After dominating the Mid-Atlantic, Five Guys has slowly crept its way west to California, challenging West Coast burger greats like In-N-Out.
From a local perspective, which burger joint reigns supreme?
Two weeks ago, a Five Guys location opened in Hayward on Hesperian Boulevard right by Kennedy Park. Being a newbie to this Virginia-based burger joint, I dragged my brother along to join me on a burger escapade.
Strolling on in, the red and white color layout was strangely reminiscent of In-N-Out’s layout. Aerosmith’s “Crazy” was blasting through the speakers, and peanut shells were strewn across the floor. Five Guys had an undeniably 90s urban feel and look to it.
Compared to In-N-Out, Five Guys boasts larger variety in their menu, offering not only colossal burgers, but hot dogs and sandwiches. The cashier who helped us earnestly explained the whole menu to me at a rehearsed, lightning speed that sounded like a run-on sentence. I defnitely give kudos to her for being able to explain the menu in an impressive 20 seconds. The variety and customization in the menu is deceptively simple, since there are many ways to order your burger, from doing it “all the way,” which includes all the fixings, to adding their plethora of sauces like from A1 Sauce to barbeque sauce.
I decided on getting the bacon burger with regular-sized cajun fries, and my brother opted for the little hamburger. After a speedy five minutes, the food was delivered in a large paper bag. Unwrapping this mammoth beauty, I couldn’t wait to dig in. But the verdict: passable. The beef patties, though large, were rather dry. Even with the fresh tomatoes and lettuce, the burger was lacking moisture. The promised smokey flavors were there, but the dryness didn’t bond them together. The cajun fries were slightly redeeming, which had a nice spicy kick in the seasoning.
Five Guys offers a lot more than In-N-Out: more variety in their menu, more customization, and larger burgers. But what it doesn’t have going for it is what has made In-N-Out such a West Coast burger great: simplicity.
With a 1-2-3 meal option, it’s far easier to explain In-N-Out’s menu than their East Coast counterparts. And with a secret menu that actually takes some researching to discover, this burger joint has a sort of novelty that’s not easy to wear off. At the location in Union City, I ordered a regular hamburger and their coveted “animal style” fries, which adds on melted American cheese, caramelized onions, and a sauce similar to a Thousand Island dressing. Unlike Five Guys, the burger was conveniently wrapped and ready to eat. The fries, not overseasoned and gave room for the caramelized onions and sauce to shine.
To put a local twist to this burger comparison, I looked at what else Hayward had to offer in the burger front. That’s when I checked out Val’s Burgers, which is Hayward’s renowned burger joint that’s been open since 1958. And the old-fashioned novelty sure does show. A photograph taken of the diner in 1958 would look virtually the same of a photograph taken now. Though it’s a small, quaint diner, Val’s Burgers offers one of the most titanic-sized burgers in the Bay Area.
Meet the Papa Burger: two half-pound all-beef patties, four slices of smoked cheddar, mayonnaise and ketchup, all sandwiched in between two plump, naked buns.
Try fitting this sucker into your mouth. It sure was a feat for me, so I resorted to shamefully asking the server for an extra fork and knife. The burger, though the patties were massive, which signals a lack of moisture, was pleasantly quite juicy. The bun, which is usually an afterthought in most burger chains and even some joints, was dense, yet soft. Just be warned: you may want to loosen a couple notches from your belt before you dig in.
Though Five Guys and In-N-Out have their own charms and distinct menu, they don’t outshine the old-fashioned, yet novel nuances of Val’s Burgers. From the Papa Burger to the Mama Burger to the Baby Burger, Val’s creates a simple, cohesive burger offering that is one of the best in the East Bay.