I come from a family of burger fanatics. Whether it was a lamb burger made by mom or a greasy heap of cow from whatever beef-slinging joint was closest in proximity, we didn’t discriminate. There is just something about a juicy hunk of ground meat that really gets the Trimber clan going.
Growing up in the DC-area, I’ve been inundated by East Coast favorites such as Five Guys, Shake Shack, and, one of my personal favorites, Spike Mendelsohn’s Good Stuff Eatery. I began to acclimate to Good Stuff’s milkshakes that are so thick you practically need a spoon, Shake Shack’s classic crinkle-cuts, and Five Guys’ legendary Cajun fries which are so greasy you have to hold the paper bag out in front of you like a child with a stinky diaper so as to avoid from your entire wardrobe becoming oil-stained for all of eternity. This was my normal.
That is, until I came to the West Coast., a.k.a. In-N-Out territory.
Despite several trips across the country to visit family in various parts of California, I had never eaten at In-N-Out. It was kind of embarrassing. It was like I needed an In-N-Out stamp on my passport for people to believe I actually traveled beyond the coast I’ve always called home.
After an embarrassing amount of times on the West Coast with no gastronomic In-N-Out experiences to speak of, I decided it was finally time to see what the hype was all about.
This is my story:
10:30am: It’s Sunday morning. Rather than go to a bougie bottomless brunch in WeHo, I decide it’s the perfect day to pop my In ‘N Out cherry. On the Lord’s day, I’d like to believe God was proud. The place literally just opened for the day, so I decide to play it cool and pace around my apartment for at least five more minutes before heading out. I’m not ready to be the first person at In-N-Out. There is more strength in numbers.
10:35am: I hop on the 2 Freeway with my best friend in tow, mentally and physically preparing for the experience that lies ahead of me. It’s kind of surreal, like that feeling when the lights dim before you finally get to see your favorite band in concert for the first time.
10:45am: I pull into parking lot and see the classic red and yellow sign. I have butterflies in my stomach – partly from hunger, partly from excitement, but butterflies nonetheless.
10:46am: I get out of my car and immediately take a picture of the In-N-Out sign. Alas, I finally have proof that I have indeed traveled to California. Throngs of In-N-Out devotees begin to flood the entrance – the church rush, I’m assuming – each staring at me like the tourist I am as they walk past. My friend is embarrassed, mostly for me, but also for herself.
10:48am: I walk through the front doors and am met with the most pristine fast food restaurant I have ever laid eyes on. The white walls, generic tile, and shocking cleanliness of the place make me feel like I just walked into a hospital. I can’t decide whether this is comforting or not.
10:49am: I walk up to the counter with false bravado, ready to pretend I know what I’m doing. I tell the kind, vaguely Mormon-looking cashier that I would like a “Double Double Animal Style.” I let the sentence linger for a few seconds, gauging whether my online studying paid off and I seemed legit, or if the cashier calls my bluff. He can definitely tell I’m a newbie, but is nice about it. My friend orders the same, and we complete our order with Animal Style fries, regular fries, and a chocolate shake.
10:50am: After paying, I leave the cash register and immediately throw away my receipt. I gravitate towards a table close enough to the register so that I hear an employee calling out numbers for respective orders. I realize my number is on the receipt I just threw away. Such a noob.
10:51am: I walk back to the counter, clearly embarrassed and blushing, and ask the cashier what my number is. He tells me, and I walk back to my table with defeat.
11:00am: They call number “29,” and I jump out of my seat so quickly I nearly trip over myself. I regain my balance, look around to make sure no one sees what just happened – they all do – and walk to the register to claim my meal. I clasp the red tray and slowly lift it up to eye-level, taking in the beauty and smelling all the smells, knowing this is a moment I will never forget.
11:02am: After staring at my food for an entire two minutes, I grab the Double Double and sink my teeth in. The lettuce is crisp. The burger is juicy. The sauce is creamy. I lose myself in the burger for a few moments. I’m brought back to the present as my friend asks, “How is it?” I wait an inappropriately long time to respond, partly because I’m still chewing, but mainly because I’m in awe of how good this burger tastes. At this moment, I believe the hype is real.
11:03am: It’s time to go in for the kill on the fries. Visually, they are one of the more perfect orders of fries I’ve laid eyes on. Each fry is uniform and all appear to be cooked perfectly and evenly. I take the first bite and my stomach drops. They’re terrible. Crunchy. Flavorless. Unsubstantial. Possibly the three worst words that could ever be associated with a French fry. My friend and I meet each other’s gaze, both recognizing the look of disappointment in the other. We were doing so well.
11:04am: I take another bite of my burger, desperate for any other taste in my mouth other than the French fries. As I chew, I decide maybe I just got a bad couple of fries. Yes, that has to be it. I go in on them again, because everything deserves a second chance. Still bad. I put even more salt on them. Barely tolerable. I try extra Animal sauce. Still weirdly crunchy considering the sauce-to-fry ratio. The consistency of these fries are so wack they’re basically invincible to all of my attempts. It feels like I’m eating stale potato chips instead of fries. I am perplexed.
11:06am: As I continue to think about my current situation, I go from perplexed to distraught. In-N-Out is supposed to be good. What is happening? Is my entire life a lie?
11:07am: The only thing left to taste is the chocolate shake, although I really don’t want to based on my friend’s face. See, she is the type of person that is almost always smiling, especially when it involves good food. But after one sip of this milkshake, she looks like she’s sucking on a lemon rather than sipping a chocolate shake. She says the poor quality of the ice cream is obvious and the milk to ice cream ratio is just off. Damn it.
11:08am: I silently eat the rest of my burger, clinging onto the only good tasting thing from the meal for dear life. There is an entire order of French fries left untouched, the only time this has ever happened in my life. My friend looks at me forlornly and says, “I feel bad wasting food, but they’re just not even worth the calories.”
11:10am: We silently gather the remaining sad fries and chocolate shake and head towards the garbage. I feel extremely guilty. I throw the fries in the trash and stare at them for a few seconds, consumed by a feeling of betrayal.
Even though the burger had me seeing angels, the crunchy French fries, and the unfortunate taste they left in my mouth tainted my entire In-N-Out experience. As soon as I got back in my car, I found myself daydreaming about my beloved fries from Five Guys, tempted to Google the nearest location and drive there, ready and willing to travel any distance.