Verity Johnson: Everything you think about In-N-Out Burger is wrong

OPINION: It's breakfast time at the Hollywood In-N-Out store. The line is out the door; the cars queuing for drive thru block the street. It's 15 minutes to order and more than 20 to get your 'fast' food.

Well, what did you expect? In-N-Out Burger is an icon. It's not a culinary icon. God no. But it's certainly an American one. Watching the military efficiency of the workers, with identical expressions and identical 'retro-hipster- kitsch' outfits, is like being inside Ford's first car factory.

It's a production line that punches out 60 orders in 20 minutes at a ruthless 30 seconds per burger.

This is not a place for eating and relaxing. No sir. This is a place for queuing and sweating, sir yes sir.

It's a million miles from NZ's lazy, luxuriating, sunlight-soaked brunch scene. It's also a million miles from our burgers.

So how were they?

They were fine. But just fine. If they were a movie, they would be an Adam Sandler film. Okay, if your expectations are rock bottom.

For US$8 (NZ$11.21), I ordered a hamburger, fries and a strawberry milkshake. I ended up with a Maccas-esque patty, surprisingly fresh lettuce and tomato, and a bun that could pass for brioche if you had someone pre-chew it and feed it to you.

The fries were fine - under-salted but perfectly edible and trying desperately to be crisp.

The shake, however, was the stuff of hungover dreams. A creamy cup of childhood and sunshine and long awaited trips to the ice cream van. (Why can't we do shakes right here, what are we missing?)

But apart from the shake, I waited 45 minutes in a frantic gridlock for no good reason. I might as well have still been in LAX customs.

So where does the In-N-Out myth come from? We all look to it as the Mecca of fast food, to the point where we queued for hours when it popped up in Auckland. When I told people I was going to Los Angeles, In-N-Out was up there with Universal Studios as something they said I simply must do. 

 Verity Johnson's In N Out burger meal.
Verity Johnson's In N Out burger meal. Photo credit: Verity Johnson

But it's just not that great.

Ok, I'll be fair. It's not that bad if you're not a Kiwi. If you grew up in the USA or UK you'd be used to gristle and bone beef patties that are on a par with chewing a coaster. In that case, you'd think In-N-Out was sent by goose fat-dipped cherubs.

And that must be where the legend of comes from - people who have not become accustomed to smearing their faces in a Burgerfuel Ford Freakout every time they get drunk.

But we Kiwis are used to this. We are used to meat which is not mechanically recovered fat scraps. We eat cheese that comes from cows not cans. And we're used to burgers so big and juicy you don't find them in the kitchen, you find them in the gym bellowing and benching 180, bro.

Any of our mainstream burger joints would comfortably beat In-N-Out. As for our quickly sprouting gourmet burger scene, they'd chew it to pieces.

Are we missing out on not having In-N-Out? Not at all. We just think we are. Going to In-N-Out as a Kiwi is about as fun as standing in line at the AA. Only at least that's eventually satisfying.

Verity Johnson is a Newshub columnist. She flew to LA courtesy of Air NZ. 

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