Let’s get this out of the way right now: yes, the burgers at In-N-Out Burger are good. Very good, considering the price point. A double-double (two patties, two slices of American cheese-like product) costs just over four bucks, and a combo with fries and drink runs around $8 — comparable to your Golden Arches, your Knock-off Pippi Longstocking, your Crowned Home Invader and the like.
Ordering a burger “animal style” adds grilled onions, pickles, Thousand Island dressing and patties grilled in mustard, and yeah, it makes for a damn delicious burger. The way all of those sweet, tangy, meaty flavors interact delights, genuinely and absolutely. As a dear friend of mine once said, it’s a burger only someone who lives with an excess of plenty could complain about. And yes, we’ve been to an I&O in California — Corona, to be precise — and the local spot’s on par.
If In-N-Out were any other burger joint, that’d be the end of the review. But the Indy didn’t set aside this many inches of copy for “yeah, the burger’s good,” dammit, so let’s get some context! The first In-N-Out opened in 1948 in Baldwin Park, California, and over the ensuing decades, its loyal fans have turned it into an outright phenomenon. When news first came that In-N-Out would be opening in Colorado — and in the Springs, no less, not just Denver — the hype was almost tangible. News reports from opening day, back in November, make note of hours-long lines, dredging up memories of when a local Krispy Kreme opened in the 2000s.
As for what makes I&O stand out, the most glaring thing is the size of the menu — or, rather, the lack thereof. It’s burgers, fries, milkshakes, drinks and little else — no In-N-Out fishwich, no hash browns or eggs, no chicken nuggets and no seasonal, market-driven tomfoolery. Hell, the last new menu item, added in 2018, was hot chocolate. Plus, we called to confirm that they buy Colorado beef and produce (though we don’t learn specific vendor names), which is nice. And with an eye toward health, the fries are cooked in sunflower oil. They even use Kona beans for a cup of coffee that earned a surprised “Hmm! Not bad” on a morning burger run. Also, there’s the allure of that “secret menu,” and people do love being in on a secret.
Sadly, the fresh-made fries at In-N-Out earn the adjective “dreadful,” whether ordered as listed on menu, where they’re super blonde and bland with a not-quite-crunch that almost feels dry in the mouth; or well done, with some cooked taste and the texture of gardening foam throughout. Animal-style fries, which cost two bucks more and can also be ordered well done, get rapidly-congealing American processed dairy product slices atop, plus Thousand Island dressing with diced pickles and grilled onions, which do add nice flavors, but the fries still totally blow, in no uncertain terms. If there’s a valid secret hack for good fries with an I&O burger, it’s to skip I&O fries altogether and source spuds from a certain local gastropub one block to the west.
Also a secret menu legend, the Neapolitan shake mixes all three of I&O’s on-menu shake flavors into one concoction that works pretty well, led by strawberry and vanilla. No guff.
As for the battle of the chains, yeah, the burgers are way better at Five Guys, but they’re twice the price, so they’d goddamn well better be. Same goes for most of the local burger joints — if there’s justice, In-N-Out should not make them go extinct. It would be lovely, however, if I&O were to wipe out Wendy’s, BK, McD’s and their ilk — that would be a happy future indeed.