Thursday, August 03, 2006

In-N-Out Burger - The Culinary Blackjack of Las Vegas

Las Vegas- bright lights, broke city. It had been years since I had been to the Southwest and this would be my first trip to the city of sin. Initially I was excited to travel there for work, but I was quickly put off by the city’s less than stellar offerings (i.e. smoking indoors, bawdy tourists, Danny Gans, etc…). In fact, after spending just a few minutes in the airport, the only thing I was still looking forward to was the infamous Vegas buffet. From the moment I found out I would be heading to the legendary Strip, I had visions of me dining inexpensively, eating infinite racks of prime rib and pounds of lobsters, while drinking endless goblets of cheap champagne. This, however, was not the case. What I found was over-priced, ill-cooked food (Steaks at Nero’s) that left much to be desired and little to talk about. And since the majority of my work was to be done in or around the Strip, I more or less gave up on eating well, eating cheaply and eating in a smoke-free environment.

After about two days, my wallet had become quite depleted and my stomach was growing restless. As dinnertime approached and the thought of another ham sandwich grew less and less appealing, I was getting ready to cash in my chips and treat myself to another mediocre, costly piece of gristle. And then I saw it through the window of my hotel room: a gleaming, blinking beacon of hope, a monstrous yellow arrow guiding me to a glorious meal of delectable food and reasonable prices. Within minutes I was tipping my valet, jumping in the driver’s seat and peeling rubber towards my gastrointestinal tract salvation. I hopped onto I-15, my stomach rumbling as loudly as the engine of my rental car, and drove as fast as I could. How could I have forgotten about this mecca of manna in this godforsaken dessert? I screeched to a stop in the parking lot, threw the car into park and bolted from the car to stand appreciatively inside my culinary savior known as In-N-Our Burger.

No one should be fooled by In-N-Out’s red and yellow color scheme: this purveyor of bovine-derived delicacies has little in common with the commercial, all-pervasive golden arches. Privately owned and committed to freshness, In-N-Out has been serving up cooked-to-order French-fries and hamburgers for over 50 years. Relegated mainly to the US West, this fast-food haven is a rare treat for East Coasters in the know.

I first experienced In-N-Out Burger during my sophomore year of college, when upon landing in San Diego, my friend immediately drove me over to the Golden Arrow and introduced me to the renowned “Secret” menu. That’s right, there’s a secret menu. You want a double cheeseburger with special sauce? That’s a “Double, Double, Animal Style”. Still a slave to Atkins? That’s “Protein Style” (no bun). Looking out for your karma? That’s a “Wish Burger” (veggie patty). The accommodating employees will take your special order without question, but only if you use the right terminology.

So there I was: ravenous, near broke and possessing the secret code. I charged my way up to the counter and with a boisterous voice ordered a “Double, Double, Animal Style”, fries and a vanilla shake. With everything made to order there is a requisite wait time, so I grabbed my slip, slumped into a seat and waited expectantly. I saw my ticket print at both the fry and burger stations and joyfully watched my food thrown in the fryer and onto the grill, respectively. About ten minutes later, my number was called and I bounded up to the counter to claim my salvation.

Within seconds I was pulling back the wax paper and taking an enormous bite of my freshly-cooked burger. The two patties of meat were well-cooked, salted and fried with mustard, pickles, extra spread and grilled onions added on top. The two slices of cheese were completely melted, and their soft texture impeccably mixed with the crunchiness of the added veggies. The fries, which were sliced on the premises and then fried, were so fresh that you could still taste a hint of dirt from the ground in which they were grown. Finally, the vanilla shake’s cool and creamy consistency washed down every bite with refreshing ease. And with the meal costing me just over six bucks, it was the best meal I was to have in this soulless city.

Unfortunately that would be my only visit to In-N-Out burger during my trip. Despite my best efforts, I was stuck digging deep into the pockets for trite meals of tripe. I kept betting that I would return to my gastronomic haven, but I kept crapping out (in more ways than one). And in Vegas, the house always wins.

In-N-Out Burger is located in California, Nevada and Arizona. Check their website for local listings.


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