy. Fortunately, I can order 2 patties without a bun, and with sauteed onions and A-1 sauce it’s like having chopped steak at a diner, and better quality than you get at a diner. But it’s not an eat-in-the-car meal.

    On the road, my burger of choice is generally the Sourdough Jack from Jack-in-the-Box, again without sauce. Failing that, I default to McD’s Quarter Pounder with cheese; it’s not as good as it used to be, but it’s edible and you know what you’re getting.

  10. I’m going to add myself to the crowd of Texans promoting Whataburger over In-n-Out. I’ve had both, because both have outposts in Austin (in Whataburger’s case, far more than outposts–it’s a flat-out colonization). I am in agreement with the school that contends In-n-Out is an attempt (not a very successful one) to copy what Whataburger did; the one time I went to an In-n-Out with my son, we were both badly disappointed by their failure to execute. We thought that even Sonic did a better job. (And I will say that Sonic does a pretty damn fine job; it comes close to the Ur-hamburger of my West Texas childhood.)

    I hope that one day you’ll get to sample Whataburger in its glory (along with sampling central Texas barbecue, a whole different epic saga). Hell, I’d take you there and pay the tab my own self.

  11. One of the other things I like about In-N-Out is that they treat their employees extremely well (by the standards of a fast-food chain, but probably pretty well by most corporate standards too).

    Their burgers are good but I’m not a fan of the fries. I must admit that whatever is in the coating on McDonald’s fries really works for me.

  12. In N Out is okay. But, if you prefer big thick burgers or a real diner, they are a let down. For brontosaurus burgers, R.F. O’Sullivan’s in Somerville can’t be beat. For diner style stuff, Charlie’s Kitchen in Harvard Square Cambridge is aces.

    And as far as local chains go, Kelly’s Roast Beef or U Burger are the thing in Massachusetts.

  13. They are good, reliable fast food burgers, but not better than Shake Shack and not in a class with the best burgers from stand-alone restaurants in Oakland and Berkeley.

  14. Right as you enter the little Danish town of Solvang near the California central coast northeast of Santa Barbara, you will encounter a business called OstrichLand, which raises ostriches, has them for people to visit and pet, and also has a variety of ostrich products including fresh ostrich eggs and, yes, ostrich burger patties. (Sadly, you have to bring your own grill and mustard.) I must say, ostrich burgers are really good. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

    On my most recent drive through there, I noticed they’re also raising emus, and accordingly selling corresponding products including emu burgers. I can’t help having a cynical suspicion, though, that they may be achieving this through… emu-lation.

  15. As a native Oregonian, I side with SusanneE where Burgerville is concerned (and they are committed not to go regional/national for much the same reason that InN’Out gives). Also, Burgerville has — for a few weeks a year, because that’s when you can get the onions — the best onion rings in the immediate universe, made from genuine Walla Walla Sweets.

    That said (and acknowledging that this is something of a religious issue, like Windows vs. Mac and Android vs. iPhone), the true Best Burger in the World is at Skyline Restaurant here in Portland. I have James Beard in my camp on this one; also, I have been eating Skyline burgers for more than twice as long as The Intern has been alive (dating from early childhood right through till late last month; the visits now are less frequent only because as a lifestyle non-driver, they’re presently a little hard to get to from my present neighborhood).

  16. Under salted is good. Some people like me do not like salty fries. You can easily add salt but very hard to remove.

  17. 5Guys has a good veggie sandwich, and the best fries, but In-n-Out has animal style fries, which are sort of a California version of poutine, and are worth eating even though their plain fries (which are ok) aren’t as good, and they have good shakes. Apparently In-n-Out can do some kind of “cheese sandwich” thing; haven’t tried it. I haven’t been to Habit Burger, but it is now in the SF Bay Area as well.

    Best burger joint is The Charcoal Pit in Wilmington DE, but I haven’t actually been there in 40 years or so. You may have an equally good local place. And “The Counter” is pretty good, for fancy burgers and beers.

  18. I’m a native southern Californian and grew up just a little west of where John did. I hate In-‘n’-Out. The patties are ridiculously skinny and way oversalted. The fries, on top of not having enough salt, tend to limp and greasy. The shakes are great, though. But if I’m in SoCal and looking for a fast-food burger, give me Fatburger or Tommy’s. I’m not sitting in my car in a line that goes around the block for what In-‘n’-Out has to offer.

  19. Ah…that is why you are so successful in writing science _fiction_ as you have applied a like of fiction to your scientific analysis. Not impressed when I was in Arizona.

  20. If you are limiting yourself to burger fast food joints, I “might” agree. However, In and Out is far inferior to many gourmet burger joints.

  21. In Bristol (in England) there is a little place called “Three Brothers”, which is on the side of a canal (half of it is actually on a boat) and that is the best burger restaurant I’ve ever been to. Order the Blues Brothers if you don’t dislike blue cheese.
    The second best burger restaurant I’ve been to is in Akasaka in Tokyo, and it’s called “Authentic”. Their fries are crap, but the burgers themselves are incredible. If you’re ever in Tokyo, go there.

  22. There was a time when I would have agreed with you … but I’ve now been to Dyer’s, on Beale Street in Memphis, and the burger was absolutely the best I’ve ever had. :-)

  23. I haven’t had In-N-Out, because it doesn’t exist on the East coast. Five Guys is OK, much better than your typical fast food burger. But for me, the best chain-resturantr burger is Fudruckers, which i don’t see mentioned above. The best restaurant burger I can recall was in an Army Oficer’s club in Fairfax VA, where my bridge partner, a former service member, took me between sessions at a tournament,.

    For me a really good burger should be thick, and noticeably pink in the center. Cheese should never be used, and while thousand island is ok, classic ketchup, mustard, and pickle relish is ideal.

    No commercial burger touches a high0-quality home-cooked one, particularly over a charcoal grill. Over-salting is a mistake. A Kaiser roll serves as a better bun than anything sold as a hamburger bun. Worcestershire sauce and a very little bit of uncooked oatmeal are ideally mixed into the meat before it is cooked.

  24. The greatest burger joint in the world is Crown Burger. They have seven locations: five in Salt Lake City, one in Sandy, one in Layton. The eponymous burger is burger perfection. The only way it is more perfect is when it’s a double. They also have great onion rings.

  25. No In-N-Out around here. I looked at their menu online earlier this year when I was planning for a trip to California, and the impression I got was that they don’t give the option to leave things off a burger so I crossed them off the list. Reading comments here, it sounds like that impression was wrong.

    Undersalting fries is a GOOD thing. I’ve had to throw fries out because I couldn’t stand the salt levels.

    If I’m going fast food, my first choice would be Culver’s. Freddy’s isn’t bad, but I’d rather go there for a chocolate shake instead of a burger. The local Five Guys franchisees tend to oversalt their fries, and they’re a “fake tea” place (the iced tea is a concentrate dispensed through the soda machine, instead of fresh brewed).

  26. Burgers are important. A local astronaut, stuck on the space station, said that what he kept thinking about, for when he got back down, was go to the best drive-in burger place. (Not a franchise) He was too polite to mention the place by name, but we all knew where he meant.

  27. There are some parts where In-N-Out wouldn’t make it, like the East coast, no matter their line about how they prefer to buy their meat fresh. It doesn’t compute because fresh meat is a thing we do here in South Carolina.

    Now the heavy competition? I could see that one, what with stuff like Five Guys, Hwy 55, Cook-Out, Steak & Shake, and loads of dives in every town? Better to stay where you have market. Too many companies try to be too many places too soon.

  28. The best way I can describe Five Guys, which everyone here in VA seems obsessed with, is that they produce the best approximation of a “mom-burger” – indeed, the type of burger your mom might slap on your plate growing up. That’s fine, my mom’s burgers were delicious, but I don’t want that from my fast food joint. Having lived in San Diego for years prior, I can say that In-N-Out is far superior in every way possible (except the aforementioned salt, perhaps).

  29. I’ve lived in Texas and enjoyed Whataburger when I lived there. Loved the fact it was always open and I loved the wide variety of choices. Now I live in SoCal right in the middle between Five Guys and In-n-Out. My family always — ALWAYS — chooses In-n-Out. Not even close. That’s not to say that Five Guys isn’t good — it is good. But the family wants In-n-Out every time.

    For me, Five Guys is an expensive burger. Same with Fuddruckers. Great stuff but pricey. In-n-Out serves consistently good burgers for roughly half the price as the competition. The fries aren’t the best, but the burgers make up for it.

    Just an opinion, of course. Your tastes may vary.

  30. FYI, there are now In-N-Out’s in the Austin, New Braunfels, San Antonio area if you ever come here

  31. In-N-Out is opening a location in Colorado Springs, plus a distribution center, which will allow for additional locations up to 500 miles away from said center. Which means you’d only have to get to someplace like Lincoln, NE, or Witchita, KS.

    As a Westerner who’s tired of hearing about how great the East Coast is, I’m pretty down with In-N-Out’s lack of restaurants on that side of the country.

  32. If the burger’s better with the sauce, that typically means it needs a sauce to mask the flavor. #5GuysForLife #okayIGuessImNotReallyThatAddicted

    Have you tried other burgers with that Thousand Island-like sauce? Maybe that’s what you’re really craving.

  33. And in Houston we have Steak and Shake, Five Guys, Whataburger and Freddy’s Steakburgers, but In-N-Out hasn’t made it down yet. I expect it within the next year.
    It’s nice to have choices that are good, relatively convenient, and consistent. I’ve had them all, and each has virtues that make it the right choice some of the time.

  34. In ‘N Out is indeed wonderful, and always my first and last stop on a California trip. But “Best Burger in the World”? Nope, sorry. That’s Burgatory in Pittsburgh.

  35. I’ve never had a burger from In-N-Out so I can’t speak to their goodness or lack thereof.

    I’m all about Culvers and Whataburger.

  36. I finally went to In & Out when I visited California last year. I never been so I had no idea what to ask for on a secret menu. I got a plain cheeseburger and fries. Was underwhelmed. Fries desperately needed salt too.

    I’ll stick with White Spot and Fatburger thanks.

  37. The thing people don’t realize about In-N-Out fries is that they are amazing, but you have to eat them quickly, like within ten minutes of when they hand you the bag or box. After fifteen or twenty minutes they start to go downhill really fast, and reheating them doesn’t help.

  38. You might have explained in your piece that “animal style” is not on the menu, but is a “secret menu” option.

    I grew up in and lived in So Cal for 50 years, and my favorite burger by far is the In-N-Out double double, animal style (extra sauce, extra pickle) or regular. Now I’m in Oregon, and the one store here is a day’s drive away, but when I get to Cali, I get to In-N-Out as quickly as possible. I’ve gone to Burgerville, which doesn’t even come close. Five Guys makes a good burger, if you order it right, since you have to specify each ingredient. There’s a place in SW Portland called Wow Burger that’s darn good, but In-N-Out is the best.

  39. The secret to better In-N-Out fries is to order them “well done.” (It’s another Secret Menu item.) They go for another dip in the oil and come out a fair degree crisper. The one good thing about their fries is that one order is enough for our family of 4.

  40. As someone with many allergies, I love 5 Guys fries because the only ingredients are potatoes, salt, and the oil they are fried in – and nothing else is fried in that oil! It’s the only place I can safely eat fries because there’s no worry about cross-contamination or funky extra ingredients like dextrose or citric acid.

  41. I was in Medford when the first In-N-Out opened there and enjoyed the insanity. It took several months for the lines to get small enough to be worth trying. For pure culty deliciousness QAnon has nothing on In-N-Out-Anon. Finally things calmed down enough for me to give the place a try.

    Anyway, bottom line for me was that the burgers are as good as any fast-food burger. Not as tasty as Burgerville’s Pepper Bacon Cheeseburger or several Fudrucker’s options, but thick and tasty enough. And the price is way lower than either BV or Fud’s, so there’s that.

    The fries, though? Vile. Thick, doughy, and undercooked, with a sort of floury texture that nothing could cover up. Slathering french dressing and onions (i.w. “animal style”) on them just made them a thick, floury mass with french dressing and onions on them.

    So…burgers – good value for the price. Fries? Not so much.

    I still don’t get the obsession, though.

  42. You’re obviously trying to start a fight on this page :) Almost everyone has their regional favorites. When I went to Los Angeles to visit family, they insisted on In-n-Out animal style. Tasted like okay fast food to me but I didn’t get the obsession. Of course, I’m one of those exceptions to the regional favorites thing. If I want a thin and crispy burger, I look for Freddy’s. If I’m in the mood for a thick, messy burger I go for Habit. I used to enjoy Smashburger, but sadly the two closest to me are out of business. I’ve enjoyed Fuddrucker’s burgers, too, but not enough to fight over. Could be because my regional burger love should have been White Castle, which we tended to refer to as Alpo Heaven.

  43. Let’s be clear: In-n-Out, Whataburger, Five Guys, Culvers, etc are competing for best FAST FOOD burger, the bottom rung of the burger ladder. The next rung up, a big step, are the gourmet burger joints that put some effort into selecting meat, grinding, bun, etc. R.F. O’Sullivan’s, Moonie’s, and their ilk. The top of the ladder is what you can do yourself at home, with a good, cooperative butcher or your own grinder, Martin’s potato rolls (or your preference), proper attention to cooking, etc. We’ve tried sous vide for the consistency, but find we can be sufficiently disciplined to make it unnecessary for burgers. (Steaks are another matter.)

    Learning to do your own burgers at home may make the best fast food burgers utterly unacceptable to you, and even make the gourmet joints unsatisfactory.

    One last thought: Bill Stewart’s mention of the Charcoal Pit in Wilmington reminded me that there is a Burger Heaven, or at least once was. It may have been necessary to be a teenager, driving down from West Chester High some 55 years ago. Having one or more cheerleaders in the car also helped.

  44. Various people have given their preferred burger places in this thread. Many have named local places which no one in a different area is likely to have visited. But not so many people have indicated *what* they like or dislike about the burgers from this or that place. Are they too thick? Not thick enough? over done? Under done? well or ill- spiced? good or bad sauce? Too large? Too small? Too greasy? Too dry? Just what makes a great burger great, as you see it?

    In particular, the blog piece that started this praised In-N-out very strongly, but gave me few clues as to what about their offerings is favored by those who like them.

    -DES

  45. I’ll amplify Genevieve’s opinion that getting In-n-Out fries extra crispy improves them quite a bit. if you live somewhere there is a Freddy’s Steakburgers, my family finds them a fair substitute, in fact we like them better. New Mexicans who move away and come back to visit have to have their Blake’s Lotaburger while they are in town (generally the green chile cheeseburger, though be aware the heat in the chile is variable. I can take some heat but find the chile at some Blake’s, but not others, unbearable). They are also family owned.

  46. I’m a huge fan of In-N-Out (and I live in California and get to eat there regularly) and of your writing, but I can’t say In-N-Out the best burger. In the world of chain hamburgers, I give that honor to Shake Shack. Don’t get me wrong, In-N-Out is superb and particularly so for the money, but Shake Shack is as close to a hamburger done right as I’ve found in a chain restaurant. And their fries are properly salted. :-)

  47. Once upon a time, In-n-Out’s ugly twin brother Hardee’s was all over the east coast; and they were quite good. They are long gone now; and we have only 5guys. Sigh.

  48. Yeah, chalk me up as a Californian who doesn’t see what all the fuss is about with In-N-Out. Meh burgers, lousy fries.

    Better than McDonalds, sure, but not the best that can be had, even among fast food. Luckily, we have some non-chain burger places that are amazing very close to me.

  49. I have tried the Whataburger in West Texas, and the Five Guys, Steak and Shake, Sonic, and Fuddrucker’s elsewhere, and found them wanting. In N Out is the one true burger.

    Double-Double for me. Nothing but meat, cheese, and sometimes a little mustard, but I don’t need it. Was so glad when they finally expanded out of SoCal, as going to LA just for a burger was expensive.

    Get the fries well-done; the fries are indeed the only thing that saves INO from the Platonic ideal of a burger chain. If they could do ’em like Mickey D’s, it might be dangerous as there would be a sound of celestial choirs, a bright light, ascent into the heavens, etc.

    You can always ask the nice counter person (and they are nice — must be the whole “decent pay” thing) to give you salt packets if you need more.

    See you next week, John! I’m in no shape to dance, but I might listen in to your DJ set.

  50. Hopefully they long continue
    I regularly wake up missing a place called Parsons in Chelsea, London
    Founded in the sixties, had the original cast on the menu in kaftans with hippie hair on the back of the menu
    They were doing individual sourced grass fed beef in the eighties, never had a burger to match
    Just disappeared in the nineties and I will have another one again
    Sighs

  51. They do pop-ups on this side of the Pacific every so often, and the lines form at dawn.

    I am not an early riser, so I’ve never had the pleasure, but my burger of choice is one from the local fish-and-chip shop, with beetroot and egg but not pineapple, so I may not be In-n-Out’s ideal customer.

  52. Five guys may make a good burger, but we will never know, because they immediately wrap it in some tin-foil like substance and what you get is a soggy mess.

  53. Whole grilled onion slice on a mustard grilled double double. Animal fries. Coming soon to the state of Colorado! Whataburger comes in second, and I am jealous of Texas for having both, because the joy of burger variety.

  54. If we’re going to sort by category, I’d argue that there are really about four levels to contend with.

    “Fast food” is just what it says, and is almost (but not quite) exclusively the province of the big chains. This is In’N’Out’s level. I don’t have direct experience of In’N’Out for geographic reasons; my personal preference here is that given a choice of the national players, I’ll take Wendy’s. Burgerville wins here on regionals, although they are right on the edge of slipping up into the next category….

    …which the trade will call “quick casual” (slightly higher price points, more personalized service & prep). In the burger trade, this is dominated by the “custom burger” players — there are a growing number of operations following the Five Guys model of a very limited menu and the design-your-own topping approach. See particularly Boardwalk Fries (we had and lost two here in Oregon), as well as the above-noted Wow! Burger. By and large, I think Five Guys does what it does better than any of its imitators, and I am in the camp that likes their fries much better than the usual frozen shoestrings. Here again, one player hovers on the upper edge of this category — that’s Fuddrucker’s, which has the physical design of a full-service place with the service model of a quick-casual one. And just to confuse matters, two of my local Whole Foods markets offer freshly made burgers out of their deli/hot food departments, which are actually pretty good.

    In between “full service” and “quick casual” I have seen a designation for “bar burger”, which is just what it says on the tin: the burger served at one’s local drinking establishment. The nature of bar burgers pretty much prevents a wide-band ranking system; the best one only exists at a neighborhood or town level, although a few may become notorious in the wider world by way of the ‘Net or a reality-TV segment. (In Portland, the two most often mentioned come from Stanich’s or the Helvetia Tavern; neither of those is my favorite, but then neither of those is in my immediate neighborhood orbit.)

    And then you get to full service — running from the big chains (Red Robin) to long-lived locals, often with roots in the diner culture (Skyline, whose burgers are in the thin-patty school and where you pretty much salt your own perfectly cooked shoestring fries, to answer a couple of questions from those above). I don’t have a standing favorite here, mostly because I get my burger fix farther down the service chain.

  55. Dear Athena,

    I don’t think you’ve mentioned where in California you are?

    People here likely have recommendations for good (and cheap) local places. But not much point on sending off on a 200 mile drive for a decent burger.

    pax ./ Ctein

  56. @David E. Siegel: Fair point.

    Culvers: a thin patty, cooked fresh. A little grease, but not much — one napkin will take care of my hands after the burger and fries. Will let the diner pick which items they want on their burger. Fries are crinkle-cut and not oversalted — I don’t like overly crispy fries, and because they’re a bit thicker than the common shoestring fries these tend not to get too crispy for me.

    Freddys: Same basic burger as Culvers. Uses the long pickle slices (cut lengthwise from the pickle), which I’m not fond of, but since there’s knives on the condiment/napkin stand I can correct that myself. Shoestring fries, tend to be a bit too crispy for my taste, and the seasoned salt is a bit much as well. OTOH, their chocolate shakes have way more chocolate flavor than just about anyone else’s.

    Five Guys: a thicker burger, cooked while you watch, but even with the foil wrap has a bad habit of cooling off fast. They really need a smaller size option for the fries for when you don’t have three friends to help eat the serving, and less salt on them. Iced tea made from concentrate always tastes “off” to me; the last time I went to one of these I ordered a small drink and just got ice water from the machine.

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