Some time ago, an out-of-town houseguest asked me about Whataburger. “It’s amazing,” I told her. “You will never be so satisfied by a burger at 3 a.m.”
Here’s the thing though: I don’t really like Whataburger. I only go there very late on nights when I’ve had lots to drink. And at 3 a.m., under those conditions, I’m not really holding out for quality. The point is I felt this bizarre fake pride about Whataburger, like I was gloating because we have this exotic (to her) regional burger chain and her home state doesn’t.
The same kind of irrationality is driving the hype behind In-N-Out Burger, which recently opened its doors on West 7th Street amid a frenzy rivaled only by the opening of Krispy Kreme in Arlington a few years back. (People really did wait three hours for donuts). Those who have eaten at In-N-Out in its birth-state of California swear by it, but always with the caveat that “It’s still fast food, but everything tastes fresh.”
And that’s exactly how I feel about it. It’s good for a fast-food burger. Which means it can’t hold a candle to a Fredburger with cheese and fries ($8.95) or a cheeseburger ($5.70) from Kincaid’s, where I enjoyed a protest meal on the day In-N-Out opened. Comparing In-N-Out to them is a little insulting to both of those local burger luminaries.
I really had to make an effort not to allow the hype to color my opinion of the place. This entire area shook with anticipation of its opening, like an excited poodle about to soil a rug. Every day for the next couple of weeks, there will be seven (seven!) uniformed police officers to control traffic and parking. My guest and I waited until 9 p.m. to visit to avoid the mob. Unfortunately, we underestimated the trance-like hold In-N-Out exerts over Fort Worthians right now. The place was still jumping.
We had to park practically in Haltom City (OK, 6th Street) and hire a sherpa to get us to the door. We were greeted by the sight of a family of six posing for a picture out in front. (Seriously.) Inside, the place had a distinctly Wal-Mart feel: fluorescent lighting, throngs of people, unsupervised kids running around, theme-park noise level. An army of staffers sported little paper hats. If they ever choose to invade Wendy’s, it doesn’t stand a chance.
Speaking of which, it’s fair game for In-N-Out to plop itself right beside the longtime Wendy’s on West 7th — but did they really need to put their curbside sign directly in front of Wendy’s sign? Seems like piling on. As long as Wendy’s offers its 99-cent menu (especially the Jr. bacon cheeseburger and chocolate frosty), I’ll be back — as soon as the traffic next door dies down.
True to In-N-Out’s name, the line of about a dozen or so moved along quickly. We were number 47. By the time we left, in just under half an hour, the cashier at the pick-up counter was calling number 90-something.
The number one — a double-double burger with cheese ($3.25), order of fries ($1.40), and medium Coke ($1.50) — took all of three minutes to prepare. The burger featured two patties smothered in cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, and a sauce that the cashier described as “like Thousand Island.” In other words, the double-double is a dressed-up Big Mac, without the extra bun slice. Perhaps the Hamburglar finally committed his ultimate act of betrayal and sold the Mickey-D’s special sauce recipe. Mayor McCheese is no doubt fuming.
The veggies, true to the hype, tasted fresh and crisp. Underneath their coat of cheddar, the two meat patties were juicy, but their taste was drowned out. It was like eating an overdressed meat salad slathered in gooey cheese. The fries were bland, albeit crispy and golden-brown.
In-N-Out is open until 1 a.m. on weekdays and 1:30 a.m. on weekends. So there’s a good chance I’ll be back for a burger nightcap now and again. It’s much faster than Whataburger and probably just as good — but really, that’s nothing to brag about.
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