America’s top chain burgers
1Shackburger, Shake Shack
America’s best fast-food burger is Shake Shack. Yes, it’s better than In-N-Out, and yes, it has its own secret menu… kind of (it’s called Danny Meyer’s hospitality philosophy). What started as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in 2001 has made history. In 2004, restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group won the bid to open a permanent kiosk in the park, and the lines, buzz, cult following, and even a begrudging review from The New York Times followed. Why is it so good? Quality. And one of the juiciest cheeseburgers (100 percent all-natural Angus beef, no hormones, no antibiotics) you’ll ever find on a soft, grilled potato roll (ask for pickles and onions!). Shake Shack’s vigorous expansion program — Theatre District, Coral Gables, Abu Dhabi, and now, Las Vegas, means that next year, and for the first time ever, there will be a Shake Shack and an In-N-Out in the same city, setting up a showdown that has been in the works for fans of both chains as their devotees, and word about both burger joints has spread. Place your bets….
2Double-Double Animal-Style, In-N-Out
It’s difficult to believe that Harry Snyder could have imagined the cult following that would swell up around his hamburger stand when he launched California’s first drive-thru in Baldwin Park in 1948. But take off they did. There are now almost 300 In-N-Out spots serving its signature “Animal-style,” and that “secret” menu has spread beyond California to Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. A freshly baked old-fashioned bun made from slow-rising sponge dough, two slices of American cheese, two all-beef patties, a freshly sliced or grilled onion, fresh and crispy hand-leafed lettuce, a plump and juicy tomato slice, and the original recipe for In-N-Out’s “spread,” which goes back to that founding year. So the fries are subpar even when ordered Animal-style, this excellent, quality, fast-food burger is the whole package. The perfect blueprint for fast-food burger heaven, which was only barely outvoted by the panel as the country’s best.
3Cheeseburger, Five Guys
With more than 1,000 restaurants, this Washington, D.C.-based burger chain continues its quest for national domination, and as far as fast-food-style burgers go, it doesn’t get much better Two thin, well-seared patties go into each cheeseburger (a single is called a “little” burger), and it’s served on a seeded enriched bun. You can stop there (the meat itself is juicy, beefy, and needs no augmentation), but with a selection of 15 free toppings there’s plenty of room for creativity. And don’t forget to order the Cajun-seasoned fries, and grab some free peanuts while you wait.
4The Original Double ‘N Cheese, Steak ‘n Shake
Steak ‘n Shake
Since 1934, Illinois-based Steak ‘n Shake has been serving their famous diner-style “steakburgers,” and they’ve become the stuff of legend. The trademark creation is the classic Double ‘N Cheese, which is just what it sounds like: two patties, American cheese, and your choice of toppings. A true American classic, and undoubtedly delicious.
5Umami Burger, Umami Burger
Adam Fleischman’s wildly popular LA-based Umami Burger chain is 17 locations strong, and about to double in scope. A $20 million investment by the New York-based Fortress Investment Group has Umami slated to open in 13 new cities in 2013, including Miami, New York, and Chicago, with more to come in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, and Philadelphia. Named after the Japanese term the “fifth taste,” this isn’t your run-of-the-mill burger chain. look at their flagship Umami burger for proof: a custom-baked Portuguese-style roll, a 6-ounce fresh-ground patty formed in a ring mold and seared on a ripping hot plancha, Umami Dust (which contains flavor-bomb ingredients like kombu and dried mushrooms), roasted tomato, caramelized onion, shiitake mushroom, a Parmesan crisp, and umami-kicked ketchup. When this place says “umami,” they mean it.