Burgers will always be a contentious subject between East and West Coasters, as strong as the rift between Game of Thrones‘ Lannisters and Starks. You know what I’m talking about: the never-ending battle between In-N-Out and Shake Shack’s cult followers. And now, all Angelenos can finally get a taste of the ShackBurger (and make up their minds on which burger is the best) as the first West Coast location is opening its doors in a day.
Shake Shack’s West Hollywood spot will be launching on Tuesday, March 15, on the bustling Santa Monica Boulevard near La Cienega Boulevard, down the street from Kitchen 24 and 24 Hour Fitness (just so you can add back on all calories you burned on the treadmill). It’s a fast-casual spot, with plenty of outdoor patio space that’s shaded by a patio cover made of wooden slats; a Magnolia tree sits in the center. Inside, you can order at the counter, and then sit at the wooden tables that each have a seared stamp that reads, “Handcrafted in New York from Recycled Bowling Lanes.” There is a black-and-white patterned accent wall, exposed beams and a couple of TVs with sports games on. In short, it’s a lot nicer than your average fast-food joint.
I was invited to an early preview of Shake Shack this weekend, and as a first timer, I wanted to put it to the test as to whether it was worth all the hype. What I found was that it was hard to compare the two burger joints because they’re actually pretty different, in terms of the vibe and what they serve. Shake Shack inhabits a fancier space than In-N-Out (Shack Shack’s higher prices reflect that, too), and their menu is a lot bigger. While In-N-Out sticks to the basics of burgers, fries and shakes with the lure of a few secret menu add-ons, Shake Shack throws in their signature crispy chicken burgers, hot dogs, frozen custard and crinkle cut fries.
I also think there’s a deep-rooted loyalty to each of these places that’s determined by where you grew up; nostalgia wins every time. While the burgers and fries to me are better at In-N-Out, I’m also aware that I’m a forever fan of my West Coast fast-food hub and I know I’m biased. Later that day, I gave a few bites of a Shake Shack burger to a woman I met who’s from Dubai. She said there was a Shake Shack around the corner from her home in Dubai, and when she took a bite of my burger, she was just in heaven, recalling how this reminded her of home. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
While Shack Shack doesn’t have anything that compares to an In-N-Out animal-style cheeseburger, their burgers are solid in their own right for being a fast-casual spot. Their patties are grilled flat and made with higher quality meat that’s seasoned well; there’s fresh lettuce, slices of tomato and melted American cheese; and their Shake Shack sauce is a mayo-based sauce that’s kind of like a garlic aioli that’s sweet, sour and has a light kick. The potato bun is soft and fluffy. However, I personally prefer my buns the way In-N-Out does them, with a grilled crunch to them.
One of my favorites is the Chick’n Shack burger. The chicken breast is perfectly breaded and had a crispy crunch with every bite. It’s topped with pickles, lettuce, tomato and a buttermilk herb mayo.
They also have a SmokeShack Burger topped with Niman Ranch bacon, or the ‘Shroom Burger, which is a batter-fried portobello mushroom and vegetarian-friendly. But if you’re feeling like getting the best of both worlds, you can do that with the SmokeStack, which combines the two. Though, that’ll cost you almost double.
I’m also a sucker for french fries smothered in cheese. Theirs are crinkle cut fries with melted American cheese on top. I’m an In-N-Out well-done fries fan (the more chip-like, the better), but these do the trick.
Besides their signature items, this location also serves items you can only get in LA, like the Roadside Double, which Shake Shack describes as “a double Swiss cheeseburger topped with Dijon mustard and onions simmered in bacon and beer.” All my favorites things rolled into one. Unfortunately, this special item wasn’t available on the day I went, so I’ll have to come back. What makes this dish very LA is that the burger was inspired by the French dip sandwiches from the likes of Phillipe’s and Cole’s, culinary director of Shake Shack, Mark Rosati, told First We Feast. The burger may not be sopped up in au jus, but apparently the “flavors are rich and beefy like what you’d find at Philippe’s.”
They have some frozen custard flavors that are also special to LA, using ingredients that come from local shops. Shake Shack’s Brownie Points custard is made with Larder Baking Company salted caramel chocolate brownie; a Rainbow Connection custard has Cofax’s spiced crumb donut and Sqirl Seascape Strawberry & Rose Geranium Jam inside; and the LA Addition has Larder Baking Company salted caramel chocolate brownie and Compartes dark chocolate chunks.
And if you’re thirsty, you can also get shakes, beer and wine at this location as well.
As for costs, the food at Shake Shack is pricier than at In-N-Out. At In-N-Out you can get a cheeseburger for $2.30, and there’s no extra charge for animal style. The ShackBurger is $5.30. However, Shake Shack touts that they have high-quality ingredients, using 100% all-natural Angus beef that hasn’t been raised with any hormones or antibiotics. Same goes for their chicken, which is raised cage-free. The buns are non-GMO potato buns. It seems like In-N-Out is catching up with this healthy trend, as they announced earlier this month that they’re promising to steer away from beef raised with antibiotics.
The invasion of Shake Shack in SoCal doesn’t end here. Shake Shack, which already has locations in 13 states and in a number of other countries, will be opening a Glendale spot in 2016 and one in downtown LA in 2017.
Shake Shack is located at 8520 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. (323) 488-3010.
Grand opening is on March 15 at 11 a.m.