Five Guys Burgers and Fries has burger-making down cold.
I don't mean that to sound insulting; in fact, I mean just the opposite. From the crisp and tasty Mount Olive pickle chips adorning the burgers to the red-shirted workers continually wiping down tables and throwing away trash, this is a restaurant that covers every aspect of the burger experience, and covers it well.
Walking into Five Guys' Fort Union store, the Washington, D.C., chain's first in Utah, a visitor will be forgiven for thinking this is some factory-style eatery. The decor is basic to the point of laughability: red-and-white tiled walls, basic tables and chairs and quotes from various publications praising Five Guys. The line moves along with the kind of swiftness that makes you think of boxed burgers under heat lamps.
But that's not the case. I got the feeling on the day we took our family to eat at Five Guys that this is a business whose owners decided what was important to them and did exactly what they had to do to make those important things happen. To wit:
• The vibe. Despite the spartan surroundings, the atmosphere at Five Guys is energetic and fun. Customers order, pay and find a seat, which is surprisingly easy even at peak times, thanks to the table-washers patrolling the dining space. There's a great music mix playing, but it's not too loud. There's no fry sauce, but there is a jug of mayonnaise next to the ketchup dispensers for Utahns who want to mix their own. The folks who call out order numbers to waiting customers are a hoot, too: If the customer doesn't walk up right away, they start up some gentle taunting: "No. 25, we know you already paid for this food. But if we don't see you up here pretty soon, we'll be happy to enjoy it ourselves."
• The process. Ordering is easy at Five Guys. The menu is exceedingly simple: burgers, double or single patty, and fries, plus drinks, hot dogs and "veggie or grilled cheese." There are 15 toppings, all free. Once your number's up, the bags in which your food has been packed are labeled with little lists in which each item is numbered. We looked in our bags, found the burger with a "1" sticker on it, and knew from reading the list that it was our oldest daughter's bacon cheeseburger with ketchup. That's efficient and extremely customer-friendly.
• The food. Boy, are these good burgers. And fries. And hot dogs. The meat is never frozen, and it had that irregular, beautifully seared look and chewy, meaty texture that speaks to high quality meat cooked by someone who knew what they were doing. The buns were soft but supportive, and the toppings were fresh and delicious. My husband and I had the regular bacon cheeseburgers, which turned out to be the double-patty versions. Next time I'll stick with the "little" single-patty burger, but my bacon burger topped with mayo, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, ketchup and mustard was a real winner.
Half of the kids had burgers, half hot dogs. Our middle daughter, a meat lover, was delighted with the bacon cheese dog. Like everything else here, it was just what it seemed: a hot dog, split and grilled to tasty brownness, with cheese and a whole slice of bacon. Similarly simple and excellent were the fries, square-cut, skin-on and delicious, made from the potato produce of Rigby, Idaho, as a sign near the cash registers informed us.Burgers $3.29-$5.49, hot dogs and sandwiches $2.39-$3.89, fries $2.49-$3.99.
Rating: *** 1/2
Where: 1146 E. Fort Union Blvd., Midvale
Hours: Daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Wheelchair access: Crowded but accessibleWeb: www.fiveguys.com
Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org