Burgers From an Antique Land

by James Boo on March 8, 2008 · 12 comments

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If you’ve ever met an omnivorous Californian, you know that the surest path to his stomach is laid out on two and a half words: “In-N-Out.” Among the many topics left-coasters will waste no time picking up and taking down in a string of verses winding their way around a dispossessed yet domineering tirade, In-N-Out Burger ranks as highly as unnaturally omnipresent sunshine and artificially enhanced confidence.

It’s important to note that in the case of In-N-Out, we Californians are verifiably correct. There’s something to be said about the flashback value of fast food (and its availability at the drunkennest hours of the night), but the quality of an In-N-Out burger easily dwarfs the lifeless grease-and-paste bombs of its drive-thru counterparts. Having sustained a consistent vision of quality, simplicity and relentless geographic domination for the past 60 years, the In-N-Out dynasty has achieved what most fast food chains fail to even consider as a possibility: the making of an edible legend that is at once authentic and mass produced.

Hamburger and Fries - In-N-Out Burger - Diamond Bar, CA In-N-Out Burger - Diamond Bar, CA
Shake Shack - New York, NY Shack Burger and Fries - Shake Shack - New York, NY

That said, when Rexasaurus offered to take me to “The In-N-Out of New York City,” I signed up immediately for a taste. Our destination was the Shake Shack, a hallowed hamburger stand tucked into a corner of Madison Square Park in Midtown Manhattan. The food here is indeed worthy of the overwhelming praise it receives from native New Yorkers. What is more striking about Shake Shack, though, is its similarity to In-N-Out as an emotional anchor of the burger. The ritualistic pride attached to these establishments betrays the extremely divergent paths of their food, their aesthetics, their histories and their customers.

For a visualization of this paradox, I turned to Flickr. The photographs of loyal fans of In-N-Out and Shake Shack produce a collage of memory in appetite that underscores the junctions and splits of both.


In-N-Out Burger - Las Vegas, NV In-N-Out Burger - Kingman, AZ In-N-Out Burger In-N-Out Burger Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City
In-N-Out Burger - LAX Airport - West Los Angeles, CA In-N-Out Burger - LAX Airport - West Los Angeles, CA In-N-Out Burger - LAX Airport - West Los Angeles, CA In-N-Out Burger - LAX Airport - West Los Angeles, CA Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City
In-N-Out Burger - Las Vegas, NV In-N-Out Burger - San Francisco, CA In-N-Out Burger In-N-Out Burger Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City
In-N-Out Burger In-N-Out Burger - LAX Airport - West Los Angeles, CA In-N-Out Burger - Las Vegas, NV In-N-Out Burger - Ventura, CA Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City
In-N-Out Burger - San Marino, CA In-N-Out Burger - LAX Airport - West Los Angeles, CA In-N-Out Burger In-N-Out Burger Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City
In-N-Out Burger - Pleasanton, CA In-N-Out Burger - West Hollywood, CA In-N-Out Burger - Marana, AZ In-N-Out Burger - Santa Barbara, CA Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City Shake Shack - Madison Square Park - New York City

The sentiment uniting these photographs is nostalgia. Just as In-N-Out has been seared into the epicurean memory of California, the comparatively newborn Shake Shack has already become an institution for New Yorkers. Both sides cling fervently to the subject of their burgin’ delight, using cameras to make icons of buildings and capture the significance of the folding patio chair.

Flickr’s public collection of Shake Shack photos imparts the more traditional bond between food and place. The number of possible angles from which to shoot the hamburger stand is limited to a handful of reoccurring viewpoints. Each one seems to capture a moment in time, bringing to a standstill the vibrant, bustling life of the Big Apple. Diners feature prominently, populating the lush backdrop of a singularly recognizable piece of earth. While a meal at Shake Shack is not yet a historic rite, its Flickr catalogue opens a window into precisely that quality, giving viewers the impression that, by peering through the lens, we too share in one of New York’s most intimate and treasured traditions.

In stark contrast, Flickr’s public collection of In-N-Out photos depicts the imperial sprawl of a singularly recognizable insignia. The almighty arrow towers above all else, protruding into the sky and claiming dominance over all that lies below and above its monumental banner. Rather than present a single moment in time, these images present a consistency of conquest and an ever present sun that differs wholeheartedly from the more subdued natural lighting of New York City. Where one would expect to see life in motion, there are only the vessels of life and the symbols of its progress: cars, planes, buildings, and the planned palm tree. In a way, it’s uncertain if these photographs provide a window into a living world of which we are all members or if they offer a glance at the emptied ruins of a burger civilization.

Yet, for all of its sterility, the glow of the In-N-Out arrow ties together the diffuse icons of its existence just as well as the evening lights of Shake Shack frame their cozy scene of the city. A certain warmth is shared by all of these images. Whether the impression being captured is humble or grand, organic or manufactured, spontaneous or mechanized, it is still an inspired reflection of the human spirit. And it is delicious.

Shake Shack
Madison Square Park
New York, NY 10010
212.889.6600
In-N-Out Burger
The Southwest
United States of America
Planet Earth
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Comments

zmmannn March 8, 2008 at 11:03 pm

I hate In N Out!

James March 8, 2008 at 11:14 pm

The iconoclast speaks!

Spoot March 9, 2008 at 5:57 pm

The price for a burger at the Shake Shack is ridiculous. 1 double double combo is cheaper than getting a double burger there.

C’mon now! It’s understandable that good food requires more cash… but when it’s $10+ for an American Classic? Forget about it.

abby March 10, 2008 at 11:25 pm

Those crinkle cut fries look good at Shake Shack. I have been meaning to go. But the price does seem steep. Plus In N Out, for me, has GREAT fries.

James March 12, 2008 at 6:02 am

Hey Abby!

They’re both great, but I feel like comparing the two on taste is a waste of time. Shake Shack’s ingredients are light years better than In-n-Out’s, plus it’s in the middle of Manhattan, which in my mind justifies the price. Then again, when the only competition is an equally expensive burger or White Castle, you’d really have to wonder how people would react to an In-N-Out in Manhattan.

Jen October 30, 2008 at 9:17 pm

No burger joint compares to the deliciousness of the Cook-Out chain!!

amy October 31, 2008 at 12:07 am

omgoodness…. I want my In-N-Out now!!!!!! You definitely have the right impression of that tasty treasure. Wells, if I ever make it to NY then I’ll check out the Shake Shack; when it comes to food it’s best to have an open mind and stomach, even if it clashes with my beloved In-N-Out. Good job!

James October 31, 2008 at 12:21 am

Jen – I will remember the name and try a Cook Out burger when I am in NC in just a few weeks. Thanks for the recommendation!

Amy – A Shake Shack burger may cost upwards of $7, but it is surely worth it, if only the once. Don’t skimp on the fries, either :)

heda May 13, 2009 at 9:36 am

awesome

Premier Team International November 16, 2009 at 6:25 pm

The Fact that you are comparing In n’ Out to the Shake Shack, shows me that you have good taste, or at least I hope. So my next trip to NY I am going to try the Shake Shack. Honestly I still am a little skeptical on the idea of it ever meeting my expectations and the deliciousness, salubriousness, cheapness, and efficiency of in n’ out. I am a die-hard fan and forever will be. I have given my stomach to say the least, to In n’ Out.

James Boo November 16, 2009 at 11:08 pm

I too am a die-hard in-n-out fan, but ranking the two against each other depends on context of comparison. If I were given one in-n-out burger and one shake shack burger for FREE and asked which one I enjoyed more, Shake Shack’s would win hands down. In the much less perfect world that is my life, In-N-Out is the more valuable choice.

Lost Angeles Tax Attorney December 2, 2009 at 3:39 pm

An In-N-Out opened in Orem, Utah a week ago and the lines are still crazy. The west is the best and In-N-Out just makes this point stronger.

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