From the window to the wall to more unmentionable regions of the universe, this is truly what a hamburger is all about. If you grew up in California, you probably remember that magic moment when you first drove up to the long queue at In-N-Out Burger and discovered the regional chain's superior never-frozen, never-precooked hamburgers topped with the freshest produce. And those fries, oh lawdavmercy, those fries. Cut from giant potatoes right in front of your face, they're best washed down with a thick shake made with real chocolate ice cream. One of my earliest memories was of a driver who had rearranged his free In-N-Out Burger sticker to read "Inner Butt Urge," much to the amusement of the Hamburglar clan.
If you're not from around these parts, you're probably tired of hearing your West Coast homies rave about this place, but we will stand by it. Having "done" both coasts, I can honestly tell you Blue 9 Burger was doing a pretty excellent job of recreating these burgers, but as the Whack Eyed Peas would ask about the place these days, "Where is the love?" In place of Blue 9's "troubled teens messily running our store" vibe, In-N-Out is a vision straight out of Happy Days. An immaculate white-walled, red-tiled castle filled with cheerful servers in clean uniforms, with booths inside and original counter stools outside, In-N-Out is more than a restaurant, with its secret menu and legions of devotees, it is a culture unto itself.
Under pressure for an In-N-Out review from West Coast readers and from this site's editor in chief, my homie "El Loco CBro" and I sped down Sunset Boulevard toward the Hollywood location with eager anticipation and great faith. We pulled into the parking lot, and, under signage glowing brightly against the deep-blue twilight sky, stepped over a man sleeping on the sidewalk, and entered the main attraction. A gregarious group of empty-teen and after-work bellies had gathered, either sinking teeth into a sumptuous repast or impatiently shifting in line.
In-N-Out not only boasts supreme quality, it's "hella cheap," as our Nor Cal brothers might say. Eschewing the almost mandatory Double-Double, CBro and I just went for the straight cheeseburgers, making sure to order grilled onions. I took my fries "well-done" while he went with the usual lightly fried suspects. Our attractive servers got to work, slicing the 'taters and grilling the beef. In a little more than five minutes, it was burgertime, bitches!
Founded in 1948 in Baldwin Park, California, In-N-Out was the first drive-thru hamburger stand in the country, so we won't quarrel with their style. Nonetheless, I'm always a bit squeamish about hamburgers whose "toppings" are not on top, as is the case here. Not sweating the technique, though, we dove into our burger bliss, pleased as always with the experience. The hot 100 percent pure-beef (free of fillers, additives, and preservatives) is made from only chucks, front ribs, and shoulder and is divine, perfectly cooked to give just a hint of the grill. The veggies are not only fresh, they taste it, bursting in your mouth with crispness and flavor. A light dressing of secret sauce gives just a soupçon of tang, blending greatly with the freshly baked buns. Taken as a whole, it is the incarnation of Wimpy's dreams, his perfect burger (and ours). Not oversized, the burgers fit perfectly in your hand and can be neatly devoured in a few bites, always leaving you with a hankering for just one more.
OF SIDES AND SECRETS Do not pass up the fries here, ever. Medium-size wedges of crispy high-grade potatoes cooked in cholesterol-free oil, they often still have a little skin attached, a testament to the recent sacrifice on the part of the tuber. They are some of the best fries I've eaten. And in my perpetual pursuit of the heart of AHT senior editor Honey P., I have sampled many a fry in my day.
As far as the secret menu is concerned, it's your choice whether you want a "4-by-4" (four patties with four slices of cheese) and an early coronary. And they'll know just what you're talking about when you say, "Give me mine 'animal-style.' " I recommend not getting the fries "well done," as it ruins their lightness.
Although we enjoy eating ours among Hollywood's freak-aquarium, In-N-Out now has more than 140 locations in Nevada, Arizona, and Cali. This is a review of but one, though we generally feel you'll understand the hoopla wherever you find one in the Golden State. As for any In-N-Out scarfers in Vegas or Phoenix, we'd love to hear what you think. This is one of the few places where we recommend believing the hype.
IN-N-OUT BURGER HOLLYWOOD STORE REVIEWED
Location: 7009 Sunset Blvd. (at Orange); Hollywood CA 90028
Phone: No phone
Price: $1.60 hamburger; $1.80 cheeseburger
What's Cookin': Perfect Cali-style burgers Photos by Colin "El Gillipollo Loco" Browne