Battle of the Burgers: In N Out vs. Shake Shack

Living in NYC is great. There’s always something to do, people to see, places to be. Still there are definitely moments when homesickness kicks in. Nothing like a cold snap to make you want to book the next flight to California. Initially I thought I would have a hard time adjusting to riding public transit all the time, missing Mexican food (still struggling) and the lack of toilet seat covers in public restrooms. But lately, I’ve just been missing filling my burger cravings at my beloved In-N-Out. So, I’ve since made the switch to Shake Shack.

I love Shake Shack. I mean really love it. Like I go to the Madison Sq. Park location in December and wait for my food in the cold love it. What can I say? Their milkshakes bring all the boys (and girls) to the yard. Still, sometimes I just want a fast food style burger and fries without the uncertainly of mystery meat at other chains. Nothing like a cheeseburger with animal style fries and a Neapolitan shake to quell hunger pains. As a Bay Area native, In-N-Out is my first stop from the airport upon arriving home.

Debating which burger chain is better can spark foodie arguments of Biggie vs. Tupac proportions. Okay that’s a little dramatic, but people take their favorite burger haunts seriously.

Let’s break it down

The Menu

In-N-Out keeps it simple. You can choose from a cheeseburger or hamburger (single or double), fries, soft drinks, and 3 milkshake flavors (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry). There is a somewhat secret menu that provides a few more options, including a grilled cheese. All of these items are prepared fresh when you order. Shake Shack’s menu is much more elaborate. Not only do they have standard hamburgers and cheeseburgers, they’ve added BACON! Which in my book makes everything better. They’ve got root beer floats, frozen custard and milkshakes with rotating flavors. Their newly rolled out chicken sandwich is also pretty tasty. Shake Shack gets bonus points for having beer.  In some locations they also serve breakfast.

Price Point

What In-N-Out lacks in variety, it makes up for in value. A single hamburger or cheeseburger can be had for under three dollars. A double double burger is under $4. French fries? Those will set you back a mere $1.60. Basically In-N-Out gets you pretty amazing fast food for under $10 (burger, fries, drink). It’s an ideal lunch spot or anytime spot.

Shake Shack on the other hand has steeper prices. All that variety and fancy flavored frozen custard doesn’t come cheap. A regular shack burger will cost you $5.55. My favorite burger of all time, the smoke shack (w/peppers and bacon) is $6.99. Ordering double versions of these come in at just under $10. While very tasty, Shake Shack is definitely the pricier of the two options. Depending on my cravings that day I can easily drop close to $20 there (smoke shack, fries, shake).

Dining Experience

In-N-Out was originally designed as a drive through burger spot and didn’t open a restaurant with a dining area until 1979. The décor is decidedly retro and employees dress the part with paper hats. While clean and comfortable, the dining area doesn’t lend itself to a long leisurely meal. The place is called In-N-Out for a reason, and you’re supposed to grab a quick bite and be on your way. There is something quite satisfying about stuffing your face without leaving your car. Definitely can’t pull that on the subway unless you like eating with a captive audience.

Shake Shack, opened by acclaimed restaurateur Danny Meyer, is a modern institution and the furnishings reflect that. It consists of industrial wood tables and booths with matching brightly colored chairs in the chain’s signature green. There’s a lot of shiny steel and clean lines. The availability of alcohol also encourages folks to hang out a bit. People wait in long lines not only because the food is good, but because they are getting a dining experience they don’t get at other burger establishments.

Taste

This is where it gets difficult. Both establishments cook burgers fresh to order. I’ve never had a bad one at either place.  In-N-Out has fresh hand cut fries that always come out perfect, while Shake Shack does the frozen crinkle cut style. At one point they actually tried to do the fresh cut fry thing, but it ended in disaster with fans writing in to bring back the frozen ones. It was the right choice.  In-N-Out is great because they’ve perfected a simple menu. Shake Shack is great because it’s still in the burger business, but offers more complex flavors and is constantly adding new or seasonal items.

The verdict

Shake Shack for the win. I’ve never been able to vote against bacon. Does that make me a traitor?

Kim Turner is a Bay Area transplant who now lives in Brooklyn and writes for NakedApartments.