Here's a real problem: Holy cow, is this smashed, salty, Pat LaFrieda beef on my Shake Shack burger phenomenal, but what's up with these frozen crinkle-cut fries? (I believe Pete Wells would agree with us.)
Here's another one: The potatoey, deep, dark french fries from Five Guys make you weep with happiness, while the tasteless patties make you weep for better beef.
Yet a third: The beef at Smashburger is good enough, but it just can't compete with the awesome crazy topping combinations.
Now, you could resign yourself and file these amongst your other lamentable quandaries like having to charge your iPad and smart phone when you've only got one free USB port on your iMac, or the fact that there's still no good solution for when you want to read a book, drink a beer, and take a shower all at the same time. Or you could decide to take your first-world problems by the horns and do something about them for once.
Last Friday, that's precisely what we did.
Rather than settle for a sub-optimal burger-topping-fry combo, Serious Eats editors Carey Jones, Erin Zimmer, and I went straight into the heart of the Burger Zone (the official name for the area of downtown Brooklyn that now houses a Shake Shack, a Smashburger, and a Five Guys all within a five-minute walkable radius). Once we reached the epicenter of the three restaurants, we split up and headed out to pick up a topped burger and side of fries from each restaurant. The idea was that we'd use the different components to assemble The Ultimate Burger and Fries Combo, a high end fast-food meal so epic that it requires the use of capital letters.
The Downtown Brooklyn Burger Zone
From Shake Shack, we ordered a standard Shack Burger—a quarter-pound patty with cheese on a toasted potato roll with tomato, lettuce, and Shack Sauce. From Five Guys, it was a standard cheeseburger (on a sesame roll) with grilled onions and grilled mushrooms. From Smashburger, we went with "The Brooklyn," a patty topped with pickles, onions, pastrami, and mustard served on a pretzel bun.
Mashup #1: The Five Shack Smash
Contents: Five guys patty, cheese, and bun. Shake Shack lettuce, tomato, and Shack Sauce. Smashburger Fries.
Assessment: The weakest combination of the bunch. Smashburger's fries aren't terrible, but they're greasy. Five Guys' meat is entirely flavorless, and nobody I know goes to Shake Shack because the lettuce and tomato are awesome (I always order my Shack Burgers with pickles and onions instead).
Mashup #2: The Smash Guys Shack
Contents: Smashburger patty and bun, Five Guys toppings, Shake Shack fries.
Assessment: A clear step up, but still not ideal. Smashburger's meat and cooking method produce a tastier patty than Five Guys does, but the pretzel bun is a little off. Five Guys toppings are always messy, but rarely have the flavor to match. That's the case here—undercooked and greasy onions and mushrooms with not enough salt. And the fries? Well, we all know about those Shake Shack fries, right?*
* Disclaimer: I personally like Shake Shack fries, but I also freeze my homemade fries, so what do I know?
Mashup #3: The Shake Smash Guy
Contents: Shake Shack patty and bun, Smashburger toppings, Five Guys fries.
Assessment: Not only does it have the best name (wouldn't you like to have a buddy nicknamed the Shake Smash Guy in your posse?), it's also the best combination of elements by far. Excellent Shake Shack meat with a nice sear, a sweet, toasted Martin's Potato roll, some fine pastrami and pickles from Smashburger, and those awesome Five Guys fries.
Of course, we're not saying that this is a particularly practical use of your time or money, unless you can convince two other friends to go in with you on a threeway mashup, then somehow convince them to give you all of the Shack Smash Guy. We hope that your friends are more intelligent than to let that happen though.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.