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

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First Annual LA Street Food Fest

LA Street Food Fest

VIP Patio

Saturday, we hit up the LA Street Food Fest.  When we arrived, there was a line that wrapped around the block.  Fortunately, we had snagged pre-sold VIP tickets but even then, there was a 1/2hr+ wait to get in because they were checking names off a list.  I appreciate the effort to be green and not have people print out anything but it would be faster and still eco-friendly to have VIP attendees print out tickets, collect them at the door, and then recycle the paper.  Looking for each person’s name on a list really backs up a line…

The VIP lounge was okay.  The free drinks, swag bag, and use of indoor restrooms did make the $30 price worth it, in my opinion, but I was disappointed by the lack of exclusive VIP vendors.  Only 3 were present on the patio – Dim Sum Truck, The Fry Girl and T Salon.  A few more would have made the VIP lounge feel more…VIP-y.

Dim Sum Truck stand

Roast Duck taco sample from Dim Sum Truck

Dim Sum Truck was fantastic and I look forward to finding them on the street.  They were giving out samples of their roast duck taco and shu mai dumplings.  The roast duck was delicious; they left the crispy skin on the duck!  The shu mai was moist, plump and had good flavor though I found the soy sauce dressing they put on it a little on the salty side.

Making Doughnuts Fry Girl style

Cinnamon Sugar Mini Doughnuts from The Fry Girl

The Fry Girl (mini fresh doughnuts) was my husband’s favorite.  For a guy who’s not big on sweet things, the fact that he went back for seconds was a big deal.  They offered up two toppings – powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar.  We went with the cinnamon.  Lightly fried and sweet, these were wonderful.  I now want the mini doughnut making machine that they used in my house…

The teas were actually quite good.  They were giving out samples of a berry one and a chocolate-vanilla.  I enjoyed the berry one more.

We headed down to the main area to hit up some of the big-name trucks.  First on my list was the Grilled Cheese Truck except the wait was already at 2+ hours.  Um….eek?  It would have been a great perk for VIP attendees to get a few “fast passes”.  Wandering around, it seemed that most of the trucks had at least a 1 hr wait.  The more popular ones like Ludo Bites, Komodo, Fry Smith and Buttermilk were around 2hrs.  *sigh*  Looking around, Coolhaus (gourmet ice cream sandwiches) barely had a line (that changed quickly as the day got hotter) so we rushed them.

Brown Butter Bacon Chocolate Chip and Strawberry with Chocolate Brownie from Coolhaus

Coolhaus was doing 2-flavor sample bags for $3 or 4 flavors for $5.  We went for the 4 flavors – brown butter bacon ice cream with chocolate chip, ginger snap with wasabi ice cream, chocolate with mint ice cream and strawberry ice cream with chocolate brownie.  The brown butter bacon was good – rich ice cream with bacon bits.  The ginger snap with wasabi was disappointing as I didn’t taste wasabi at all.  The strawberry with chocolate brownies was a familiar and comforting combination.  I’m not a mint fan so I didn’t try that one at all.  Husband chowed down on that and had no complaints.  These were the perfect size for consuming neatly and quickly in 2-3 bites.  I hope they actually add mini-sandwiches to the Coolhaus menu.

Next, up was Mama Koh’s chicken (Korean-style chicken wings) which was an actual stand vs. a truck.  The LA Food Fest marked their debut to the public.  They had almost no wait whatsoever.  All the chicken had been prepared beforehand so all you had to do was pay and then grab a dish.  Quick and efficient but the chicken wings lost their crispiness.  They were covered in a deliciously sweet n’ spicy glaze though.  I enjoyed these and hope to see them popping up around LA soon.

A not so tasty thing from Sabor da Bahia

Another stand nearby, Sabor da Bahia was serving up Brazilian food.  They were out of their chicken appetizer samples so I tried a black eyed pea fritter with some sort of shrimp paste on it.   This was…not good eats to me.  The paste was good but the fritter part was salty and extremely fishy tasting.  I ended up tossing this.

Dogzilla

Dogzilla LA Food Fest menu

Dogzilla was present and I was quite enamored with their take on the hotdog.  Regular franks become Japanese-fused oddities with toppings like yakisoba noodles, furikake, nori strips and teriyaki sauce.  I didn’t get to try any due to the 2hr+ wait but I am now keeping my eye out for a chance to try these.  And hopefully get a shirt, one day.  A  hot-dog eating Godzilla?!?!?  Brilliant…

At this point, a couple of friends finally arrived (gotta love the LA traffic) and we ran around looking for something they wanted that didn’t have a crazy wait.  We tried to brave Louks‘ line but ended up eating at Fresser’s as that line went quicker.  The pastrami they served up was quite good – tender and very peppery.  My friend said their pot roast was delicious.  The caprese sandwich I had was mediocre.

After our friends had their bite, we decided the crowd and heat were just too much to deal with and left to go to Wurstküche which ended up having a crazy line out the door.  I was later informed that the Food Fest had started turning people away and that many more attendee-hopefuls didn’t even bother waiting in the long line.  Those who didn’t get in flooded the nearby restaurants.

I don’t know much about the organizers of the Street Food Fest but I wonder if they had ever put together an event of this size.  The venue they chose was fine and accommodating for the size of the event but there was a lot they could have done to improve the experience for their patrons.  The first thing they could have done was limit the number of people.  They announced they were expecting around 10,000 attendees.  Frankly, I think that was too much for food trucks to handle.  With only 2-3 people able to work in the space, cooking food “made-to-order” for those numbers without creating an enormous backup wasn’t feasible.  On top of limiting numbers, spreading the food festival over a weekend instead of just one day would help mitigate the crowd issue as well (though there are costs associated with this, I know).  Also, the organizers only released VIP tickets for presale and then later released a small number of regular tickets.  Releasing all the tickets for pre-sale and selling whatever remained at the door may be a better choice for next year; it certainly would have help reduce the wait at the door.  As for the lines, it was confusing trying to find the end and various trucks had lines that collided with each other.  After my years at Comic-con, I know there are many creative ways to try and keep things orderly, one of which are End of Line signs.  And worst case scenario, if it’s too long to manage, cut it off and ask people to come back in a half-hour.

While I didn’t really get to try most of the trucks I was hoping to, I didn’t think the Food Fest was an absolute failure.  It’s a great concept that was wasn’t executed as well as it could have been but it is the first year so kinks are to be expected.  If they do it again, will I return?  Absolutely.  Though I fully plan on getting VIP tickets again and being there well ahead of opening…  In the meantime, I’ll be hunting the various trucks I didn’t get to try on the streets.