Five Guys Burgers and Fries -
I can’t believe that I had never heard of Five Guys before I visited Vancouver for the first time last year. I was a burger lover who stayed in the U.S. for 10 of the last 11 years and Five Guys was one of the most popular and fastest growing burger chains in the United States. They had no presence in Boston in the 8 years I was living there and there certainly wasn’t any buzz about them in Southern California, which was the land of Carl’s Jr, Fatburger, and In’n'Out. I’m kinda glad I never heard about them then.
If I had discovered Five Guys while I was in Southern California, it’s presence probably wouldn’t have registered in my mind even after I tried it. I would most likely eat there once and then forget that Five Guys even existed. The fact is, the images of the local California burger chains were so ingrained in me that I would subconscious propel myself to one of their locations when I needed a fast food burger quick-fix.
But when I visited Five Guys for the first time last year, I was burger-starved from living six months in the hamburger wasteland that was Taiwan. After eating crap burgers for six months straight, the pretty good burger at Five Guys tasted like a steak from Peter Luger to me. I thought their burgers were so good that Five Guys was the first burger joint that I took my wife and kids to right after we finally moved to the area towards the end of last year. My wife loved their burgers as much as I did the first time she had them. For a while, it even became our go-to fast food place because it also happened to be the fast food restaurant that was closest to our house.
Today was ‘observation’ day at my son’s preschool and my wife and I were scheduled for an observation at 1 PM. Since there was not a lot of time between dropping my son off at 12 PM and the 1 PM observation, we decided to go somewhere close for lunch. Naturally, we chose Five Guys, which was as close to my son’s preschool as it was to our house.
It had been several months since we last visited Five Guys. After a flurry of visits to the restaurant during our first two months living here, we stopped eating at the place. As our palettes became normalized to the quality of the other burgers in the area, our feelings towards the burgers at Five Guys turned from ‘amazing!!!’ to ‘great!’ to ‘good’ and finally settling down at ‘…average’. We were hoping that ‘…average’ would at least turn into ‘good’ this time around.
It had been so long that I had forgotten that the restaurant was as bright as it was inside. On a rainy day, the bright interior of the restaurant actually brightened our moods.
We ordered our food, self-served our beverages, and sat down munching on the complimentary peanuts.
After a short wait, we got our order in a brown paper bag. My wife had the double patty hamburger with lettuce, tomatoes, raw onions, jalapenos, and hot sauce
My wife likes the fact that the toppings of the burgers are customizable. She made her burger as hot as possible by loading up on the jalapenos and hot sauce. She took a few bites and commented that even though the burger was better than average, it still couldn’t be considered a good burger. She liked it’s spiciness, but she said that she was unable to get any flavours form the burger patty. She’s very particular about burger buns and this one wasn’t up to her standards. Ending with a positive, she stated that unlike her previous unfulfilled experiences with the one-patty burger, she was finally able to say that she felt full after eating the two patty burger.
I also had the two-patty, but I got mine with cheese. I also got mine with lettuce, cooked onions, cooked mushrooms, pickles, mustard, and A-1 sauce.
I also thought that my burger was better than average but not ‘good’ enough to be called a tasty burger. The most glaring weakness of the burger was it’s soggy bun. The limp, soggy texture of the bun really detracted from my enjoyment of the burger. Unlike my wife, I was actually able to taste the beef flavours of the two patties. I also liked the cheese-wiz like cheese that was on my burger. The gooeyness of the cheese was a nice textural contrast to the firm patties, the bouncy mushrooms, and the crispy pickles. Another aspect I liked was how the flavours of the pickles combined with the flavours of the cheese-wiz and patties. What I didn’t like was the fact that I couldn’t taste the flavours of the mushrooms and cooked onions. Their textures felt like something, but their flavours tasted like nothing.
The cajun fries we had were also lacking in flavours. (…but not in quantity. They gave us around two cup-fulls – half in the cup and half in the bag.)
Their fries were something that we never liked. They never put enough salt on them. They tasted bland even with the cajun seasoning. We also felt that they weren’t crispy enough as a whole. About two-thirds of the fries were not crispy enough while only one third was.
Finally, to top off the meal, we shared a hot dog. We ordered it with raw onions, cooked onions, and jalapeno.
The hot dogs here are a little different because they slice it in half lengthwise and lay it flat between the two buns. The potentially good thing about slicing the hot dog this way is that more of the surface area of the hot dog gets charred. If you’re into charred flavours, then this hot dog would provide lots of it. I happen to like charred flavours and I did get a lot of it with this hot dog. But I like the crispy snap of biting into a normal, cylindrical hot dog even more. I didn’t think that extra charred flavours of the sliced hot dog made up for it’s lack of textural satisfaction. I will not be ordering the hot dog here again.
Eating the burgers at Five Guys after not having a meal there for several months certainly improved our perception of it’s food. Whereas we previously felt that it served an average burger, we now think that it’s burgers are above-average. And above-average is good enough for it’s location when you consider the local competition (in the Park Royal Mall): the Standalone McDee’s and A&W in the food court. So, yea – in a bind, or when we’re lazy - we’ll definitely visit Five Guys again. And we definitely won’t wait several months until our next visit…but next time, we’ll just stick with the burgers…no more fries or hot dogs.