This is the seventh post in the Eating the Big Apple series. Other posts include Soba Koh, Sylvia's Restaurant (Gospel Brunch), Torrisi Italian Specialties, Ippudo,Tasty Hand Pulled Noodle, and Il Buco Alimentari & Vinera.
Who has the best burger?
It's a touchy, touchy subject. Those from the West Coast (like my husband) swear by In & Out, citing their soft buns, high quality meat, and the variety of secret "off-menu" styles that are available. Friends from the DC area absolutely love Five Guys, a burger joint originally from Virginia that offers generously sized burgers with a wide variety of fresh, high quality toppings.
Up until this point, those were the only two I had tried. Bryan always insisted on stopping by In & Out every time we were in California, and I have several friends who are so obsessed about Five Guys (this is a couple years back), we would regularly make the trip to Dedham from Cambridge just for a bite of that burger.
Yet I would always hear about Shake Shack.
New Yorkers rave about Shake Shack. Fans point to the soft potato bun and deliciously juicy beef patty. Apparently their shakes are incredible too. Lines are notoriously long.
This past year Bryan and I finally tried Shake Shack. We visited twice - once at the original location in Madison Square Park and once at a newer location in the theater district (not too far from Times Square!).
Shake Shack is definitely a more recent phenomenon, starting as just a simple hot dog cart in Madison Square Garden to support the garden's first art installation. It became so popular that, in 2004, Shake Shack obtained permission to open a permanent kiosk right inside the park.
Since then, the lines have been notoriously long (the guy with the Lakers shirt above is at the end of the line). Don't be surprised if you have to wait 15-20 minutes for your burger. Thankfully, there are two lines. If you're just there for shakes, ice cream, or drinks, you can actually go into the much shorter line.
Their namesake burger "The Shackburger" (shown below), is a cheeseburger served with lettuce, tomatoes, and "Shack Sauce" (a ketchupy-mayo-like sauce with other spices).
Their burgers are cooked medium by default unless if you request otherwise. Frankly, I thought medium was just perfect. The potato bun is super soft and goes down quite easily with the juicy burger. The vegetables are all fresh, and overall, it's a great burger.
Their version of a hot dog - the Shack-cago dog- is topped with relish, cucumber, pickle, tomato, onions, sport pepper, celery salt, and mustard. It also uses the same type of potato bun. I'm really not a hot dog connoisseur, so I'll guess this is similar to a Chicago-style hot dog? (Yes, I'm embarrassed to say I was raised a Midwesterner and I don't know the answer to that . . .)
They serve all sorts of frozen custard. For some reason, this particular one I got was a bit melted, which made me sad. One time before, I had tried one delectable, single spoonful of perfect custard at the other location (they were passing out free samples), so I knew it could be better than this.
Perhaps this was an anomaly?
Bryan told me to go and get a new one, but I really didn't feel like standing in line again.
So I ate the melty one. The flavors of the custard were nice, but the melted, messy nature of the custard sort of ruined the texture and enjoyment of the dessert for me.
They had messed up our order and accidentally gave us a root beer float, which they let us keep. Bryan actually loves floats so he thought it was great. Me, I like my ice cream nicely solid. Why "melt" it with liquid and ruin a good thing? 😉
We visited one of the newer Shake Shack indoor "brick and mortar" locations in the theater district. This one is pretty close to Times Square (it's at 44th street and 8th Avenue). We stopped by here for a quick bite right before heading out to Penn Station (34th street) to take the train back to Boston.
This Shake Shack is trendy and modern inside, especially when compared to the outdoor benches at the Madison Square Garden location.
The lines are still ridiculously long and very often snake outside the door. They have those line-organizing barriers (like at Disneyworld!) to keep everything in order. Crazy!!
The seating area is reasonably large, and people eat quickly, so it wasn't too hard to find a seat.
Bryan got the crazy ShackStack® - a cheeseburger and a ’Shroom Burger topped with lettuce, tomato and ShackSauce. It was alright, with fresh ingredients and quality components, but Bryan thought it was a bit too crazy. It's virtually impossible to put that thing in your mouth, it's messy, and at the end of the day, it just wasn't as good as a simple cheeseburger.
We both really enjoyed our burgers at Shake Shack. They definitely make a solid burger at a good price point ($4.55 for a single, $7.10 for a double cheeseburger). I can totally see why the lines are so long.
Having said that, Bryan still prefers In & Out. He didn't really like the beloved potato buns. He thought they were too "airy". He also is a huge fan of the "animal style" burger at In & Out (grilled onions, special "sauce"), and hasn't yet found another "fast" burger that quite competes.
Nevertheless, we both agreed that Shake Shack burgers are quite enjoyable and we would most definitely consider stopping by again if we were in New York.
And I still do want to go back and try a full cup of that custard. I am dreaming of a rich, thick and creamy bite without a melty puddle in sight.
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