We entered the Five Guys on Chestnut Street between 15th and 16th, around noon and since the lunch line had already begun forming, we took our place at the back. The entrance is sort of like a cattle shoot, which gives you an idea how your burger may have felt not too long ago.
The line moves quickly, so figure out what you want before you get to the front. Although there's not the same stress of ordering a South Philly cheese-
steak like a tourist, you have more fingers than Five Guys has menu items, so don't get to the register and then look at the menu as if you're deciphering ancient Sanskrit.
With little fuss, the cashiers typed in all five orders and then we waited about five minutes, not bad, for our freshly cooked burgers and fries served wrapped in tinfoil and paper cups in an overflowing, grease-stained paper bag.
Now that's good eatin'.
Our five guys crammed into a table for four guys, figured out who got what - the burgers were helpfully numbered 1-5, but no one told us what those numbers corresponded to - and we quickly realized we had enough french fries for 10 guys. (Five Guys scores BIG points for getting all five orders correct.)
Five Guys burgers come in large (two patties) and small (one patty) and since we were five guys and not five birds, we ordered the man-sized burgers which can be enhanced with a variety of free fixins.
And now the burgers:
The basic Hamburger, Lettuce, Tomato, Ketchup ($4.29) was tasty, not too messy, juicy, considering how well done the meat was, and altogether satisfying.
The highlight of the Bacon Cheeseburger ($5.29), with mushrooms and fried onions, was the bacon. This guy thought his burgers were a little dry and, upon seeing a sign on the wall, said, "If this is the best burger in Scranton, I'm never eating in Scranton."
Our best-dressed guy had a McDonald's-like, but better, Cheeseburger ($4.79), with pickles and ketchup. Since his mouth was full he gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Next up was the Cheeseburger (again $4.79) with BBQ sauce and mushrooms. This guy gave points for the bun being warmed on the inside and the meat being juicy and tender. "There was a nice amount of BBQ sauce, but not so much as to make it sloppy," he said. "The cheese was standard fare. The 'sauteed' mushrooms weren't sauteed in anything but the water that they soaked in - in the can. Subtract a few points. I can't proclaim it as the best burger in Philly. Maybe just the best burger on the block - and it's a short block."
Lastly, our Five Guys-loving fifth guy chimed in: "After breathing deeply and getting a carnivorous contact high from the rich, thick, beef-grease air that permeates Five Guys like humidity and inspires internal yoga mantras like, 'Breathe the burger; BE the burger!' - my double-patty Bacon Burger [$4.79] with grilled onions was heaven on a bun, amen."
While the rest of us looked at him like the meat had already gone to his head, he added, "A Five Guys burger is the cow's meow."
Four out of our five guys thought the French Fries, regular and Cajun, ($1.99), were very good - made from fresh potatoes and crispy. Negative guy thought they were a little soggy and too salty. There were so many we just ate the ones that spilled out of the cups and brought the rest back to the office.
Soft drinks, with free refills, are $1.59. Peanuts are on the tables and they're free.
And the grilled Kosher Hot Dog ($2.99) is big and tasty.
Ambiance is non-existent, that's part of the charm - it's like having an indoor picnic - and the decor can either be called sparse or as one Chain Gangster put it, "the jarring red and white decor done in early NASCAR."*
The chain truthChain:
Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries, 1527 Chestnut St., 215-972-1635. Other locations include: 500 W. Baltimore Ave., Clifton Heights, 610-622-5489; 1810 Wilmington Pike, Glen Mills, 610-358-5GUY; 253 E. Swedesford Road, Wayne, 610-964-0214; 1650 Kings Highway North, Cherry Hill, 856-795-1455; Main St. and South Black Horse Pike, Mt. Ephraim, N.J., 856-672-0442; 49A Bethel Road, Somers Point, N.J., 609-927-5GUYS; and 2217 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 302-654-5489.
Reservations: Don't be a wise-guy.
Parking: At some locations.
Price: Lunch for five with five large burgers, one hot dog, five drinks and four small fries was $45.85.
Portions: The burgers, which look nothing like the burger pictured once they've been wrapped and stacked in a bag, are big enough. The fries are a generous size.
Overall grade: This is tough. Five Guys costs a bit more than your typical fast-food burger joint and a buck or three less than the burgers you might get at a Ruby Tuesday's. Compared to other fast-food burgers it gets 4 links. Compared to Ruby Tuesday's burger (which comes with fries) it gets 2 links. So let's average it out to 3 links and say that if you're craving a no-frills burger spot, Five Guys has good burgers, good fries and no frills. *