When the first locations of California-based burger chain In-N-Out Burger opened in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, emotions ran high. Perhaps too high. One notable woman wept loudly into her fries as she exclaimed, "Pinch me, it doesn't feel real!"
It felt very real to me as I waited in a line out the door with my extended family to try my first In-N-Out burger on a sunny Saturday afternoon, my rambunctious first-cousin-once-removed (thanks for the ridiculously clumsy nomenclature, genealogists) climbing my limbs like a tree as we waited for the herd of In-N-Out fans to slowly shuffle forward toward the cash registers.
Even though this particular In-N-Out location in Fort Worth's tony West 7th Street development had opened months ago, my cousins told me, the line was out the door every single day. In the parking lot, miniature meltdowns were occurring as frustrated drivers found themselves unable to navigate the filled-up parking lot and snaking drive-thru lines.
Surely, I thought to myself as I surveyed the madness, a fast food burger cannot be worth all of this.
As it turns out, an In-N-Out burger was actually worth the wait.
On the recommendation of my cousins (they're smart folks), I ordered a double-double "animal style." This [somewhat obnoxious] secret ordering code just means that your double-meat cheeseburger comes with grilled onions, pickles and extra "spread" (similar to Thousand Island dressing, or the "secret sauce" on a Big Mac). Thank God there's a code term for this, though, because I'm not really keen on the idea of ordering anything at all with "extra spread."
The "animal style" burger was just my cup of tea: The patties were nicely thin and covered completely with gooey, melted cheese that affixed the caramelized onions in place, while the pickles added another vibrant layer of brightness to the already tangy "spread." I've heard the In-N-Out burger referred to as "well-balanced," and I'd have to agree. Although it was wonderfully messy to eat, everything mostly stayed in place and no one ingredient overpowered the others.
I was less taken with the fries, which I tried in both the regular and "crispy" incarnations. It irked me that you'd have to order fries crispy to begin with -- fries should be crispy, period -- and they weren't all that crispy after all. They were oddly tough and chewy, and their texture was not improved with a swipe through In-N-Out's undersalted ketchup. But in the face of that burger -- inhaled in under two minutes, I might add -- I honestly didn't care.
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The In-N-Out experience was worth the minefield of a parking lot, worth the dreary wait, worth the battling for a table and worth the crappy fries. But just this once. It was a good fast food burger, but I'd still place Whataburger and Five Guys ahead of it on the fast food chain scale of burgers.
And Whataburger's fancy ketchup remains the gold standard of fast food ketchups. In fact, its red jalapeño-kicked Spicy Ketchup is in stores for a limited time starting today. There are no jalapeños to be found at In-N-Out.