Both companies are still family-owned, regional chains — an anomaly in a market that is mostly dominated by national, multimillion-dollar fast food companies.
In-N-Out is scattered throughout the Southwest, while Whatabuger locations line the south from New Mexico over to Florida.
They meet in the middle: Dallas, Texas, to be exact, which is where I had the opportunity to eat the two side-by-side in a classic taste test smackdown.
While Texans swear by Whataburger’s more southern menu items (Texas toast, patty melts, biscuits), Californians rave about In-N-Out’s fresh ingredients and “animal style” burgers.
For this test, I ordered the basics: burger, large fries, and a chocolate milkshake.
My first stop was Whataburger. The building is outlined in a classic orange trimming, making it hard to miss when you're cruising down a Texas highway at 80 miles per hour.
Part of Whataburger's southern charm is displayed right on their windows. There's an American flag and posters repping the neighbourhood sports teams.
They also take pride in their own company's history -- found in most Whataburger restaurants is a framed portrait of the chain's founder, Harmon Dobson, and the original location, which opened in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1950 (right).
Aside from the historical memorabilia, the inside of a Whataburger is like most fast food chains. It has relatively dim lighting, dark tiled floors, and a mostly hidden kitchen.
Southern hospitality is alive and well inside a Whataburger. Even when ordering to-go, you receive a table number so that a friendly staff member can hand-deliver your food to you. There's no confusing name- or number-calling here.
They also have an array of sauces to choose from, including spicy ketchup, picante sauce, salsa verde, and more.
For this test, I ordered the basics: a double-meat-and-cheese Whataburger, large fries, and a chocolate shake. There's no way to forget that Whataburger is originally Texan -- even their to-go bags say 'y'all.'
Before my Whataburger got cold, I rushed over to the closest In-N-Out, which was conveniently located 0.3 miles away. Texas is a great state.
In-N-Out's menu is known for its simplicity. When the first location opened near Los Angeles, California, in 1948, founder Harry Snyder wanted to keep the focus on burgers, fries, and shakes.
Fans of In-N-Out love to rep the brand, and merchandise is ready to purchase at any store and online.
The atmosphere inside is different from most fast food chains -- the light is bright, the kitchen is open, and the bright red tiles add a colourful touch.
But enough about the ambience -- it was time to awkwardly unpack my Whataburger order in the middle of a busy In-N-Out. As you can see, it's a classic-looking fast food order.
My number was called, and I picked up my In-N-Out order: a classic double-double with grilled onions, fries, and a chocolate milkshake. Unlike at Whataburger, the ketchup is a self-service situation at In-N-Out.
First up was the Whataburger shake: super thick, and notably grainy from the ice cream that was used. While the chocolate flavour was there, the grainy texture definitely took away from the overall experience.
The In-N-Out shake packed just as much chocolate flavour, but it had a much smoother, thicker texture. It was clearly the better shake of the two.
Next up: the fries. Here, Whataburger's fries are on the bottom -- it was immediately obvious that the Whataburger fries had a saltier flavour, and they had the mushy consistency you would expect from a fast-food french fry. The In-N-Out fries, although firmer, tasted bland in comparison. Whataburger wins in the fries department.
And most importantly: the burgers. Upon my first bite of the Whataburger, the yellow mustard spread on the bun, along with the raw chopped onions and pickles, overpowered any other flavour. It was difficult to get a grasp on the rest of the burger's flavours with these three strong ingredients, which come on every classic Whataburger.
Right off the bat, you can see the fresher ingredients used in the In-N-Out burger -- thicker tomato slices, greener lettuce, and their famed 'secret sauce.' Significantly smaller, this burger has a sweeter taste, no pickles, and no mustard. Packed with ingredients, it took two bites to get to the actual burger patty.
The meats of the two burgers had a different consistency. The Whataburger had a slightly tougher patty, while the In-N-Out version had a softer, more homemade patty taste.
Overall, the In-N-Out burger wins for its secret sauce, fresher ingredients, and unbeatable price ($3.60, compared to $6.94 at Whataburger). However, if what you're looking for is solid costumer service and a simple order of fries, you can't beat Whataburger's friendly staff and classic french fry.
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