It's a testament to how many Californian transplants now reside in the Treasure Valley that you can't seem to start a conversation about which chain restaurants have sadly ignored the Boise area without at least one person mentioning In-N-Out Burger. The chain has 255 locations in five states, and 203 of those are in California. There are a few scattered around Utah as well, and despite the fact that I've been to both of those states, In-N-Out and I have never crossed paths. So a while back when the Fairview Avenue Wendy's closed and rumors started circulating that In-N-Out was taking over the location, I was curious and a little excited. However, it wasn't long before a sign appeared in the window proclaiming that a new eatery called Burger Express would be opening instead. My initial thought was that the rumor mill completely dropped the ball on this, but on closer inspection one can see where some confusion might have stemmed from.
Just for the fun of it, compare the sign above to the picture below of an In-N-Out sign I took from Wikipedia....
More than a vague similarity, no? I'd done some research on various message boards and chat forums online before visiting Burger Express, and a lot of people seemed very angry (some disproportionately so) about what they saw as infringement, and it wasn't all about the logo. I familiarized myself with the In-N-Out menu before visiting Burger Express, and it's about as straightforward as they get. There are basically three sandwich options: hamburger, cheeseburger and double cheeseburger. Sides? French fries, period. Beverages spread out a tad, with the three members of the Holy Milkshake Trinity making an appearance alongside the root beer float, various sodas, iced teas and lemonade. This results in the availability of three combo meals. In a time when fast food restaurants are selling espresso drinks and fresh fruit smoothies, I have to admit that I find this level of simplicity refreshing. But how does the Burger Express menu compare?
|Burger Express Menu|
The answer is that it's identical. Well okay, not exactly. Burger Express calls their double cheeseburger an "Express Double" where In-N-Out's is a "Double Double", and In-N-Out has coffee. Other than that, I was unable to find a single difference. As far as In-N-Out's famous "secret menu" items go, I didn't try to order any of them so I don't know if Burger Express would produce them, though I've heard their triple cheeseburger (called a 3x3 at In-N-Out) is quite a popular item. To be honest, I have no loyalty to In-N-Out, and they obviously don't have much of an interest in the Boise market. Still, I couldn't help being curious. Is there some connection between the two? If not, why hasn't the big chain squashed this new kid the way they did Chadders? And how similar is the food? Only having eaten at one of the two places, I can't judge that, but I can hopefully tell you if it's any good. I ordered the #1, which is something of a habit with me at fast food places. It tends to be their signature menu item, and a good way to test a place out.
|Burger Express fries|
At times, it's hard for me to believe that fries are as popular as they are, when it seems that most are either horrible or just mediocre. These were of the second variety, unremarkable but at least non-offensive.
As I unwrapped the Express Double burger, more similarities became apparent. It's built exactly the same as the Double Double. Special sauce, tomato and lettuce on bottom, fresh sliced onion sandwiched between two thin burger patties each topped with melted cheese and the whole thing held together but an ever-so-lightly toasted bun. You know what though? Copycat or not, this was damn good for a fast food burger. Soft, fresh bun, ripe tomato, crisp lettuce, a generous amount of good quality onions, evenly melted cheese and tasty, juicy beef. I went back a week later, ordered the same thing, and got the same great-tasting burger with the same quality ingredients.
If In-N-Out can't be bothered to put down stakes in Boise, I'm glad we have Burger Express to fill that void. Maybe the two are somehow related, I have no idea, but if not I assume it won't be long before Big Burger Brother crushes them underfoot. In the Chadders case, In-N-Out solved the problem by opening stores in Utah where Chadders was based and driving the pretender to their throne out of business, and I suppose all it might take would be for an In-N-Out to open in the Mall area here to achieve a similar result. Or maybe they could just buy Burger Express outright? I mean all they would have to do is change some signage. Maybe this whole Burger Express thing was an elaborate ploy to get In-N-Out to finally notice Boise. It's a laughable conspiracy theory, I know, but you have to admit that it's kind of a fun thought...
Final Grade: B
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