ST. GEORGE — It's coming, pushing ever eastward from its ancestral home.
Like tentacles, its minions creep relentlessly forward, conquering ever more territory and enslaving the population in helpless devotion to fresh, hot burgers and inexpensive T-shirts.
Yes, I'm talking about In-N-Out Burger, the beloved Southern California eatery that is expanding its reach and its customer base in our direction.
So far, the only place in Utah to get an In-N-Out Burger is at the corner of Green Spring and Telegraph streets in St. George. Look for the two crossed palm trees, a classic In-N-Out symbol, and you're there.
However, In-N-Out Burger soon will be moving beyond palm-tree country to the Wasatch Front, with restaurants set to open in Orem, American Fork, Draper and West Valley City.
So, while returning from a family weekend in California, we stopped by the St. George store to see how the In-N-Out formula and aesthetic translate outside of Cali.
I admit it gave me a geeky thrill to buy a T-shirt — I have several others from In-N-Out's California stores — emblazoned with "In-N-Out Burger Utah." But the real pleasure at In-N-Out Burger is the food. It's really good, and the prices are astoundingly cheap considering what you get.
The laid-back but friendly vibe I remember from the California locations I've visited is still there, overlaid with just a soupcon of Utah perkiness. The decor is a streamlined and expanded version of the older stores, with indoor and patio seating added to the traditional drive-thru and walk-up service.
But the St. George store is just as bright and clean as the eateries I remember, and the menu is just as simple: burgers, fries, drinks, shakes. And, of course, T-shirts.
My husband and I each had a "Double-Double," In-N-Out's double cheeseburger. It's two patties of juicy, high-quality beef welded together with American cheese and topped with tomato, lettuce, In-N-Out's special fry sauce-like spread and, if you want them, onions.
I recommend getting the onions, which add crunch and earthy bitterness to an already superlative burger.
The cheeseburgers, which our kids all had, are a one-patty version of the same goodness. You can get a hamburger, too, good news for folks like my dad who dislike cheese on their burgers. They're served peeping out of waxed paper and lined up in a little red plastic tray-cum-cake pan.
And, by the way, if the menu seems too restrictive, ask for what you want. If it involves burgers in any permutation, they'll probably get it done for you.
The fries at In-N-Out Burger match the burgers in tastiness. They're thin, hand cut and cooked until they're barely golden. In truth, they're more like Belgian frites in their crisp-tender, chewy, lightly oiled goodness than the floury frozen fries you get at lots of other fast-food places for the same price.
For dessert, we had sweet and creamy shakes hand-spun from actual ice cream, and we left having enjoyed a great burger meal for all six of us for less than $40.
Keep comin', In-N-Out Burger. I can't wait to see you in my neck of the woods.
Burgers $1.69-$2.99, fries $1.29, shakes $1.85, drinks $1.20-$1.70.
Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News.
Where: 832 W. Telegraph St., Washington (four Wasatch Front locations planned)
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-1 a.m.
Friday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m.
Wheelchair access: Easy
Also: $8.95 T-shirts on sale at each location; catering via "cookout trailers" available