In-N-Out Burger – Austin, Texas

I’ve heard a lot of hype about In-N-Out Burger from various friends and reviews. It is not a franchised chain, but a privately owned and operated one. Does this make a difference? I don’t think so.

DSC_0726In-N-Out started back in 1948 in California, a fact they are extremely proud of. They have manages to keep prices pretty low, and the menu pretty skimpy, but it seems to be working. We lucked onto a location in Austin, Texas, that had just opened a week or so before. To say it was packed is an understatement. The drive-through was more than 30 cars long with orange comes keeping them in order while they waited to place an order. Inside was even more crowded. The line to order was split into three, and each one was a minimum of 8 people deep. The rest of each party were haunting the indoor and outdoor  dining areas looking for seating. Some of them gave up and started picnicking on the grass, at the large planter boxes holding trees along the sidewalk, and tailgating on pickup trucks in the parking area.

The patrons came in all flavors! We saw your typical range of hippies to well-to-do folks, Longhorns fans, Japanese fashion plates, families, old, young, walking, biking, driving, with at least six different states represented in the parking lot other than Texas. There were kids everywhere, in spite of there being no children’s menu options.

You would think the crowd would be an indicator that the food was just that good. We had high hopes. While my partner stood in line to order, I hunted up a table. I was lucky enough to find a table for four that the current occupants were willing to share. We later did the same for another couple.

The restaurant itself is very light, bright and white with accents of red and yellow. The noise of so many people was definitely noticeable, but not obtrusive. Bathrooms were relatively clean and neat for such heavy usage. It should be noted that no smoking is allowed – neither regular or e-cigs, and they will prosecute.

The menu is very limited: french fries, drinks, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and the “Double Double” cheeseburger. Lettuce, tomato, and “spread” come with any burger; onions upon request. While the veggies are very fresh and hand torn/cut, there are no other options – no pickles, no avocado, just the basics. The “spread” is… well, I won’t blow the surprise, but it’s easily recognizable.

The entire other half of the menu lists drink options from the soda fountain, tea and sweet tea, and lemonade. There are shakes, though we did not try them during this visit. There is also bottled water for those who prefer it.

There was about a half hour between the time we walked in the door and the time we picked up our order. The crowd made getting drinks and ketchup an adventure. The olfactory and visual appeal was immediate and favorable. The bag smelled of burger and fries before we took anything out.

DSC_0725We ordered double doubles with fries.They were hot and fresh when our to-go bag (rather than the signature red tray) hit our table.

The burger was a nice surprise. The bun was butter grilled and crispy, a nice additional texture to the experience. Veggies were very fresh and colorful. The meat patties were on the thin side and well-done, but had great flavor. The cheese was a good melting cheese, even if it was of an individually wrapped processed cheese food type. In spite of being FDA portion sized, the burger was a very tasty experience.

The burgers were individually wrapped in brown paper, a practice that In-N-Out has used since it opened. If they think this makes them environmentally friendly, they are right but only to a point. The amount of grease that collects in the wrappings makes the paper ineligible for recycling.

The fries… what can you say about fries. They advertise that the fries are cut daily from Kennebec grown potatoes. I’m not sure that helps or hinders. The fries are slender, square cut, and moderately dusted with a salt/pepper combination. The thinness means they go cold quickly. They have a flavor like canned potato strings which was a nice discovery. They would have been vastly improved by the addition of chili and cheese, neither of which was an option.

My table companion was pleasantly impressed with the burger but found the fries to be “uninspired” at the least.

On the 1-5 scale, In-N-Out Burger gets:
Cleanliness – 4 (in spite of the crowd)
Service – 3 (because of the crowd)
Quality of food – 3
Flavor – 3
Pricing – Moderate to Low
Overall experience – 2.5

-Ann Cathey

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