- On opposite sides of the US, In-N-Out and Shake Shack have earned names for themselves as go-to burger restaurants.
- So has Whataburger to the south. The Texas-based chain has even given more-upscale fast-food joints a run for their money.
- But how do the three burger restaurants compare?
- All three chains have a lot to offer, but Whataburger wins for a key reason: its perfect marriage of quality food and large portions.
First up was Shake Shack, the fast-casual burger restaurant based in New York.
Shake Shack, which has been called the “In-N-Out of the East Coast,” actually began as a hot-dog cart before officially launching operations in 2004.
We visited a location in Austin, Texas, on South Lamar Boulevard.
This is one of the chain’s 188 worldwide locations.
A “parking” station on the patio is a reminder that you’re in the dog-friendly Texas capital city.
The restaurant leans more toward a gourmet style than traditional fast-food establishments do.
Everything about Shake Shack is slightly elevated from your run-of-the-mill fast-food place, even the interior dining area …
… as well as the seating outside.
There’s a wide range of menu items, from burgers and chicken to frozen custard and milkshakes.
We went with a dressed single ShackBurger with cheese, crinkle-cut fries, and a cookies-and-cream milkshake, which costs more than a soft drink. The total was $US15.01.
We were handed this little doodad that would alert us when our food was ready.
Not long after we ordered, our food was served to us.
Shake Shack has two drink sizes: small and regular. Our milkshake was small, but we could have gotten a regular, pictured below.
The polished presentation was the first thing we noticed. Everything was neatly packaged and arranged.
And the restaurant’s branded icons were a nice touch — they were minimalist and modern.
We dove into the milkshake first, because how can you resist this? It was creamy and delicious.
But next up was the ShackBurger, complete with lettuce, tomato, and the restaurant’s special ShackSauce.
It was on the smaller side …
… but it packed a mean punch. The patty was juicy, the sauce was delectable, the veggies were fresh, and the bun was perfectly buttery.
It took only a few bites to consume the burger though.
And last to be gobbled up were the crinkle-cut fries …
… which looked appetizing but weren’t exactly memorable. They were so-so.
Overall, we could see why the chain has earned a cultlike following on the East Coast. The food was good, even if there wasn’t much of it, and the check was a bit high for a burger joint.
We said goodbye to Shake Shack …
… and hello to another chain with a fiercely loyal clientele: Whataburger.
The Texas chain has a good 50 years on Shake Shack. Since it was founded in 1950, it’s become a staple in many Texans’ lives — and stomachs.
We visited a location, one of more than 800 nationwide, near the University of Texas campus, about a 10-minute drive from Shake Shack.
Almost 70 years after its founding, Whataburger still sports the aesthetic of a traditional American eatery.
It boasts a varied, fast-food-friendly menu. You can find chicken, burgers, fries, and specialty sandwiches like a patty melt and the Sweet & Spicy Bacon Burger.
There was no line when we ordered. We went with the basics: A $US7.35 Whataburger combo with a loaded cheeseburger, fries …
… and a 32-ounce medium soft drink.
That includes Whataburger’s exquisite sweet or unsweet tea, if you choose.
Before we were even done filling our cup with root beer, an employee delivered our food to us and took our orange Whataburger order number.
And voilà! Time to feast.
The company says its goal is to produce 5-inch-wide burgers. Its name comes from the idea was that customers would exclaim “What a burger!” when they laid eyes on one.
So these things are massive, especially compared with Shake Shack’s dainty (yet delicious) ShackBurger. But hey, everything’s bigger in Texas.
The Whataburger comes with mustard, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, and onions, and cheese for extra. The buns were toasted, the beef was juicy …
… and the best part was there was so MUCH of it to eat. The food wasn’t just quality, but quality plus a large portion.
There is no such thing as going to Whataburger and leaving hungry.
Whataburger’s fries are also unforgettable. They’re perfectly crispy and salted. We would have been fine with just them on their own for a meal.
Our Whataburger meal was, in a word, delectable. We let our food settle for a bit before moving on to our last stop …
… In-N-Out, based in California. It’s another chain that’s been around for decades, since 1948.
Signs of the chain’s West Coast heritage can be found in the red palm-tree icons lining the building.
In-N-Out locations started sprouting up in Texas in 2011.
This location is about 500 feet from the Whataburger we visited. It’s one of 343 nationwide locations.
Inside, we found more of the retro aesthetic that’s similar to Whataburger’s …
… as well as a pretty long line.
In-N-Out was the only place where we had to wait to order.
But at least we had more time to scout the menu. It was more pared down than the others, with only a handful of options and combos.
We went with the basics again: a cheeseburger combo meal with fries and a drink. Our total was $US6.82, a surprisingly low amount.
After a few minutes, we went to grab our order. Here’s what it looked like.
We noticed the burger was small, like the ShackBurger was.
But it still looked appetizing. It came with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese, and In-N-Out’s original spread, or sauce.
The burger was tasty overall. The veggies were fresh, and the buns were well-toasted.
The In-N-Out spread also gave the burger a fantastic flavour.
But like at Shake Shack, the burger was gone too quickly.
And the fries were pretty unimpressive. They were bland and mushy.
The meal wasn’t terrible though. It seems you can’t go wrong with any of the restaurants we visited.
All three are respectable fast-food — or “fast-casual” if you’re Shake Shack — restaurants with mass followings of burger lovers.
Customer service at each restaurant was pleasant, and the wait time was bearable even at In-N-Out.
But one chain stood out above the rest for several reasons …
… and that chain is Whataburger. Now hear us out.
The issue isn’t necessarily that In-N-Out and Shake Shack don’t have good burgers, because they do. The quality of the beef was superb across the board.
It’s that what these East and West Coast restaurants don’t have is bigger portions. You simply get more for your money at Whataburger.
The 32-ounce medium soft drink, the 5-inch-wide Whataburgers, the gracious amount of fries — Whataburger doesn’t withhold quantity from its customers.
But neither does it withhold quality. Everything about a Whataburger meal is good, from the “100% pure American beef” patty to the flawlessly salted and crisped fries.
Shake Shack is unquestionably the most upscale, gourmet-style restaurant of the three. But your bill ends up being too high for the portions you get.
On top of that, Shake Shack doesn’t have combo meals, which are more cost-efficient for customers. If you want fries or a drink with your entree, you have to add it on.
Though in the chain’s defence, it does have good vegetarian options, like the ‘Shroom Burger, and it serves beer and wine. Neither In-N-Out nor Whataburger serves alcoholic beverages.
Source: Shake Shack
The price of our meal at In-N-Out was the lowest of the three restaurants, but the small portions and mediocre french fries didn’t make for a top-notch meal.
The fries at both In-N-Out and Shake Shack fell short of expectations. They were edible, but not fantastic.
So from a value standpoint, Whataburger reigns supreme. Not only do you get quality food, but you get more of it. And isn’t that the whole point of venturing to a fast-food joint?
There aren’t any Whataburger locations outside the southern half of the United States …
… so you’ll have to travel down south to get your hands on it.
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