When it comes to fast food, everyone has come to expect a certain level of quality. Obviously expectations are low, but seeing as it is consistent, quick, and cheap, most people put up with it. If I go to a Burger King in Colorado, I know the Whopper is going to be disturbingly large, messy, and taste vaguely of smoke, just like the one I had in Massachusetts. If I ignore how frightening that is, I can enjoy the filling meal that only cost me a few dollars. That’s why I was so surprised to find a fast food chain specializing in burgers that don’t suck.
The place is called Five Guys, presumably because it was five guys who got together and had the inspiration to make fast food with some degree of quality. Despite the fact that I had never heard of it, it is actually a fairly widespread chain with something like 400 locations nationwide. The closest one is only 10–15 minutes from campus down Route 4 in North Greenbush, innocuously wedged next to a Verizon store and a Home Depot.
The inside strongly resembles a pizza place, except that pretty much every surface is plastered with various positive reviews, supportive quotes, and baffling metaphors. My personal favorite states that Five Guys is the “Willy Wonka’s of Burgercraft.” When I think of Willy Wonka, I typically think of a sociopath coupled with agoraphobia, but I’m pretty sure they meant it as a compliment.
While modesty may not be their strong suit, it is worth noting that the praise and adulation is well-deserved. A good portion of the signs refer to their surprisingly conventional and down-to-earth cooking practices. For instance, the fries are all from potatoes freshly flown in and cut minutes before frying. They even have a sign saying where the potatoes were farmed. (This week it was Pasco, Wash., and Sugar City, Idaho.) They only use peanut oil, and the burger meat is never frozen. In fact, the entire chain claims to not own a single freezer, as everything is used as soon as possible for maximum freshness.
They have stacks of potato bags all around the restaurant and bins of free peanuts to munch on while you’re waiting. Unlike most fast food places, or restaurants in general, they don’t try to diversify their menu. They have burgers, fries, and hot dogs; that’s it. While this may seem a little weak, the focus more than pays off, and as a result the food they make is top-notch. They also don’t cut corners on the portions. A regular burger is two massive beef patties. You actually have to specifically order a “little” burger to get a standard size. A “regular” burger with cheese is $5.39, but after that any toppings you want are free. You could get grilled mushrooms, green peppers, onions, or even jalapenos and, like everything else, the toppings are as fresh as it gets. Fries don’t come with the burger, which is a little disappointing, but if you order fries, an extra $2.49, they give you the cup, and then purposely dump an extra scoopful into the bag just to top it off.
It’s not as cheap as most fast food—a full meal will usually run you around $10—but it’s a quality change of pace. Even most sit-down restaurants can’t make the same claim as Five Guys, so they’ve got something special going for them. It may not seem like it, but there is a definite taste difference when the beef is so fresh it’s never been frozen, and it’s worth trying at least once just to see what regular fast food is lacking.