The endless debate. East versus West. In-N-Out Burger versus Shake Shack.
While planning a vacation to sunny Austin, Texas, I noticed something peculiar. The town has both a Shake Shack and an In-N-Out Burger within its boundaries. Truly, Austin is a “weird” place.
In fact, Austin is one of only two cities — the other being Las Vegas — where the chains coexist. Shake Shack is based in New York City and has locations primarily clustered around the Northeastern Seaboard, while In-N-Out is based on California and its locations cluster around the Southwest.
I saw the perfect opportunity to settle the debate of which makes the better burger by trying both — side by side.
Keep scrolling to follow my burger odyssey through the scenic hills of Austin in my quest to finally put to rest the question on everyone’s minds.
I started my burger journey at Shake Shack. Opened this May, this is a new location for the East Coast chain. It's in a new housing development on South Lamar Street, near all the Austin action, but not particularly close to anything exciting. An Alamo Drafthouse is its neighbour.
Inside, the decor is modern and understated. The moss wall, hanging terrariums, and local plants offered up something interesting and green to look at while I stood in the unusually short line.
The total came to $8.81 -- a bit pricey for Texas fast food, but this is Shake Shack. I sat down with my buzzer and waited.
It wasn't long before I had my ShackBurger in its standard open-top bag that lets the food get cold as quickly as possible.
Austin's In-N-Out Burger is 19 minutes away from its Shake Shack. I knew I had to hurry to taste test both burgers while they were fresh. I didn't even have time to gawk at the Texas State Capitol's beautiful bronze dome -- a shame.
Fifteen minutes later (I caught the lights well), I arrived at In-N-Out. It's in an equally unassuming neighbourhood, but close to the highway.
The interior is classic burger shop -- no moss or succulents here. As an In-N-Out newbie, I was a bit confused by the menu. ($3.80 for a double cheeseburger? That can't be right.) I asked the cashier about the mythical 'animal-style' burger and he rattled off a long list of the things they were going to do to my lunch.
FYI, there's no extra charge for animal style, which adds pickles, extra sauce, grilled onions, and mustard fried into the actual meat patty.
I got an animal-style Double Double and an order of regular fries. The whole meal was only $5.95, which felt like a bargain after Shake Shack. No fancy buzzer system here, just good old fashioned order numbers.
At last, the hour was at hand. I got both burgers and took them back to my Airbnb only a couple minutes down the road.
I have to say, the In-N-Out fries really impressed me. They have the perfect ratio of crisp exterior to mushy interior, and they taste incredibly fresh. According to the container they're served in, they're sliced and fried in-store. I ate all of them.
The Double Double sure looked pretty -- as if it had been carefully assembled by a food photographer.
As for taste, the animal-style Double Double is one of the best fast food burgers I've ever had. The meat was perfectly seasoned and blended well with the flavour of the special sauce. All the veggies were pretty bland, but the pickles were perfectly crunchy without being overly saturated with vinegar.
Shake Shack's fries are, in a word, disappointing. They're shipped to the store frozen, and that's exactly how they taste. They have a vaguely oily quality, but they're edible.
The ShackBurger is absolutely the burger perfected: a nicely seared and immensely flavorful patty with fresh veggies and the best bun you can put on a burger.
THE VERDICT. It seems you get what you pay for. Though In-N-Out's fries wowed me in a major way -- and its burger was fantastic -- Shake Shack's meat is tastier.
Shake Shack deserves the crown, but In-N-Out is a still an awesome burger chain. It's all fatty fast food with a great reputation, which means it's all inherently tasty. You can't really go wrong -- but you can get it right. Shake Shack is a bit better, but I still won't be able to resist In-N-Out's siren song the next time I'm near one.
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