In-N-Out Burger, 7009 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, Los Angeles
Combo Meal for one with iced tea and a promotional t-shirt: $16.98 (about £10.35)
Confession time: I was forced, totally against my will, to do some actual work during my recent trip to Los Angeles. As such, my ambitions of rigorously blogging every morsel to pass my lips went sadly unfulfilled. It’s not that I didn’t go to any bars or restaurants (quite the opposite) but I’m not sure there’s much interest in me reviewing the various “networking” events I attended. Plus, I seem to have mysteriously failed to photograph any of the identikit canapés that formed the majority of my food intake (if not my main source of calories) for the week of the show. Finally, I suspect that the buffet breakfast from my 2-star hotel in an insalubrious part of downtown is not of interest to anyone, let alone the kind of person who likes food enough to read a blog about it.
In-N-Out Burger is a fairly well-known chain of burger joints operating throughout the south-western United States that has a reputation for serving simple, unfussy and inexpensive fare, expertly assembled with decent ingredients in unpretentious surroundings. It was another of the places that my food-obsessed better half suggested for one of my Californian culinary excursions. In-N-Out, therefore, is the only other noteworthy restaurant I visited during my 7-days at E3 2011, and here’s why I think it’s one of the greatest burgers in the world.
I chose the Sunset Boulevard branch, which looks just like every other cookie-cutter retail unit in California. The exterior boasts a drive-thru and ample parking, presumably to accommodate giant American cars. Inside, I found the cleanest burger joint I’ve ever visited: immaculate, brilliant white counter-tops and tables gleamed as I entered, and every corner, nook and cranny was spotless.
However, the burgers themselves are the main event: strong, rubbery cheese, on a slightly sweet bun with wonderful crisp onions, lettuce, an appropriate-sized slice of tomato and a beautifully balanced texture to the patties. The meat was an excellent middle-ground between the coarse, flaky burgers that you’d expect to find at a British barbecue and the fine springiness of the cheaper stuff you can buy from the freezer section of most supermarkets. The fries were thin, crisp and clearly cooked to order from actual potatoes; a great accompaniment to the double-burger and perfect when washed down with an unsweetened iced tea.
Most impressive of all was the engineering that had gone into keeping the whole thing burger-shaped, right down to the final, triumphant bite. There’s nothing worse than watching your sandwich disintegrate into a kind of mushy beef salad, never mind the associated indignity of eating the thing with a knife and fork.
It has been pointed out by eminent professors of burger studies that this simplest of sandwiches can be broadly streamed into two categories: ‘basic’ and ‘gourmet’. Here in the UK, any search for a burger with foodie credentials will inevitably end up in the ‘gourmet’ bracket. We’re talking about establishments like Hawksmoor, Bar Boulud and Goodman, who use deluxe ingredients from heritage-breed cattle that probably lived in penthouses with cable TV and south-facing balconies before they fulfilled their delicious destinies.
By contrast, the ‘basic’ burger seems to be a uniquely Yankee offering. Our British equivalents seem to begin with McDonald’s and end with sick-stained kebab vans outside nightclubs. My visit to In-N-Out reminded me how un-British it is to have such ready access to a burger that manages to be simple, delicious and cheap. If ever there were another reason to envy our transatlantic cousins, let it be this: they get to have their burger and eat it.