Where's the Beef?

In-N-Out lives up to the hype

 In-N-Out Burger, 7467 East Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, Scottsdale, unpublished phone number. Also 1525 Dysart Road, Avondale. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.

The Sony PlayStation2 has been packed away, the thrill evaporated just a few days after your eager rugrat's hands tore off the Christmas wrapping paper. That Razor scooter is abandoned on the winter-browned front lawn. And the pile of cherished Krispy Kreme doughnuts lies half-eaten, forgotten and stale on the kitchen counter.

It's an odd end for products that were so sought after that entire Web sites were gridlocked, people went into debt to acquire scalped selections, and news reports chronicled folks so desperate that they called in sick to work just to stand in line at a mall.

In-N-Out proves that top-quality burgers survive any fads.
Leah Fasten
In-N-Out proves that top-quality burgers survive any fads.

Details

In-N-Out Burger, combo #1: $4.49
Original Hamburger Works, Big One with cheese, French fries: $5.04
Chuck Box, Big Juan and fries: $5.29
Chicago Hamburger Company, combo: $4.35
Lucky Boy, combo: $2.69
Lenny's, combo: $2.79

The message is obvious: We're ruled by marketing. Nothing motivates us more than the taunt of "This product/lifestyle/food is so good, someone average like you could never actually get one/it/any." We hardly need this stuff. Yet, we feel like we should crave it, lust after it, spend hours of our lives clambering over the bodies of our fallen comrades just so we can say we have it.

And now we're going nuts over a hamburger chain. Nothing more than a patty shack! The latest entrant into Arizona's conspicuous consumption battlefield is In-N-Out Burger, and we've all gone bonkers. When the Valley's first In-N-Out opened November 2 in Scottsdale, it was to lines so long that people waited up to two hours just to place their orders. Management didn't even really want us there, in fact, and didn't announce when the doors would open, supposedly to allow staff to get up to speed as people discovered the place. But no such luck; on the first day of business, the line of customers snaked out into an adjacent parking lot. Police officers were called in to control the situation.

In-N-Out illustrates just how insane the lemmings-who-lunch arena has become. I'm willing to accept that some of Arizona's population -- those raised in, or frequent visitors to, California or Las Vegas -- were suckled on the bosom of In-N-Out's luscious burgers and justly crave them. Most of us here, though, have only heard of the illustrious chain. And still, we gladly give up half a day of our lives staking out the store.

Is a basic burger worth all this fuss? Especially since the Valley has plenty of other fine, family-owned hamburger huts that have served us so faithfully all these years?

The answer, actually, is yes. While you won't convince me that fast food anywhere is worth standing hours in line for, In-N-Out Burger is no fly-by-night fad. Move over McDonald's, there's a delicious new game in town.

The trick to navigating In-N-Out is timing. Forget wrangling food on weekends, unless you really want to compete with swarms of screeching soccer kids. Weekdays, at off-hours, are much more relaxing. 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, for example, finds us enjoying our burgers after a mere 10 minutes. And most of that wait is cook time -- In-N-Out prides itself on making everything fresh to order. There are no microwaves, heat lamps or freezers (except for ice cream, I imagine). French fries come from hand-diced, fresh, whole potatoes. Milk shakes are made from real ice cream, and there are no chemicals or prepackaged products on-site.

Or go late at night -- the place stays open until 1 a.m. on weekdays, and 1:30 a.m. on weekends. Avoid the drive-through altogether. No matter the time of day, the drive-through line snakes around the massive parking lot. And don't bother calling ahead -- In-N-Out doesn't publish its local phone number.

Plus, it's fun to eat inside. A significant part of the burger czar's appeal is its ambiance. The place sure looks good, with spiffy gray tile floors, lots of sunny windows, white Formica tables and bright red seats with swivel bar stools here and there. A mind-boggling number of workers scurry about, dapper in old-fashioned parlor uniforms of crisp red and white.

Like Krispy Kreme's doughnuts, In-N-Out's fare tastes better when it's seconds fresh. Don't get bogged down in choices -- there aren't any. The entire menu consists of a hamburger, cheeseburger, "Double Double" burger, French fries and chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla milk shakes.

The counter server calls my order number, and I jump up to retrieve a red tray -- it carries an open-top white cardboard box stuffed with my Double Double combo. The burger's a two-hander, wrapped in white paper for dripless dining and stuffed with two beef patties and two gooey slices of American cheese.

In-N-Out has its own butchers, with beef delivered fresh daily (meat is so much better when it hasn't suffered freezer burn). The hamburger comes to life when grilled to juicy pink, topped with leaf lettuce, firm tomatoes, raw onion slices and Thousand Island relish sauce. No pickles. No ketchup. No mustard. Just quality beef on a bun baked in the traditional manner of the 1950s, with slow-rising sponge dough.

The combo includes shoestring French fries -- pale and lightly fried in vegetable oil (folks wanting crispier fries can ask). Think a fry is a fry? These will change your mind -- virtually greaseless, airy and dusted with a hint of salt. A medium drink rounds out the meal: Coke products, fresh-squeezed lemonade, brewed iced tea or coffee.

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