After my short run, I decided to try out IN-N-OUT Burger, a chain I've heard so much about from various friends, chiefly Krisanne. :) I used their helpful store locator, and found one VERY close by... 0.2 miles from the hotel. The address gives a hint: I was at 190 E El Camino Real and the In-N-Out was at 50 W El Camino Real.
I decided I would be humiliated to drive such a short distance for fast food, so I walked, thus getting in a tiny bit of exercise to help burn off the lunch I was about to eat.
I had a single with cheese, and it was in fact really good. However, I think Red Mill Burgers in Seattle holds its own. Any small burger place would probably be able to serve up a very competitive burger. To be fair to IN-N-OUT, they are a larger chain, and as far as comparing quality among large chains, they blow away all the national brands. I'm amazed the burger was as good as it was, keeping in mind they are a regional chain.
What I found interesting were the french fries. I love fries. I recently finished The Botany of Desire and the chapter on the potato was very interesting, maybe I'll talk about this book later. As I looked at the fries, I read a little notice that informed me IN-N-OUT Burgers prepares the fries from fresh (and never frozen) potatoes, in 100% cholesterol free vegetable oil. Well that sounds great! So I dug in...
And found the fries were a bit different. They weren't salted, which was probably healthier. The texture was hard to describe, but they didn't crunch like I was expecting. They had a bit of a grainy texture, and this will sound grosser than it is, but it reminded me of chewing lima beans. The fries tasted good, but even that was a bit muted - the potato flavor wasn't as strong. I puzzled over this and recalled a passage from Fast Food Nation that said fast food restaurants have essentially engineered the food to taste and look a certain way, through various additives. I think the different fries at IN-N-OUT (i.e. no crunch, blander taste, different texture) were an example of how I, an occasional fast food french fry gourmand, had been conditioned to my expectations of french fries. Confronted with fries cooked fresh and with fewer chemicals, I thought they tasted odd and different.
Now I'm bummed, I would rather eat the fries from IN-N-OUT knowing they are fresher and less doped with chemicals. I am sure I would come to prefer them.
The final part of my meal was a strawberry shake, which was decent. I think the shakes at Burger King or even Jack-in-the-Box are as good; these are all actually made with real ice cream and milk. The Frosty at Wendy's is good but almost too thick for me, plus it is only available in chocolate. Certain other large national fast food chains make really lousy shakes - they taste 100% artificial. Fortunately that was not the case here.
Anyway, my first trip to IN-N-OUT was a success. Dang good fast food for $5.