Ed. Note: Friend, burger lover, and Go With Family blogger, Liz, braved the opening night crowds with her 7 and 3 year old monkeys to bring us this report of Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Thanks, Liz!
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
Last summer, our family made an epic drive from Memphis to New Hampshire in a bare two-and-a-half days. On this tight schedule, we had to set aside our usual scruples against nasty fast food. There was no time for exploring Road Food’s recommendations or exploring byways on our own. Nonetheless, we did our best to hit restaurants that would at least serve food we liked. It’s not that we never eat at burger joints, by the way. When we’re in the Midwest, we carry a map of all the Culvers locations so we can enjoy an exquisite butterburger and frozen custard combo. I guess we’re just particular.
So there we were, heading north through Virginia on I-81, suddenly desperately hungry but reluctant to visit McDonaldland. When we saw an unfamiliar red-and-white checked sign on the highway sign alerting us to the next exit’s dining options, we decided to chance it. We thought maybe it was one of those rare local places that make it onto those signs. And we believed that for a while--the food was that tasty--until we realized that Five Guys was a huge DC-area phenomenon, with the area’s highest Zagat ratings for burgers and a plan for expansion that, unbeknownst to us, included Memphis, TN.
The first thing you see when you walk into a Five Guys is the peanuts. Great big open boxes of peanuts in their shells. A sign on door warns diners with nut allergies that the place is basically aerosolized with peanuts. Even the fries are cooked in peanut oil. But if you’re safe around peanuts, dive in. They’re fresh-tasting and will get you through the almost inevitable wait. When we (me, husband Josh, 7 year-old monkey Gus, and 3 1/2 year old monkey Solly) arrived at around 6 on opening night at its new Ridgeway location, there was a line out the door. It was longer when we left. The vibe was festive and crowded, but even with the crush, a smiling server stopped by the table a couple of times to ask if we needed anything.
Fortunately, you can order online. I signed up while we waited and placed our whole order from my phone. (There’s even a mobile app -- Android only, as of now -- for Five Guys fans.) Though it took longer than the site predicted once I’d finished ordering, I’ll chalk that up to opening day. In every other way, the place was running smoothly. It was clean and bright, and Gus recognized the trademark red and white decor the moment we entered.
Whether you order online or in person, you’ll find that the menu sticks to what they do well: burgers, available with cheese and/or bacon, hot dogs and fries. Within that simple framework, though, there’s surprising flexibility. (Their website claims that “There are over 250,000 possible ways to order a burger at Five Guys.”) The online ordering setup offers a crazy selection of toppings (mayo, relish, onions, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, A-1 Steak Sauce, bar-b-q sauce and hot sauce), in three levels of intensity (regular, lite, or extra). “All the Way” is ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions and grilled mushrooms.
According to their website, the burger itself is made from never-frozen, freshly-ground beef. Grilled so there’s a deep mahogany crust, it has a toothsome nubbly texture and robust beef flavor, and it’s served on a nice seeded bun. I had mine with cheese (they only offer American), plus mushrooms and onions, which could’ve been more deeply browned, but still tasted good. Mine came as a double. I’m not sure whether this was a mistake or that’s just what they do, but I wasn’t complaining. We got two orders of fries, one each in plain and Cajun. One regular size order would’ve fed four of us just fine. They were good, but not as crispy as I remembered them being in Virginia. Gus had bacon on his Little Cheeseburger. After all those nice shelled peanuts and fries, it was too much food. Solly couldn’t finish his, either, but what else is new?
Five Guys accommodates trailing vegetarians, in a way, though the only non-burger options other than hot dogs is grilled cheese or a veggie sandwich with or without cheese on a bun. My husband Josh, who doesn’t eat red meat, said, “If you’re a vegetarian, don’t ever go to this restaurant. It’s not a place for vegetarians,” not because his vegetable and cheese sandwich was poorly executed, but because it’s essentially toppings on a bun.
I was thrilled that the big soda selection included soda water and tap water, so we didn’t have to order bottled. They also had root beer, lemonade and Sprite Zero, which I didn’t even know existed. There’s a water fountain, too.
The tab was $33.54 including tax. Not as cheap as the McDonald’s across the parking lot, but a good deal for a family dinner that actually tasted like food. Five Guys is at 1315 Ridgeway Rd., near the corner of Primacy Parkway. It’s open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m.