Five Guys: East Coast burger meets West Coast appetite

When I was an angsty teenager in Temecula, I got a job at Burger King.  Somewhere in those 2 years, I stopped eating hamburgers.  Maybe it was my failed effort to go “vegetarian” late Junior year or maybe it was over-exposure to frozen beef patties.  Either way, I just sort of fell off the fast-food burger bandwagon, opting only to eat them from sit-down restaurants or indulge in a cheeseburger from In-n-Out on a rare occasion.  Yup, In-n-Out became my one exception to my no fast-food hamburger rule.  I admit, they make a pretty darn good burger but I can’t say I ever reached that fanatical level some people seem to have for the place. But they never had any competition in my book as to where to go for a great and cheap classic burger…till now.  Enter into the ring Five Guys Burger & Fries.  All the way from the East Coast, this franchise is expanding across the States and I have to say, after my first visit, In-n-Out could be facing its first major opponent.

Husband and I decided to try out this place when we saw a sign for it while hitting up IKEA in Carson.  I had seen the sign before but never really took notice until a friend mentioned them to me on FB in reply to an In-n-Out comment I had made.  Husband thought that a burger sounded good for dinner and made an executive decision.  Driving around Southbay Pavilion, it turned out Five Guys was on the other side of the shopping center from where we saw the sign; it’s over by Sears.

Outside

Inside

Register

I was a little doubtful as the place looked a little empty and it was already 7pm.  When I approached the door, I saw a lady walking out with a brown paper bag that had grease stains forming on the bottom.  Hrm…cautiously regaining hope…  When we walked in, the decor looked very In-n-Out with red and white tiles and a simple menu hanging over the registers.   The dining room was about a 1/3 full but it wasn’t exactly a big space.

I looked at the menu; it was divided into Burgers, Little Burgers, Dogs and Sandwiches.  Turns out the Burgers are double patties while the Little Burgers are singles.  The big difference I saw right off the bat…BACON.  Yup, they offer up bacon hamburgers and cheeseburgers.  Husband was leaping for joy, figuratively.  As for the dogs, you can get a straight up Kosher dog, cheese dog, bacon dog or bacon cheese dog.  I did briefly wonder why the rest of the dogs weren’t Kosher…but just for a split second.  😛  The sandwiches are the vegetarian options – veggie with or without cheese (not a veggie patty but rather, various vegetable toppings) and grilled cheese.

My burger, a little smooshed

Let's see what's inside

All burgers are initially plain and there is a list of toppings you can choose from.  Mayo, lettuce, ketchup, mustard, grilled or fresh onions, tomatoes, pickles, bbq sauce, jalapeno peppers, grilled mushrooms, relish, A-1 sauce or hot sauce are your choices and none of them cost extra.  I opted for a little bacon cheeseburger with bbq sauce, jalapenos, lettuce and tomatoes.  Hubby went for a bacon cheeseburger with bbq sauce.

The burger was juicy and flavorful.  I love the fact that sesame seed buns were used.  The bacon was crispy and the ratio of toppings to burger to bun was spot on.  I could taste everything without any one thing overpowering the others…well, until I bit into a jalapeno that was super hot.  I ended up picking them out. I really must be losing my spicy tolerance as I get older… I think I’m going to skip the jalapenos next time and do the grilled onions.  Yum.

Regular fries

Cajun fries

Five Guys offers two sizes of fries done two ways: Five Guys (regular) and Cajun-seasoned. Husband originally ordered a large Cajun-seasoned but the cashier told him that was big enough for 4 people.  He went with the regular size. I got a regular order of  regular fries which could easily be split between two people.  Their fries were natural-cut and cooked in 100% peanut oil.  The Cajun seasoning had a little bit of kick to it, really nice!  Their regular fries were good too and I munched my bucket down to near empty. I am a french fry fiend!!  Husband didn’t fare too well in making a dent in his due to the double-patty burger.  He said next time, he’ll get a single so he could fit more fries in his belly.  Also, they have a little board next to the fryer that states where the potatoes come from.  Kinda of neat!

As for drinks, it’s only fountain drinks, no shakes.  That really made me sad.  One of the things I look forward to when I’m about to indulge in a greasy burger is a delicious shake.  Cuz, you know, if you’re going to be bad, you mind as well be evil.  But Five Guys does get points for having cherry Coke…

While we were eating, more people did come in.  It seems that the majority of them did to-go orders though.  So while the dining room wasn’t crowded, business seems to be going well for Five Guys.

A neat thing to note is that on the receipt taped to the bag, it numbers each burger and the burger wrappers have a sticker put on them with a number so you can tell which burger belongs to who.

In case you were wondering, yes, I was doing a comparison between Five Guys and In-n-Out in my head the entire time I was nomming.  I have to say, the burger at Five Guys squeaks ahead because of the sesame bun and the bacon option.  I think the burgers here are a little bigger too and have a little bit more flavor.  As for fries, Five Guys is way better than In-n-Out.  They are cut thicker and were crisper and more cooked thru.  Five Guys does lose points with me, though, for not having any shakes.  Price-wise, I think the two are comparable.  The Little bacon cheeseburger costs $4.69 while the double is $5.59.  As for wait time, Five Guys is much better as every single In-n-Out that I have been to or driven by here in LA is always packed inside and out.

I think Five Guys wins over In-n-Out.  Is that blasphemy?  Please don’t sic the Spanish Inquisition on me…  Send it over to Husband.  He can’t stand In-n-Out.

4 NOMs for Five Guys!

Five Guys Burger & Fries
20700 Avalon Blvd
Carson, CA 90746
(310) 515-7700
Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

Alice in Wonderland tea set @ Royal/T

Yes, I’m going thru my backlog of pictures…*phew*….

Back in March, I heard that Royal/T, the Japanese maid cafe in Culver City was offering an Alice in Wonderland tea set for the month.  Since Husband works down the street from the place and he worked on the movie, I insisted we go one day for lunch.

I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking..er…writing?

Outside Royal/T

Wall o' tea canisters

I know what I'm ordering...

Anime-ish Alice n' friends

Maid to order

It said "Drink me" so I did...

The complete tea set

Canapes were cut up into card suite shapes

These canapes were pretty good. The bread was a little crispy from toasting and all the toppings were flavorful. I’m always a smoked salmon fan. There was also an egg salad, tuna salad and one other thing I can’t quite recall.

I adored that little mushroom...and the macaron

The sign did say purple macaron but, as you can see, I ended up with a green one. It was vanilla flavored and really good.  There was a mini chocolate cupcake with a small “Eat me” sign, just like the big one on top.  The mushroom was a meringue, I think, and so cute.  They even painted the bottom with little stripes to make it look as mushroom-y as possible!  I was hoping for a Caterpillar to come along, sit on top of it with his hookah and ask “Whooooooooooo are yoooooooooooooouuuu?”

Why yes, I think I will...

This cupcake was vanilla flavored with a cream cheese type frosting and cinnamon. Looking at another version of the tea set someone else had ordered, they ended up with a chocolate one and a mini vanilla one. While the cupcake was moist, I found it had too much frosting.  But then again, I’m not a huge frosting person to begin with…

Husband ordered one of Royal/T’s beers and the Kobe beef burger sans the veggies.  Apparently, the burgers have gotten juicier since our first visit.  My little slider dribbled down my hand and Husband had a slightly messy time.  His coworker ended up having some juice fall in his lap.

beer

Kobe beef burger

I’ve always had a great meal at Royal/T and this time was no exception. I really enjoyed the tea set and admired the attention to detail that was paid to the decoration and execution of it.  While it did satisfy my hunger, the amount of food didn’t fill me up. $25 was a little bit pricy for what I got, I think, but for the novelty and fun I had working my way thru eating it, I was okay paying the price.

Service this time around was a little better but still, lunch here can run over an hour due to waiting around for your order to be taken or food to be served.

4 1/2 NOMs for an awesome special tea set!
Royal/T gets an upgrade from 3 NOMs to 3 1/2 NOMs.  Service here can still improve and the prices, while not unreasonable, do fall on the high end for what you get.

Royal/T
8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 559-6300
http://www.royal-t.org/
Royal/T Café on Urbanspoon

The Counter revisited

I heard The Counter had a Kung Pao shrimp burger as their Burger of the Month for September.  Being genetically pre-disposed to loving Asian foods and also being a seafood lover, this sounded nommy.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to try very hard to convince the husband to go with me for lunch one day.

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

I guess I’m a fan of The Counter’s non-beef burgers though I keep telling myself that I will try another beef burger again.  This shrimp burger was quite tasty – grilled jumbo shrimp topped w/ a pickled cucumber salad & fried rice noodles w/ lettuce, onions & a spicy Kung Pao sauce.

There were about 5 pieces of properly cooked large shrimp, enough to register with my taste buds in every bite.  The rice noodles gave a nice crunch to the burger and the sauce actually had a little kick to it.  It was a bit messy to eat and I had to, on occasion, use a fork.  But in my opinion, a good burger is going to leave you licking your fingers.

The Shake of the Month was a chocolate brownie coffee malt – Vanilla ice cream w/ real pieces of chocolate brownie, a hint of coffee, malt powder and topped with  whipped cream.  The husband ordered one so naturally, I drank about half of it.  OMG, this could give the apple pie shake a run for its money as my favorite.  The coffee was subtle and there was a nice balance of chocolate and vanilla.

The Counter is slowly growing on me and I’m figuring out combinations that I like.  If they made the Kung Pao Shrimp burger a regular item, I’d be happy.

This visit earned The Counter an upgrade to 3 1/2 NOMs.

Read about my earlier visits.

The Counter Marina Del Rey
4786 Admiralty Way
Marina del Rey CA 90292
(310) 827-8600
http://www.thecounterburger.com/

Counter on Urbanspoon

The Counter – Marina Del Rey

Having heard of The Counter from Yelp, I finally had the chance to visit the Marina Del Rey location twice for lunch with the husband and some of his coworkers.

Based on the crowd inside, this was a pretty popular joint for the lunch crowd.  The first time, we managed to snag seats at the bar but on the 2nd visit, we had to wait about a 1/2 hr for tables to open up to accommodate our group of 8.

When you get seated, the waiter hands you a clipboard with a menu and a form.  The menu lists sides, drinks and some classic burgers and sandwiches.  The form is if you want to go the build-your-own-burger route.

First visit:

After looking over the menu, I noticed an apple pie milkshake.  SOLD!  This was an amazing milkshake.  Vanilla ice cream blended with real apples, cinnamon, graham crackers, it tasted like apple pie a la mode.  Rich, thick, creamy, this shake was everything a milkshake should be.  DELICIOUS!

Step 1 – Choose a burger.  You have a choice of various sizes of beef, turkey, veggie, and grilled chicken.  All beef burgers come cooked Medium unless specified otherwise.

Step 2 – Choose a cheese.  There’s a large selection of cheeses from Feta to jalapeño Jack to American.

Step 3 – Choose up to 4 toppings.  The list included the usual onions, lettuce and tomato but also had more exotic items like Roasted Corn & Black Bean Salsa and dried cranberries.  There is also a premium topping list which costs a little extra.  This includes guacamole, fried egg, bacon and chili among other things.

Step 4 – Choose a sauce.  From horseradish mayo to spicy sour cream to a sweet bbq sauce, there’s quite a large variety.

Step 5 – Choose a bun: English muffin, hamburger bun, honey wheat bun.  You an also opt to go lo-carb and have your burger served on a lettuce blend or mixed greens.

The Counter - My husband's breakfast burger

The Counter - My husband's breakfast burger

The husband did his usual – beef burger with Swiss, bacon and a fried egg on an English Muffin.  I call it his breakfast burger.  It’s actually really good but ugh, my heart always stops for a moment when I see it.  This falls very much into the “comfort food” category…not to be abused but used for those times when you need a hug via your stomach.

The Counter - my custom burger

The Counter - my custom burger

The Counter - closeup of my burger

The Counter - closeup of my burger

I opted for a 1/3 beef burger, Medium, with jalapeño Jack, lettuce, tomato and scallions, apricot sauce on a honey wheat bun.

When our burgers arrived, I had a mountain of a burger sitting in front of me.  There was no way I could pick up the entire thing and eat it so I had to cut it in half.  As you can see, the toppings all look fresh and the burger moist; however, it looks more medium-rare than medium to me.

The nice thing they do here at The Counter is serve the sauce on the side.

After my first bite, my first regret was not getting the regular bun.  The honey wheat bun was dry and the taste was akin to cardboard.  As I took more bites, pouring the apricot sauce prior, I realized that the burger itself was fairly bland.  Did they not season the patty?  When I commented on this to the husband, he agreed that his beef seemed un-seasoned to him as well.  Hrmmm…

009

The Counter - Fifty-Fifty

We also split an order of the “Fifty-fifty” – sweet potato fries and regular french fries.  It also comes in an onion ring variation.  The fries and sweet potato fries were both good – crispy, not overly oily.  I ate more of the regular fries for some reason even though I’m a sweet potato fanatic.  The aoli sauce in the back was really good as a dipping sauce.

Overall, the first visit wasn’t as good as I expected.  The concept is smart but the resulting  burger just wasn’t impressive.  In-n-Out has a better tasting burger, I think.  However, I would come back here for that apple pie shake any day…

My first visit to the counter receives 3 NOMs mostly for the awesome milkshake.

Second Visit:

We returned a few weeks later.  This time, I decided to stay away from the beef and go with chicken instead.  I, of course, order the apple pie milkshake again.  I also noticed that they have monthly specials – a burger of the month, a sauce of the month and a shake of the month.  The burger of the month was a lamb burger and while looked tempting, I stuck with the chicken.

This time, I went with a southwestern flair, choosing Roasted Corn and Black Bean salsa as a topping and going with a regular hamburger bun.  I have to say, this 2nd burger was a lot better than the first.  The chicken had more flavor (is that salt and pepper I taste on it?) and was moist and the salsa was delicious.  I may give the beef burger another chance but I would probably try to pick more flavorful toppings as well.

3 NOMs still for The Counter.

The Counter Marina Del Rey

4786 Admiralty Way

Marina del Rey CA 90292

(310) 827-8600

http://www.thecounterburger.com/

Counter on Urbanspoon