‘Five Guys’ is simply excellent

  • Thu Nov 11th, 2010 2:48pm
  • Life

By Sarah Jackson Herald Writer

If you like burgers, you owe it to yourself to try Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

This Virginia-based chain is a beloved institution in other parts of the country.

It only recently arrived in Snohomish County, however, with locations in Lynnwood and at Smokey Point in Marysville.

Though The Herald doesn’t usually review national chains, we do when they are new to the area. We had to try Five Guys to find out what all the fuss was about.

It was an excellent decision.

In a culture of increasingly fancy and expensive burgers — laden with painstakingly crafted bacon jams, baby greens and gourmet blue cheeses — Five Guys is an oasis of simplicity and economy.

You order a burger and toppings, maybe fries and a soda on the side, and that’s it.

There is one kind of cheese: ooey-gooey-melty American.

There is one kind of bread: soft, white sesame-seed buns, used for every sandwich in the house. Not that there are really “sandwiches” here.

Five Guys’ so-called veggie sandwich ($2.49) is a burgerless burger with optional cheese or bacon (50 cents extra for each) and your choice of 15 free burger toppings. Hot dogs, baseball park style ($3.19), are served the same way.

At Five Guys, the grilled cheese ($2.49) is a hamburger bun turned inside out, grilled and filled with your choice of house toppings.

I ordered the bacon cheeseburger ($5.99) with grilled mushrooms, grilled onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, mayo and ketchup.

Standard burgers here come with two hand-formed patties, so the thing was huge, nearly 5 inches tall.

If you want to scale your burger back a bit and pay about $1 less, order a “little burger,” the same burger with just one patty.

Despite its height and mix of ingredients, my burger held its own when I cut it in half, thanks to multiple layers of cheese, a luxurious mortar between the two well-done-but-surprisingly-juicy, melt-in-your-mouth patties.

In the middle of my first bite, I groaned involuntarily. I was pleased and a bit awed at the extravagance of it.

This is the kind of burger you just want to inhale.

I had to force myself to stop and breathe. When I did, I noticed a pleasant cheesy, beefy aroma. I could taste all the toppings, especially the delicious mushrooms, crisp bacon and tender, sweet onion pieces.

The fries were outstanding. Though fresh-cut, skin-on fries often turn soggy before they land on your plate, it’s not a problem here.

Five Guys apparently has hit some sort of sweet spot with its peanut oil and fresh potatoes.

Served in large paper cups, the fries stayed crisp for a long time and softened only slightly after a 20-minute drive to downtown Everett. Portions ($2.89 small, $3.99 large) are enough to serve two or three people as sides. Malt vinegar is available at the condiments counter.

Five Guys fries are made with local spuds whenever possible. On the day I visited, a whiteboard on the wall said: “Today our potatoes are from … Royal City.”

That’s east of Ellensburg, fewer than 200 food miles.

I especially like the Cajun fries, which cost the same as regular fries.

They were salty, extra crisp and perfectly seasoned to my taste. My co-worker, who ordered them, said: “They are quite spicy and not greasy, a satisfying side, but beware: The spices sink to the bottom of the fries’ container, so the last bites are the hottest.”

She was disappointed in the nontraditional grilled cheese: “If you must have it, add tomatoes, grilled onions or even mushrooms to perk it up.”

I enjoyed my entire restaurant experience at the Smokey Point strip-mall location, a bright, shiny and cheerful place with high ceilings and gleaming red and white decorations everywhere you look.

Ordering is walk-up and the seating is fast-food style.

All the staff seemed genuinely happy to help me. When I told the young woman at the counter that I had placed my order online, she said, “Sarah’s here.”

Immediately, workers dropped baskets of fries into the oil and started to assemble my burgers.

Even if you order ahead, Five Guys won’t make your fries until you arrive.

But it’s not a problem, even if you’re starving. Large open boxes of peanuts, roasted and salted in the shell, are available for free munching.

More than 28,000 Consumer Reports readers voted Five Guys burgers the best in country, along with In-N-Out Burger, which tied for first place in survey results published in October 2010.

The Smokey Point location likely won’t be Snohomish County’s last. There’s been talk of locations in Everett and Monroe, too.

Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037; sjackson@heraldnet.com.[URL]