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Sometimes a hamburger is more than bun and beef. At Five Guys Burgers and Fries, it's much more.
Hamburger aficionados have been waiting for Five Guys to open since rumors of the chain's Arkansas debut started to leak months ago. The Virginia-based chain, founded in the mid-'80s, launched an ambitious plan this year to open 1,500 new restaurants in the next decade. The first in Arkansas is in the Lakewood shopping center in North Little Rock.
In the short time since its opening, Five Guys has already worked its way into “best burger” conversations, along with the usual suspects: Cotham's, Doe's, Arkansas Burger Co., the Hop, the Box. And while this reviewer is always hesitant to definitively proclaim something as the best in town, Five Guys' burger comes close.
A burger is really only as good as the sum of its parts, and at Five Guys there are a lot of parts. But Five Guys offers a smattering of toppings, all of which can be added for no extra charge. But we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. Let's start with the basics.
The Bun. It just so happens that on the day we chose to eat at Five Guys for the first time, so did a slew of our friends. Surprisingly, the bun was one of the most talked-about parts of the meal. It's too soft, said one friend. It's too small, said another. However, we found the bun, which is homemade, to be a perfect fit. It was a little doughy, true, but that helped soak up the grease. And although it is a small bun, it stayed situated nicely throughout, never slipping off our heaping mound of burger.
The Meat. Just so you know, the regular hamburger at Five Guys ($4.49, $5.09 with cheese) comes with two patties. If you want just one patty, you have to order the “little burger” ($3.39, $3.89 with cheese), which is a perfectly adequate amount of food for a normal human being. If you're really hungry though, just go with the regular.
The patties are patted right in front of your eyes and thrown on the griddle. They're thin, but not as thin as your typical fast food patty. The meat is fresh. Five Guys boasts on their website that they use only fresh, never frozen, ground beef. That fresh taste comes through, but there's very little seasoning there.
The Toppings. This is what sets Five Guys apart. The toppings are fresh and there are a lot of them. You've got all your usual condiments — mustard, mayo and ketchup — along with onions, lettuce, pickles and tomatoes. But you can also get grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, A-1 sauce, barbecue sauce or hot sauce. We took the liberty of adding most of those to our cheeseburger. The grilled mushrooms and onions really give the burger some added texture and a nice, smoky flavor. The jalapeno peppers are raw, not pickled, and if you catch one with a lot of seeds, it will light you up. But that's okay with us. The lettuce was just lettuce but the tomatoes were exceptional — bright red, soft and juicy.
The Fries. Five Guys fries are hand cut and deep-fried. They're fresh, just like everything else. One regular order ($2.59) is good for about three people. They're not too salty and were cooked to our liking, although we've heard others say they're not quite crispy enough. Soggy or no, they beat the heck out of any fast food fry.
There's one thing that Five Guys lacks that you might find at your other favorite hole-in-the-wall burger joints: atmosphere. The red-and-white tile decor is kind of jarring, there's very little room to sit down and the constant calling of order numbers over the intercom makes you feel as if you're in a bus station.
Is it the best burger you've ever had? Maybe not, but it's worth considering. For us it ranks up there with the best locally — the House, Ump's, Doe's — as well as other famous regional chains like In-and-Out Burger on the West Coast. Also, once you consider the price (we got out of there for under $17, pretty good for a dinner for two), it's hard to beat.
If you're a real burger connoisseur, you owe it to yourself to try Five Guys. If you're just plain-ol' hungry, it'll work for that too.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
2923 Lakewood Village Drive
Burgers are what made Five Guys famous, but hot dogs are on the menu, too. Try one with bacon and cheese.
11 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily.
Credit cards accepted. No alcohol.