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Let the Burger Battle Be Joined!


There’s a war going on in my neighborhood. Five Guys, a venerable hamburger chain that started in the Washington, DC suburbs, has opened in a mall in Culver City. It’s about a 10-minute drive from the hometown favorite in the just-burgers category, In-N-Out.

Five Guys' "little hamburger"

The Five Guys' "little" hamburger

These two hamburger chains have a considerable amount in common:

  • they rely on fresh ingredients
  • they have very limited menus, honing in on the burger & fries
  • both make it very fast, easy, and relatively inexpensive to get to a 1,000-calorie meal

There are also a substantial number of differences:

  • Five Guys’ burgers are significantly meatier than In-N-Out’s, maybe twice as much meat by patty
  • In-N-Out fries are slender, while Five Guys’ are substantially thicker and have the skins on. Five Guys’ portions also seem to be much larger
  • Five Guys is much more expensive—the basic combo (single hamburger, fries, medium soft drink) is nearly twice the price of In-N-Out

I first found Five Guys on a trip to Florida several years ago. The chain’s expansion there was lightning-fast about five years ago, with storefronts popping up in strip malls toward the end of the boom. (All the Florida locations I’m familiar with have so far survived.)

In-N-Out single hamburger

In-N-Out single hamburger, with everything (including raw onion)

I found In-N-Out in my adolescence—it’s a staple of Southern California life.

The ink about the rivalry between the two is running as thick as burger grease. Which is better? Which will win the burger war?

In my view—which focuses on burgers rather than businesses—there’s room for both. Every In-N-Out location I’ve visited between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm is packed every day of the week. My first visit to the Culver City Five Guys was a failure when I realized wending my way through the line that stretched into the mall would take at least an hour, and that was more time than I wanted to invest in lunch that day.

Perhaps the demand for what Jimmy Buffett called a “big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat” is greater than the analysts had predicted, that there really are enough people who like basic burgers to support more than one chain.

The marketplace will make that decision. What I’m discovering is that there are some wars it’s not half-bad being in the middle of.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Bryan Frank May 22, 2011, 6:33 pm

    It’s on. I must try this burger.

    • Paul Skolnick May 22, 2011, 6:40 pm

      Say when. I’ll meet you there. It’s in what used to be Fox Hills Mall, now called Westfield Culver City, on the nw side (near Forever 21).

  • Royal Calkins May 22, 2011, 7:36 pm

    In Washington, D.C., over spring break, everyone we visited recommended Five Guys for lunch. Very good, very unhealthy.

  • YMC May 22, 2011, 7:59 pm

    Hey GMP,
    First time checking out your blog, and if I must say, very tasty! As a rule, if and when Steph and I go out for some dindin, it usually isn’t for a burger. Sad to say, we are strictly neophytes as far as burgers go. Maybe if one of these places come to our corner of the world, maybe we’ll give it a shot.
    Oh a postscript. Remember that guy who was giving me a ball roasting earlier today. Apparently, after my last salvo, he backed off, and hasn’t shown up since.

    • Paul Skolnick May 23, 2011, 6:48 am

      There are at least seven Five Guys locations in your general area. You can go to http://fiveguys.com/locations.aspx and put your zip code in. All of the restaurants in your area will pop up.

  • Elizabeth May 23, 2011, 10:57 am

    We went to the one in Georgetown and I remember being unimpressed. In ‘n’ Out rules.