Five Guys Update 11/16/2009: First Arizona location in Mesa (Dana Park Village Square; SWC U.S. 60 and Val Vista Dr) is now officially open. Second location on Mill Ave. in Tempe opens next week, many more planned in coming months.
Smashburger Update 10/07/2009: First Arizona location in Tempe (777 S. College Ave.) is now open. Many more planned in coming months.
Residing in Phoenix, one thing locals quickly learn to take on their collective chins is the unending procession of new, often toneless corporate restaurant outlets. Though this is obviously a global phenomenon not limited to Phoenix, it unfortunately seems to be of larger proportion here. In any event, it’s another chain alert. Something is afoot in Phoenix, and by this time next year, In-N-Out Burger may be in for some heady competition.
Things seem quiet now, but Phoenix and the state of Arizona are about to become engulfed in the next wave of the fast-food hamburger. Aiming for “better burgers,” two high-growth, higher-brow burger chains are currently knee deep in development plans to saturate the region, each with their individually unique brands of smarter convenience food.
If things unfold as planned, Virginia-based Five Guys and Colorado-based Smashburger could be opening a combined, upward total of new burger outlets in the ballpark of 75-plus. Though locations are being thrown around for spots throughout the state, the majority of these new-fashioned chapels to the beefburger have their targets set firmly upon the Phoenix market.
On the high end, we will always have our 25 Degrees, our Delux, our Big-Ass Burgers from Roaring Fork and American Wagyu Bar Burgers from Bourbon Steak. However in the more speedy, low-fuss realm of beef ground and round, up until recently the area has largely been under the So-Cal hex of In-N-Out Burger. And while the iconic chain will fair just fine when the dust settles, it is in for a legitimate run.
By far one of the most anticipated chains to (finally) land in Phoenix is Five Guys Burgers and Fries. What began merely a decade ago in the Washington D.C. area, the spare, cheeky hamburger outlet has since grown very rapidly, liberally accumulating critical kudos from food press along the way. What has since transfixed much of the Northeast and Midwest, is most recently, quickly moving west. Thankfully and curiously, during my recent New England holiday, I was finally able try it.
Though not as pared down as In-N-Out’s, Five Guys maintains an equally efficient menu. Burgers (never frozen) are divided into essentially two categories, regular and “Little.” Utilizing equal-sized buns, all regular hamburgers consist of two patties each, with singles for the little burgers. Including standard accoutrements like lettuce and tomato, Five Guys also offers a large selection of additional toppings to be added by request at no additional charge like onions (raw or grilled), mayo relish, jalapeños, grilled mushrooms, BBQ sauce, and so on. In regard to their “100% angus” burgers themselves, one thing of note is their ample patty size. In comparison to other fast-food varieties (yes, including In-N-Out), they offer a portion much heftier.
Not opting for the ground round? Five Guys also offers kosher hot dogs, and a grilled cheese sandwich, both of which come with the same selection of optional, no-cost toppings. In terms of french fries, Five Guys offers regular “Five Guys Style” and “Cajun Style.” The latter simply being a more seasoned variety of the regular, as spicy heat does not exist. All are fried entirely in peanut oil – free of any feared trans-fats.
As a sideshow, self-serving stations of in-shell peanuts are setup throughout each restaurant. Tubs of the classic, salted nuts are offered complimentary. A gimmick for sure, but something different nonetheless.
All in all, I liked Five Guys a lot. My double-patty cheeseburger was tasty and substantial, with a sufficient hint of grease – like a proper burger should. Though all burgers are uniformly cooked well-done, I was surprised by the flavor that remained. With my own additions of raw onion, jalapeños and their mayo relish, well, I was in an improved fast-food state of mind. I found their thicker-cut fries (both types) crispy and sufficiently salty from first taste, to last crumb. Despite the hurried atmosphere of a no-frills diner, after first sample, I immediately understood I was eating a product of superior quality and taste.
Though the Five Guys entry into the Phoenix market has largely been kept to a hush, I can tell you from several sources in the local construction industry that the company is currently in development to open an eventual 50-60 stores throughout Arizona over the next several years. (Yikes, I know.)
The first two confirmed locations, Mesa’s Dana Park Village Square, and along Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe, in the space recently vacated by the now defunct Coffee Plantation, are both expected to open by late fall.
Nearly simultaneously, another upcoming (and more publicized) entry into the Phoenix market is Smashburger, a growing national chain hailing from Denver, CO.
Though focused like Five Guys, Smashburger presents a more diverse menu of burgers (also never frozen; poundages 1/2 and 1/3), chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, and a variety of sides beyond the french fry. Notably the additions of onion rings and, interestingly enough, veggie frites, a side of fried asparagus, green beans and carrots. There is also a line of milk shakes, malts, and a root beet float, courtesy of Häagen-Dazs ice creams for dessert. There is also a special menu for kids.
Most strikingly, unlike nearly all of its rivals however, Smashburger serves alcohol. Besides beer in both mug and pitcher form, Smashburger also serves a limited selection of wines by the glass.
Smashburger’s outlets themselves angle toward design more modern and polished, with noted flair in painting and lighting touches. This is as opposed to Five Guys, which presents a more straightforward, no-frills persona.
Smashburger’s first Arizona location is already being prepped for Tempe near University Dr. and College Ave. It will be the first Smashburger location of a planned 30 locations throughout the region over the next five to six years.
When it comes to the tried-and-true hamburger, particularly the fast-food variety, the subject easily summons strong allegiances. However whether or not you swear to the likes of In-N-Out, for example, more variety is still coming to Phoenix. If there is a silver lining, this new onslaught will thankfully deliver more than just raw numbers of new corporate burger establishments. In the continued, faddish vein of the more creative, “better burger,” we might actually get some improved quality as well.
As opening dates draw nearer, I will try my best to report any new developments.