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Quest for the Best: In-N-Out

Our summer long series makes a trip to California's favorite, In-N-Out.

In-N-Out is one of the most polarizing fast food restaurants in the Southwest. In California, there exists a cult like following that swears by the chain and will defend it furiously. Patrons who hail from other parts of the country often find it over-hyped and claim example-B from hometown-Y serves up fare 2x as delectable and is more deserving of praise. Others hate it simply because they enjoy being contrarian dickwads and are required, by their official Dickwad by-laws, to hate things others like.

Every region has their darling. Texas and her neighbors have Whataburger. The Midwest seems split by the Mighty Mississippi; the eastern portion preferring White Castle and Steak 'N Shake while the west of the river the taste leans toward Culvers. Those of us in the Southwest have In-N-Out.

The hater's hate begins with the overly simple menu that offers customers three burger options and one size of limp flavorless fries. Each of these burgers is served with Thousand Island dressing, the most deplorable of all sauces according to this segment of people, and the amount of time you have to wait in line to be force fed this awfulness is unacceptable if not completely ironic. From there, the hate directs its ire towards the décor, which admittedly walks the line between retro 50's diner and hospital chic, but outside of the unsanitary conditions of some nefarious places I have eaten in my day, I have never allowed design taste to dictate my dining enjoyment.

The lovers love the crisp and crunchy hand torn lettuce, the perfectly ripened tomato and the way the tang of Thousand Island dressing compliments it all. They swear the only way to order the store cut spuds is to have them smothered "animal-style. They also appreciate the fact the menu is not bogged down with unnecessary items, like chicken or hot dogs or veggie burgers, one does not desire when craving a good burger. They don't mind waiting - and there is always a wait - for one of their favorite foods, and understand this is a surcharge that must be paid by all patrons for the experience. Oh, and if you ask nicely, they'll give you one of their hats! Take that, Burger King.

So, is In-N-Out the best burger in the land and a must have, or is it an over-hyped bland pack dweller that can easily be overlooked on your next visit to a city lucky enough to have the crossing palms? Let's find out.

This is, In-N-Out

History:

Harry and Esther Snyder opened the first In-N-Out in 1948 in Baldwin Park, California. The family has consistently resisted franchising its operations ensuring quality control remains the top priority. They are also renowned for treating their employees very well and were one of the first to increase their pay a few dollars over the national minimum wage requirements.

Today, the company is under control of the founders' only grandchild, Lynsi Snyder, and has spread its influence into Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, Utah and Texas, maintaining over 200 locations. Not bad for a family run business.

The Menu:

From the beginning, In-N-Out set out to serve hamburgers and have never expanded upon that mission. On their menu you can choose from a hamburger, a cheeseburger or a double cheeseburger, also known as the Double Double. Each has the same standard toppings, lettuce, tomato and Thousand Island dressing. Outside of onions, there are no al-a-carte options here so if you came looking for variety, you are sure to be disappointed. If you're into bundling, they have pre-packaged options for adding fries and a soda to your order by choosing meal #1 (Double Double), #2 (cheeseburger) or #3 (hamburger).

Then there is the not-so-secret "secret" menu where you can order your meat and cheeses in varying combinations (3x3, 4x4), a protein (no bun) or animal style (grilled onions, pickles extra spread on a mustard cooked patty) burger or even order a grilled cheese, if such a thing is your thing. Rumor has it there is also a double secret menu, but I can neither confirm nor deny its existence.

The Order:

My standard order when visiting In-N-Out, which is more frequent than is probably healthy, is the Double Double with onions, or a #1. I saw no reason to change this for the Quest.

Cheese - Yes! You get me, In-N-Out. There was cheese everywhere, in every bite, with so much to spare that bits of it were hanging off the wrapper when I finished. I will not be shamed for the fact that I eat those bits of deliciousness each and every time I order here. Sometimes I get some paper with it, but my diet could use a little more fiber so I don't stress over it much.

Cheese Score - 9/10

Meat - The meat is not the star here at In-N-Out, and I don't think anyone will tell you otherwise. Some are turned off by the thinness of the 100% all beef patty, but I have already explained I enjoy a thinner crispy burger, and they deliver on this. Besides, this sandwich is more of an ensemble cast where each element works in harmony with the next and the patty fills its role perfectly.

Meat Score - 6/10

Bun - Again, nothing special about the sponge-dough bun, but it does its job and does it well.

Bun Score - 6/10

Overall - I'm not here to sell you on the concept this is the world's best burger, because it isn't. I promise you at least one of my future visits will destroy this review, but I have always been a fan of In-N-Out and knew what to expect going in. However, unlike most of the other establishments I plan to visit over the summer, which are fast-casual, In-N-Out is your typical fast food restaurant that atypically serves fresher and higher quality ingredients than some of their categorical competition. They are what I imagine the McDonald's brothers or Dave Thomas envisioned their collection of hamburger stands to be before selling out to a corporate industry that values quantity over quality.

Each and every time I eat there I get the same quality sandwich with the same quality ingredients. The meat, cheese and bun are perfect compliments to each other and the fresh toppings, and even the Thousand Island dressing, bring it all together to make a perfectly tasty fast food burger. I strongly recommend you try one if your travels bring you to the sunny Southwest. You won't be disappointed.

Unless you're a hating dickwad, in which case you can suck it.

Overall Score 21/30

Next week: To be determined.