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Kanishka

Five Guys - A Virginia Chain That Has Become The McDonald's Of The Fast-Casual Burger World

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A trip out to Bowie to get an oil change (near the office, cheaper than in DC, blah blah blah) led me to an outpost of Five Guys in this small but rapidly expanding DC Burb. Yes, this was my first time at a Five Guys. Evaluation? Not going back.

Where was the ketchup I asked for? Why use thinly sliced jalapenos with no heat and less flavor? What the heck was that seasoning on my "cajun" fries (and why can't you just hire a consultant from Thrashers?)? What sort of mad scientist concocted this thing you call "cheese"? Why did my bun have the consistency of soggy kleenex?

One of the few -- very few -- things that can be said about chain-i-fication is that it brings about a general consistency between branches of a restaurant. And if Five Guys is headed (and with a store in Bowie, it seems like it) into becoming a widespread local chain, I'm sure not going back to any of them. Maybe I'm missing something; when I posted something on DCist about Palena's burger certain commenters were all over me for being an effete snob and not mentioning Five Guys. Maybe the commute down Rt 50 to Bowie results in drastic quality reduction. But I'm thinking the allure is nostalgia.

Oh, and memo to Mr. Mellencamp and other enthusiasts: The chili dogs at Tastee Freeze suck now too.

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As they add branches and franchisees, they will certainly become inconsistent. Overall they are still tops in my book. The Germantown branch is usually great on the burgers but the fries can be hit or miss. Great one day, but I took my daughter last weekend and they were limp soggy things.

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Kanishka - From my perspective, your experience mirrors what I have seen at Five Guys over the past 3 years. I live very close to the Old Town location on N. Fayette St. and have found quality to have plummeted in recent years. This seems especially acute with the burgers; they have generally turned into over-cooked, soggy shells of what they used to be. The fries are more hit-and-miss; some nights I remember what made me initially happy to live near the joint. But other nights I wonder what makes me go back.

Unfortunately, other family members disagree with me, so I've recently taken to ordering their hot dog instead. Not great, but more satisfying than the burger.

It really is kind of sad to see a local establishment seemingly fall victim to the zeal to expand. I can remember my first visit to Five Guys and came to think of it as a reliable, locally-owned place for good, cheap food. In particular, I remember being impressed by their dedication to doing a (very) few things (burgers and fries) right. Now, it seems this focus on the food is gone.

Not to go on too much of a rant here, but I don't think it has to be this way. By way of comparison, in my mind Hard Times Cafe comes far closer to maintaining quality while also expanding (granted not at the rate of Five Guys, but expanding nonetheless). I've never thought of Hard Times as offering the best of anything (including chili) but it has always been a reliable meal in which I know what to expect, despite recent expansion. Sadly, Five Guys used to have this same appeal, but has strayed too far from what made it successful in the first place.

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Not to go on too much of a rant here, but I don't think it has to be this way.  By way of comparison, in my mind Hard Times Cafe comes far closer to maintaining quality while also expanding (granted not at the rate of Five Guys, but expanding nonetheless). I've never thought of Hard Times as offering the best of anything (including chili) but it has always been a reliable meal in which I know what to expect, despite recent expansion. Sadly, Five Guys used to have this same appeal, but has strayed too far from what made it successful in the first place.

I won't disagree, but I will say it's not necessarily across-the-board. I stopped at a 5 Guys in the wilds of Virginia recently, obviously a franchise and only recently opened, and the burger and fries I had there were as good as any I've had (I have gone mostly to King Street). So IMO the worst you can say is that the quality varies, perhaps more than before. :lol:

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I've only been to the locations in Georgetown and Chinatown/Gallery Place/Penn Quarter/whatever the hell that neighborhood is called this week, and the difference is night and day. The Chinatown location is clean, with fast service and good food. The one in Georgetown was unclean, crowded, and slow. It took a long time to find a table that was even remotely clean, and we were elbow to elbow with folks sitting at other tables. The food wasn't bad, though.

Oh, and memo to Mr. Mellencamp and other enthusiasts: The chili dogs at Tastee Freeze suck now too.

I think you meant Mr. Cougar.

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The Georgetown location is so incredibly slow. 20 min+ waits a lunch. Ate there once I it really saddened me to see such a DC landmark (Pied de Couchon) turned into a burger joint.

Edited by DCMark

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As bad as you all say this joint has become, I still believe that they have the best french fries anywhere. They are all creamy inside and crunchy on the outside. Hot as hell. THE BEST, I think.

But my man Roger is right about the Georgetown location. I almost lost my mind there with the wait and the filth.

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As bad as you all say this joint has become, I still believe that they have the best french fries anywhere.  They are all creamy inside and crunchy on the outside.  Hot as hell.  THE BEST, I think.

But my man Roger is right about the Georgetown location.  I almost lost my mind there with the wait and the filth.

Check out the fries at Amsterdam Falafel in Adams Morgan. They made fresh and extra crispy plus they have this highly addictive garlic mayo/cream sauce to go with them (there is ketchup and the usual condiments for traditional folk too).

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While I have enjoyed many grease-stained bags full of cajun fries and burgers from the Chinatown spot, I shed a little tear when I went to the mega-mall in Durham, NC, with my mom a few months back and saw a Five Guys in the food court — smashed right between some crappy Chinese joint and a Subway. :lol:

The expansion continues...

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Last time I visited the Guys' Route 7 location, I ordered a burger with grilled onions.

I was disappointed to discover this meant they'd come from the huge pile of chopped onions mounded on one end of the grill--the ones that made it to my burger were mostly raw, with a few spots of char.

After I scraped them out of my sandwich and my eyes stopped watering, the burger wasn't bad.

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The same company is behind the franchising and expansion of both Five Guys and Hard Times, as well as that Mark Miller fast food joint that Todd Kliman wrote about.  They approached Ray's with a weird passive/aggressive hard sell that was a big turn-off.  I did not get the sense that they were overly concerned with the quality or the best interests of the restaurant.  With franchises it is often up to the individual operator to maintain quality and consistency.

:lol: GOD FORBID that Ray's goes franchise

While it must be flattering to be approached at this relatively formative stage of your empire, Michael, your customers would be devastated unless you manage to clone yourself and have one of you at each place. Doubt that Five Guys has a wine/beer license and the wine selection at Hard Times is appalling.

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A quick check of their web site shows 67 Five Guys restaurants either open or soon to open. :lol:

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A quick check of their web site shows 67 Five Guys restaurants either open or soon to open.  :lol:

That's 335 guys!

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I had to go to LL Bean this afternoon and figured it might be a good opportunity to try Five Guys. I got there at 1:15 and was #74. They called #50 just after I paid, so I got to wait around with 20 or so other people. What an underwhelming experience.

My first mistake was not knowing that a regular burger is actually a double, leading to an embarassing meatectomy at the table. The meat was OK but needed salt, and was so haphazardly shaped that it fell apart once I started eating it. The condiments were not in proportions that I prefer but that's just a hazard of buying from a place that does that for you. The fries had good flavor but most were undercooked and greasy.

It was without question absolutely NOT worth waiting in line for 15 minutes for. No better than Johnny Rockets at Arundel Mills and they don't even have shakes or vanilla cokes.

Edit to add that the pickles were strange, more like bread & butter than dills. I wanted a sharp note from them and they were much too sweet.

Edited by Heather

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The toppings on a 5 Guys burger are always haphazardly put on the bun. I have found that they very much overwhelm the burger. I like mushrooms on my burger, but I prefer more burger and less mushrooms. I also hate their fried onions, they will not stay on the burger no matter how cautiously you eat it.

I have only ever been to the Skyline location, but it seems that I have started to see there what people have described at the newer location. The meat is not nearly as good as it used to be. However, the dogs are still good.

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After having had an underwhelming experience at one of the Alexandria locations three years ago, I was dragged to the new joint in Tysons for lunch today. All the criticisms above are spot-on. Blech.

The fries taste okay, but $4 for a not very big cup? No thanks.

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Five Guys is a revelation, and my life is fuller for having eaten there. At night, I dream about Five Guys cheeseburgers with bacon, mayo, ketchup, mustard, onion, lettuce, and pickle. When I walk within two blocks of the place, I find myself inadvertantly veering in its direction.

(But I've only ever been to the Chinatown branch and clearly ought to keep it that way.)

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The fries taste okay, but $4 for a not very big cup?  No thanks.

I find the "regular" order of fries to be almost overwhelming in quantity. It's not the size of the cup that matters; it's the fact that after putting the cup in your bag they take their scoop and dump a ton more on top. One regular order is more than adequate for two people in my experience. (And I'm a glutton!)

That said, Five Guys is not the cheapest place at which you could eat. I'd argue that, as measured against its competitors (counter-service, paper-wrapped burgers), it's worth the extra dimes.

Edited by Spiral Stairs

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The 5G in Georgetown brings no glory to the chain. The burger was dry, the room was dirty, and the chick screaming out order numbers was far more annoying than necessary. It appeared that they just didn't care.

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The 5G in Georgetown brings no glory to the chain.  The burger was dry, the room was dirty, and the chick screaming out order numbers was far more annoying than necessary. It appeared that they just didn't care.

We went to the GT 5 Guys one evening pre opera (I know, I know that it is perhaps slumming to hear Verdi after a burger and fries but one must listen to what one has tickets to!). We were there for over 15 minutes with no one greetig us in any way. We tried to talk to the filk behind the counter 3 times and finally left. Seems like we didn't miss much!

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Hmmm, went to the 5 guys in Bethany, and they were slammed. About 1230 on a tuesday afternoon, and guess what... they did a great job. Burger was great, fries were good, and it is what it is. I mean, its a burger joint, not the Ritz. Can't stand the thought of people expecting more from something that charges $6.00 for a great double burger.

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I've had good luck at the Chinatown location. My (little) burgers have always tasted great, have been served just the way I ordered them, and have been pretty manageable as far as messiness goes. I always feel bad throwing away half of my fries, which unlike the correctly served burgers, tend to be sometimes "cajun" and sometimes not.

It is beyond me how someone manages to eat the following, which was ordered while I was waiting for my last meal there: a bacon cheeseburger with mayonaise, lettuce, tomato, fried onions, green peppers, jalapenos, mushrooms, and A-1 sauce. It's interesting to watch the cook try and squish all of that stuff down to seal the foil wrapper shut.

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Hmmm, went to the 5 guys in Bethany, and they were slammed. About 1230 on a tuesday afternoon, and guess what... they did a great job. Burger was great, fries were good, and it is what it is. I mean, its a burger joint, not the Ritz. Can't stand the thought of people expecting more from something that charges $6.00 for a great double burger.

I've never been to the Ritz so, it's certainly not what I was expecting.

If the burger had been great than it would have been worth my $6 and waiting 15 minutes with a restless 3-year-old. It was not great in any way. None of the components were great. The meat? Undersalted, and falling apart. The bun? Tasteless. The cheese? Calling it a cheese is far more than it deserved. The other condiments were completely overpowered by mustard and the pickles were oddly sweet. Half of the fries were undercooked and all were flabby. (Now, I will admit to a preference for crispy fries. See my comments re: Palena :P ) I have had a better burger at Fuddruckers and it pains me even to admit that we've eaten there.

For not much more I could get a burger at Johnny Rockets, and get big crisp sweet onion rings and a fountain coke with vanilla syrup. (Plus I'd be at an outlet mall and spending half as much as I would at Tysons. :lol: )

Edited by Heather

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I've never been to the Ritz so, it's certainly not what I was expecting.

If the burger had been great than it would have been worth my $6 and waiting 15 minutes with a restless 3-year-old.  It was not great in any way.  None of the components were great.  The meat?  Undersalted, and falling apart.  The bun?  Tasteless.  The cheese?  Calling it a cheese is far more than it deserved.  The other condiments were completely overpowered by mustard and the pickles were oddly sweet.  Half of the fries were undercooked and all were flabby.  (Now, I will admit to a preference for crispy fries.  See my comments re: Palena   :P   )  I have had a better burger at Fuddruckers and it pains me even to admit that we've eaten there.

For not much more I could get a burger at Johnny Rockets, and get big crisp sweet onion rings and a fountain coke with vanilla syrup.  (Plus I'd be at an outlet mall and spending half as much as I would at Tysons.   :lol: )

To each his own, but I've eaten both at Fuddruckers and Johnny Rockets (not to mention Cheeburger Cheeburger), and many 5 Guys locations, and I've never had a 5G that wasn't at least better than anything I ever had at the other two (three).

BTW, AFAIK, in a burger falling apart meat means it hasn't been over-mixed when being formed into patties. This is a good sign, not a bad one. A looser pack means a more tender, flavorful, and yes juicy pattie. You'll seldom find falling-apart burgers a McD or BK, or the other three mentioned above for that matter.

Just MHO

Edited by johnb

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