San Diego Restaurants

San Diego’s Best Burgers: In-N-Out Vs Shake Shack

In-N-Out vs Shake Shack


In-N-Out reigns supreme as the king of fast food burgers in Southern California.  However, on the East Coast Shake Shack has been getting almost as much praise in recent years.  Now Shake Shack is coming to San Diego.  Fun Diego Family has decided to address the question who wins in the battle of In-N-Out vs Shake Shack.

In-N-Out Burger has been in a fixture of Southern California since 1948.  It is a fairly regional chain, but has expanded to Arizona, Nevada and even Texas.  Many Southern California people worship In-N-Out and the chain has gained national fame as one of the best burger chains.

Shack Shack is a rapidly expanding chain that got its start in 2001 as a lowly hot dog stand.  Our family has been to Shake Shack on the East Coast and really enjoyed it.  I have been to the original one in New York City in Madison Square Park circa 2008.  When we visit family in Washington, D.C. we have gone to the Shake Shack right by our favorite International Spy Museum.

In-N-Out vs Shake Shack

Unlike In-N-Out, Shake Shack has an extensive menu.  They serve hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwiches and of course shakes.  In-N-Out focuses only on burgers, fries and shakes.  However, unlike Shake Shack, In-N-Out only has 3 flavors of shakes, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.

In-N-Out vs Shake Shack
This line of cars at the In-N-Out drive thru is typical

In 2017 San Diego received its first two Shake Shacks at UTC Shopping Center and later Mission Valley.  A couple more are planned.  Of course, we had to rush to the UTC location and see how it compared to In-N-Out.

In-N-Out vs Shake Shack

Well I am going to answer that question rather quickly by saying there really is no comparison.  I had seen all kinds of articles arguing which one is better.  However, the one article that totally jived with my opinion was one by Food and Wine entitled “Here’s Why Its Time to Stop Comparing In-N-Out and Shake Shack.”

I went to Shake Shack with my two younger kids.  Between the three of us we ordered a regular burger, a custom burger, a chicken sandwich, one order of fries, one soda and one shake.  The bill came to $43.  I was floored. A similar meal at In-N-Out might not even hit $20.

In-N-Out vs Shake Shack
$43 for this

The Food and Wine article makes much the same point.  He says you can eat at In-N-Out roughly three times for the price of one visit to Shake Shack.  Of course, this means going forward we will probably eat at In-N-Out ten times for every visit to Shake Shack.

The food at Shake Shack was good.  My daughter thought her burger was probably better than In-N-Out.  My son said the chicken sandwich was better than Chick-fil-A (which he loves).  As for me, I was in too much sticker shock to make a judgment.  A burger is a special treat and quite frankly if I am paying this much I would rather be eating at Hodad’s or right across from UTC at Chicago Fire Grill.

In-N-Out vs Shake Shack
At first glance the prices don’t seem so bad. It adds up fast.

The other issue are the French fries.  We all agreed the fries at In-N-Out are way better than Shake Shack fries.  This is not a universal opinion.  Many critics do not like the fries at In-N-Out.  Fun Diego Family is a big fan of In-N-Out fries, but my in-laws go to In-N-Out to buy burgers and then drive down the street to get fries from McDonald’s.

In-N-Out vs Shake Shack
About $7 at In-N-Out

Many Shake Shack fans love their fries.  They are frozen crinkle cut fries and in my opinion that is what they taste like, low end frozen fries.  However, as this Fast Company article describes, when they tried to change the fries customers got upset.  At In-N-Out you can actually watch them cut the fries from whole potatoes.  The machine that does this is right by the fryer.

In terms of the shake, we got one of those fancy blends from Shake Shack.  Shake Shack has many different flavors and is probably the place to go if you are really into ice cream.  However, In-N-Out is well-known for their shakes.  Furthermore, the basic In-N-Out shake is $2.50 while at Shake Shack they start at $5.

In an Esquire piece where chefs talked about their favorite fast food chains, In-N-Out came out number one.  In fairness, this article was done in 2009 so Shake Shack was not in the running.  However, it gets to the point of how much In-N-Out is respected.

Alton Brown Gave the following quote about In-N-Out:

“The hamburger is definitive, greasy but oddly clean-tasting at the same time and the sauce actually is ‘special.’ And the shake tastes the way shakes tasted back when I was a kid. It makes me tear up just thinkin’ about it.”

Personally, I like In-N-Out but also think it is a little overhyped.  It is a fast food burger chain along the lines of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King etc.  In-N-Out is better than those but you need to keep your expectations in check.

I think many people love In-N-Out for its consistency, cleanliness and service.  Along with Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out has the best fast food service I have ever seen.  In part that is because they are one of the only chains to pay their workers above the minimum wage.  It definitely shows.

In-N-Out vs Shake Shack

Overall, the burger at Shake Shack is probably a little better than In-N-Out.  Whether it is worth paying that much more is a personal matter.  In my mind the answer is no.  The same is true for the Shake Shack chicken sandwich versus Chick-fil-A. Of course, if you have a family who disagrees whether to go for burgers, hot dogs or chicken, Shake Shack is the winner

If you want to read some more opinions here are some links:

This guy favors Shake Shack but not by much (his words are “a bit better”)

This article has a Shake Shack fan versus a In-N-Out fan

Three people eat at both on the same day.  In-N-Out slightly wins for the burger, but loses for the fries. This was the opposite of our view and I think probably because they ordered them animal style (off the secret menu).  Shake Shack won on the shake.



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