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In-N-Out: Hit or Hype?

After years of rumors and rumbles, In-N-Out fans in Houston got their wish with not one, but two In-N-Out Burger restaurants in the Houston area. The locations in Katy and Stafford opened November 22, as we reported here in the Houston Press . As with most things in the Houston "area," that could mean an hour drive. And that's how long it took me to get from my home in Cypress to the Katy location. School buses, semis and drivers who cannot decide between ten miles under the speed limit or 30 over were my fellow road travelers.

I had attempted the In-N-Out mission in Stafford. It was the second day of opening, but also a Saturday which meant every suburbanite in Sugar Land and Missouri City was in line to try this Californian transplant. Cars were merging from three different streets with police officers directing the drive-thru traffic while employees (bless their hearts) were taking orders in the parking lot. There were hundreds of cars, it seemed. We somehow managed to get out of the traffic, fortunately. My passenger, who will remain nameless, was hyperventilating at the thought of being stuck in the lines.

The employees are busy but efficient.EXPAND
The employees are busy but efficient.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

So, mission aborted. However, this week I found myself with some free time on a lovely, sunny Texas afternoon and decided to give it another shot and try the Katy location. Google lied to me and said that it was a 37-minute drive. Nearly an hour later, I arrived at my destination to be faced with more humongous lines. There was only one police officer this time, but the line snaked through an area still undergoing construction. I skirted around the cluster-you-know-what to find a parking space in a lot that belonged to an upcoming strip center.

The inside was busy, with most tables taken. However, I was able to walk right up to a cashier and give my order, unlike the customers sitting 30 cars deep in the drive thru. Sometimes, it's best to get your derriere out of your vehicle and make the few steps to the restaurant. If you're about to eat a Double Double, every burnt calorie counts.

There's not a lot of elbow room at the Katy In-N-Out.EXPAND
There's not a lot of elbow room at the Katy In-N-Out.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Service here is friendly and efficient. That is not always the case at fast food joints. Considering the amount of work these people are doing during the opening stage, it's amazing that they can still smile. It's a well-oiled machine, that's for sure.

My task was to order a number of different items. I had looked at the Not-So-Secret menu, but all of that went out of my head when faced with the rather brief menu display. I remembered that Animal Fries ($3.80) and the Double Double ($3.95) were a must, according to internet hum. I also threw in a plain hamburger ($2.45), a cheeseburger ($2.75), an order of regular fries and a chocolate shake.

In-N-Out is a Christmas gift for fans.EXPAND
In-N-Out is a Christmas gift for fans.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

I was given a receipt with a number and I searched for a seat. All of the tables were taken, so I sat at a line of backless stools facing a window. That was rather uncomfortable, because the seats were pretty close to one another and there was no room to look around. Basically, you had to look forward or at your food. Otherwise, you'd be looking straight into your neighbor's ears. I could hear the guy next to me chewing his food and he wasn't chewing sloppily or loudly. We were just too close. A seat opened up on my other side, so I moved down to make room for us both. Maybe this is why people suffer through the drive-thru instead.

It didn't take long for my order. My plan was to taste a few things and bring the rest back home to my tasters. It wasn't ideal, considering the hour commute, but I had a plan.

In-N-Out is generous with the fries.EXPAND
In-N-Out is generous with the fries.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

I started with the plain fries. For $1.80, you get a good amount. The bottom of the paper tray that they are served in states that they are hand-cut in the store and cooked in sunflower oil. Then why, oh why, are they so tasteless? They give salt packets for the fries, which is not quite the same as salting them when they come right out of the fryer.

The Double Double causes calorie trouble.EXPAND
The Double Double causes calorie trouble.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

I peeked in my bag o' burgers and was delighted at what I saw. They looked perfect, like a commercial version of fast food burgers. I took out the Double Double and dug in. I am not normally a double patty type of gal. However, the patties at In-N-Out are pretty thin, so it wasn't overly thick. It was a bit messy with the In-N-Out secret sauce. It was a good burger, but  I wanted to be wowed like all the loyalists out there. I was impressed, however, by the perfectly cut-thick red tomato slice and I liked the toasted bun.

Animal Fries are on the Not-So-Secret menu.EXPAND
Animal Fries are on the Not-So-Secret menu.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Then there was the Animal Fries. This is an item that has a devoted following. Every internet list of must-eat In-N-Out items has the Animal Fries on it. And they looked pretty good. And they tasted...okay. The American cheese was already cold by the time I got my order. The minced grilled onions were sweet and tasty and they were the best part of the dish. The sauce itself is not my thing, personally. I have never cared for Big Macs or Thousand Island dressing either. Everyone's secret sauces don't seem that secret.

Where's the chocolate?EXPAND
Where's the chocolate?
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

The biggest disappointment was the shake. I thought the price was fair ($2.40), but I would not have known I was drinking a chocolate shake in a blind taste test. If I am going to splurge on a calorie bomb like a chocolate shake, I want it to be worth every sip. It was not.

I didn't stay long. I wrapped up the rest of my food and headed out, a little disappointed. I am not a huge fan of fast food, admittedly. My junk food junkie teenage years are behind me. I prefer to cook grass-fed beef burgers at home with twice-fried  fries. I am not a food snob, though. I enjoy the comfort of a quick burger and fries. For me, In-N-Out delivered on the burgers, but not much else. However, the service was stellar. Staff were always cleaning and asking if I was enjoying the food. The employee calling out numbers was having fun, too. She'd say, " Fifty-six, come get your fix. Fifty-seven, get ready for heaven."

At home, I wrapped the burgers in aluminum foil and reheated them in the oven, along with the fries. My son said the burger was above average. My husband said it was better than McDonald's and Burger King. It would not be fair to judge the reheated fries, though my husband did not like the small cut of the fries themselves. He said there were too many little pieces.

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In-N-Out fans are drooling.EXPAND
In-N-Out fans are drooling.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Have you ever wished that you could put Wendy's burgers with McDonald's fries, Burger King's onion rings and Sonic's shakes? It's as if no one fast food restaurant can do every item well. I know most Texans would say that Whataburger does and I agree that it does most of its items to a high standard, especially its burgers. However, I am not so fond of Whataburger that I would get into a heated debate about In-N-Out versus the Texas favorite. I leave that to die-hard fans of both burger joints.

In-N-Out has plans to open a location in Willowbrook, which is close to my house, so I am sure my family will add it to the occasional fast food rotation. We will wait until the fervor subsides and try it when there aren't hordes of people. Perhaps, the food will be at its best when the kitchen isn't turning out hundreds of orders at a time.

In-N-Out Burger
1010 Katy Fort Bend Road
12611 S. Kirkwood

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