Restaurant News & Reviews

'Five Guys': Burger masters

They say Five Guys has a cult following, but when the president of the United States himself leaves the Oval Office for Five Guys to pick up lunch for his staff and NBC News anchor Brian Williams, as well as a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, jalapeño peppers and mustard for himself, well, we might need to find a new word for "cult."

Lexington might not have such celebrities driving down Nicholasville Road to get burgers and fries — the Washington-based chain's claim to fame since 1986 — but the recently opened joint seems to be an instant hit with locals. Lunch lines start snaking out the door by 11:30 a.m., and they build up again about 6:30 p.m. for dinner.

One of my Facebook friends waxed rhapsodic after Five Guys' soft opening a couple of months ago. Another friend, however, just doesn't get the buzz. Maybe that's because the mood is admittedly manic (the queue moves quickly enough to get a commander-in-chief out pronto). Or maybe it's because there is a messy edge to eating here: Peanut shells, from large bags of complimentary nuts, are scattered on the floor; huge sacks of potatoes are piled up in the middle of the dining room; and the burgers overflow with as many of the 15 free toppings as you can handle.

Either way, no one is neutral about these inexpensive staples of the American diet. With so relatively few trappings, rather than get on my high horse and write a "review," I will simply report my brief experience and you can decide whether, at the ridiculously low cost of about $12 for two, you want to join President Barack Obama in Five Guys mania.

My first visit was on a rainy evening. I snagged a table for our party of four because other soaking fans were also vying for a sit-down, and turnaround, as I have said, is fast. We then made a beeline to the ordering station.

There is a lot to choose from and a lot going on, with the rock 'n' roll thumping and an open kitchen of several line cooks flipping burgers, submerging fries and shouting, but the result of this assembly line is a speedy meal produced in probably less than five minutes.

A few things to know: The beef has never been frozen; a "hamburger" ($4.39) comes with two patties, but a "little hamburger" ($3.29) means (only!) one patty; and they are all cooked well-done, a little crusty on the outside and juicy inside. Additions of inoffensively bland American cheese or crunchy bacon run 60 cents each.

Kosher-style hot dogs — yum! — also are served. Vegetarians can get a bun full of grilled mushrooms and onions, along with tomatoes, lettuce, pickles and green peppers and more ($2.29); just take extra napkins and be prepared to grip the slippery sandwich firmly.

My grapevine, and my own taste buds, tell me the fries are the way to go. They are cooked in peanut oil ($2.49 for a regular portion that serves at least two, $4.19 for a large, which is an understatement). They arrive in a brown paper bag.

If you like loads of slightly spicy seasoning salt, try the Cajun-style fries, but I think there is no reason to muck up perfectly fine potatoes.

I went back to Five Guys about a week later for lunch on an afternoon as hot and humid as the evening had been wet and sloppy. Same long but quickly moving line. Same '60s and '70s tunes. Same lively energy. Same obvious passion among diners. And same food — consistent quality in one of America's favorite meals.

I think I'd prefer to enjoy Five Guys in the serenity of the Oval Office, but if the menu works for my president, it certainly works for me.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader