24 hours before Shake Shack first opened its doors to Londoners, Five Guys established their beachhead. Rather appropriately, on July 4, 2013 Five Guys opened it’s first restaurant on Long Acre street in the Covent Garden. Five Guys is just a four minute walk away from Shake Shack and English contender, Meat Market. And you best believe these rivals will have beef.
Both establishments have tried to downplay the coincidental back-to-back opening days. Randy Garutti, chief executive of Shake Shack, said Five Guys “do something very different to what we do”. “We don’t talk about competition because we think there is enough to go around,” he said. Translated into layman’s terms he means: WE SHALL BATTLE HEAD-ON IN THE FIERY PITS OF BURGER HELL AND ONLY THE STRONGEST AND JUCIEST SHALL SURVIVE! …Or something like that.
Unlike Shake Shack, Five Guys came in with aggressive growth plans and already have nine locations in the UK. In addition to Covent Garden, they opened in Angel/Islington and several outer-London branches. They then moved on to Guildford, Reading, Birmingham and Manchester; full scale invasion of the British burger market. But I remember back in the day when there was just one Five Guys, run by a family of four brothers and their parents.
I grew up outside Washington DC near Arlington Virginia where the first Five Guys was established back in 1986. The Murrell Brothers and their parents steered the business to include five locations in the Northern Virginia DC metro area. They were named the #1 burger in the DC metro area and in 2003 decided to franchise – racking up 300 new units in just 18 months. Today there are over 1,000 locations and another 1500 units “in the works” and their burgers have reached UK shores.
Five Guys Covent Garden (the one I’ve been to) tastes spot-on; the same as in the US. The beef is juicy and delicious, the toppings are plentiful and crunchy. The standard burger is a double-patty just as it is in the US; wussies can go for the ‘Little Burger’ if you left your man-card at home (but don’t do that). You can load your burger with up to 16 different toppings and sauces included in the price of the burger; getting all 16 is referred to as “All The Way.” They include all the standards like ketchup, mustard, mayo, relish, lettuce, tomato, raw or caramelized onions, grilled mushrooms, pickles, jalapenos, green peppers and more. All perfectly smooshed into a sesame seed bun.
The standard cheeseburger will set you back a cool £8.00 in Central London. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s one of the juciest and most satisfying burger when you load it up exactly as you’d like. No other joint lets you customize the toppings with such ease as Five Guys. Their fries are done in a boardwalk style, which I think English tastebuds are still adapting to from the feedback I’ve heard. Friend in peanut oil, these skin-on fries aren’t as crispy as the crinkle-cut brethren at Shake Shack, but they recall old-style eastern seaboard summers from South Carolina to New York. They come salted or animal-style which is a cajun-esque seasoning mix.
Five Guys brought over their touch-screen soft drink dispensers when they came and it’s funny to wait in line while first-time users struggle to comprehend the touchscreen technology and unlimited ice cubes – a luxury anywhere outside the US. You select your base drink, say Coke, then can put in flavor mixes such as vanilla, lemon, lime, cherry, etc. Multiplied across over a dozen base drinks, the flavor combinations quickly add up to over 100 possibilities.
Five Guys remains my favorite quick burger in the US. In London it’s still a great pick for a quick, juicy burger that will fill you up right. If you haven’t tried it yet, then go ASAFP. If there’s not one nearby you, fear not, there probably will be soon.
Oh, and don’t fully unwrap the foil from your burger like a complete newbie! Nothing will make you look more amateur than that move. Keep it half wrapped to catch all the goodness that oozes out of the buns – it’ll trap it conveniently for an excellent final bite before crunching up that aluminum foil. You’re welcome.
Five Guys – 42/50
Beef (9): Incredibly juicy due to slightly above average fat conetnt.
Bun (9): Seeded, but super soft, American style.
Toppings (10): Up to 16 toppings you can add at will.
Value (6): It’s pricey for a faster-food burger, but still amazing.
Ambiance (8): 50s diner decor and bright lights, impeccably cleaned throughout the day.