Now that's a burger: Five Guys gets one more great review
Apr 3, 2006 (Updated Apr 3, 2006)
Review by puckish
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Fantastic food, good service, clean restaurant, good prices, amazing quality
Cons:Peanuts served in bulk (bad for the peanut-sensitive), cash only (no credit or ATM cards)
The Bottom Line: Hands-down the best place to get a burger, when you're not at home. Amazing fries, too!
Five Guys Burgers is a bit of a Northern Virginia tradition. The now-expanding burger empire began in Alexandria, Virginia, but new franchises have begun mushrooming all up and down the east coast. On the company's website, in the "About" section, this is what they have to say about themselves:
Recommend this product?
Mission: We are in the business of selling burgers.
Goal: Five Guys goal is to sell the best quality burgers possible. To sell the best burger possible we focus on Quality, Service and Cleanliness.
They don't say much else about themselves, but countless excellent reviews by Zagat, The Washingtonian, and other publications, have nothing but good to say about these guys. They are consistently rated as having the very best burgers available. Five Guys is so proud of its good reviews that snippets and copies of their many glowing reviews are what decorates the restaurants.
If the reviews aren't what you want to know about Five Guys, well, the food pretty much speaks for itself. The menu is at once simple and complex. It's simple because Five Guys serves burgers and little else (hot dogs and grilled cheese are the other entree choices). It's complex because you can get any range of toppings for your burgers - from the traditional mustard, ketchup, pickles and so forth, to the unconventional: A-1 steak sauce, jalapenos, green peppers. Also on the menu are two sizes of their magnificent fries, and drinks (one size, free refills). That's it. Burgers, toppings, fries and drinks.
When you walk into the restaurant, it's a bit plain. All tables and no booths at our local Five Guys. Laminated copies of restaurant reviews line the walls. Centrally located in our local Five Guys is the counter where you order, as well as the drink station and a place to get condiments for your fries. Behind the counter, you can see the heart of Five Guys: the big grills and an efficient line of employees cooking and assembling burgers. I like a restaurant where I can see the food being prepared. The restaurant is very clean, which is reinforced by their not hiding their food prep area.
Belly up and place your order. It's simple - tell them which size burger you want (the regular-sized burger is actually two hand-packed burgers on a regular sized bun, and if you really load up on the toppings, it comes close to being Dagwood-sandwich-sized) and what you want on your burger.
Your burger choices are regular burger, cheeseburger, bacon burger, bacon cheeseburger, and then a "little" version of each of those, which has one burger patty only. If you're not in the mood for a burger, try a 100% kosher hot dog, a bacon or cheese dog, a bacon cheese dog, or a veggie or grilled cheese sandwich.
Then add toppings. Your choices are mayo, onions, pickles, relish, lettuce, tomato, fried onions, sauteed mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, jalapenos, green peppers, A-1, barbecue sauce, and hot sauce.
For me, at many (if not most) fast food restaurants, fries are optional - but not at Five Guys. Their fries are the hand-cut (with a bit of peel) sorts of fries that you find on beach boardwalks, fried in peanut oil and a little bit limp. Just the way I like my fries. By the counter at our local, there's a whiteboard that tells you where today's potatoes come from, and sometimes you can see big crates of potatoes in the back, so you know they're fresh fries. The fries come in two sizes - regular, and large. If you'd like, you can get them in "cajun" flavor, which presumably has some seasoning salt sprinkled on them. I always get the regular ones, both in flavor and size. They don't skimp when they give you the fries; the regular is measured out with two heaped-over 8 oz. styrofoam cups. I can flat put away some food, but when I order a regular cheeseburger and regular fries, I leave Five Guys most pleasantly stuffed. The regular fry size is quite generous.
Drinks come in one size, which is nice and simple. Five Guys serves Coke products, and refills are free. Every time I've been to Five Guys, the drink machines have been perfectly calibrated to give you the very best-tasting fountain drinks ever.
Get extra napkins
Once you've placed your order and paid (cash only; an ATM is located at the front of our local), you're given a number and you wait for your burger. While you wait, have some peanuts. Roasted peanuts in the shell are available in bulk, near the trash cans scattered throughout the restaurant. There are ample warnings about the peanuts, both on the website and on the front doors. Customers are also admonished not to take peanuts out of the restaurant so as not to exacerbate the allergies of "neighborhood children" (though our local store is in a strip mall and not close to any residential area). I like that Five Guys is conscientious enough to be concerned that their peanuts don't mess with anyone who didn't choose to go into their restaurant and expose themselves to nuts.
Grab some extra condiments while you wait. Ketchup in a giant pump container for your fries, or malt vinegar, if you prefer. Get your drink. Get some extra napkins while you're up there - there's usually a large stack of them by the ketchup. You'll need them. Five Guys burgers are a full-body experience.
Not a place to have a quiet conversation
Five Guys is not a quiet place. There is music - our local tends to favor '80s tunes - and there is yelling. When your order is up, your number will be yelled out. If you're not prompt, it'll be yelled a couple of times. If you're still not up there to claim your burgers, they'll break out the microphone. Five Guys is not a place for a quiet talk with a first date.
Look like you've been there before - do the right thing with your bag
Your burgers come wrapped in foil in a brown paper bag. Some of your fries are still in the styrofoam cup. Many of them are those coveted "bag fries," the ones that fall out into the bag. If you've been to Five Guys more than once, you'll know that the proper bag-and-fry handling procedure - at least at our local store - is to take out and distribute the burgers, and then tear open the bag and leave the fries there in the bag for a free-for-all. You can always tell who's been there before and who's there for the first time by how they handle their bags and fries. Only first-timers leave their bags intact.
So you've gotten and passed out everyone's burger, and all the fries are in the middle of the table to share (my husband and I share one single regular fry and leave the place more than satisfied) - how's the food?
Yum! The food
Well, the burgers are messy. They're moist and juicy - greasy in a good way - and not the perfectly round patties that you might be used to from other fast food places, because they're hand-packed from fresh ground beef. The beef is always cooked well-done (but never, ever dry); they're always juicy and tasty: these patties would stand alone without condiments, the delicious taste of good-quality fresh beef, if you weren't dazzled by the array of things you could add to your burger. They've come fresh off the grill, and if you ordered something special you might even have been able to pick out your burger in the assembly line. The bacon is crisp and well-flavored, and the condiments are fresh and very liberally applied.
I generally get the regular cheeseburger, with its two generous delicious patties, with onions, fried onions (these are fried on the grill), mustard, ketchup, sauteed mushrooms (canned mushrooms, fried on the grill), lettuce, sometimes tomato, and sometimes relish. Once in a while I remember to add bacon. If you add the lettuce and tomato on a regular burger, prepare to unhinge your jaws and open wide - the burgers get tall when you add a lot of stuff.
Extra napkins are highly desirable. The burgers are juicy and the burger-assemblers are generous with the condiments. Be warned: your hands will smell like your burger until you wash them. My hands always wind up smelling faintly of mustard and onions when I leave Five Guys.
The fries are nothing short of spectacular. They're fresh, never frozen, and have that delicious peanut oily goodness. They're well-cooked, never burned, and are always slightly limp-crisp, the same way boardwalk fries are. For me, the fries stand alone - I never get ketchup and only rarely add vinegar.
I have never gotten anything but the burgers, because when I go to a burger joint, I want a burger, but my kids have gotten the hot dogs before, and liked them. They're large hot dogs, split down the middle and grilled, then popped back into the bun with the condiments of choice. I can't speak to the deliciousness of the grilled cheese or veggie sandwiches, but if they do the sandwiches as well as they do everything else, those are good choices for the non-burger-inclined among you.
More than McDonald's, in price and quality
Prices at Five Guys are good, although maybe not quite as good as chain fast food places. My husband and I typically drop not-quite-twenty bucks on a full-sized burger for each of us, a shared regular fry, and a drink for each. Add the kids and we have little burgers and an extra fry to share, plus drinks, another sevenish dollars. The quality of the food, though, is absolutely worth the slight elevation of cost compared to McDonald's, BK, or similar. We know that what we're getting is fresh, well-cooked, and made to order. And the taste is so extremely good - almost like a homemade burger. There is no such thing as a ho-hum average burger at Five Guys, whereas ho-hum and average seem to be the only thing to get at other burger places.
Whenever I'm in the mood for a burger out, I'll opt for Five Guys over anywhere else. The beef has a taste, everything's fresh, the fries are to die for, and the drinks are perfectly mixed. It's far and away the best fast burger option out there. And now that Five Guys is expanding its operations up and down the east coast, and at a rapid clip (every time I look, there's a new Five Guys going in at a strip mall here in NoVa, and I believe they're developing just as rapidly in other states), you don't have to be a Virginian to enjoy something that has been something of a Northern Virginia tradition for a couple of decades.
If you like homestyle burgers, you'll love Five Guys. And you'll never be happy with McDonald's and its ilk again.
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