Has a burger ever been more polarizing? Shack Shack came to us (us being Chestnut Hill, Harvard Square to soon follow) via New York City where it is often touted as the best burger out there. But that of course is for those who love the fast-food, West Coast, thin and griddled style (think In-N-Out for a good comparison). Those who don’t love the thin style often believe it to be too simple, cheap and quite frankly, too much like McDonald’s to ever be in the great burger debate we all have to come to make. After having a few Shake Shack burgers in New York over the years, I’m a fan, but was still puzzled at subtle differences between locations since Danny Meyer is often hailed as the model restaurateur who preaches consistency as one of his main objectives. I avoided the Chestnut Hill location for a little while, wanting to avoid the massive lines for starters, but knowing I’d be back a couple of times regardless to check in on the supposed consistency with our one outpost.
The ShackBurger is as straightforward as a burger comes, topped with lettuce, tomato and ShackSauce (think Thousand Island type sauce) and definitely looks the part if you were to close your eyes and imagine the quintessential American cheeseburger (side bar, who says “hamburger” or “cheeseburger” anymore?). In many ways Shake Shack was the pioneer for bringing the Martin’s Potato Bun to the burger party, which of course we are all thankful for since it is as close to ideal as you’ll find in fitting a burger of this size and style. The variables weren’t all that different from multiple visits, my burgers ranged anywhere from solid to very good, but never lousy and never mind blowing, so in that respect I’d say it’s successful on the consistency front. But still, sometimes a very lovely crust is developed on the patty and sometimes it is not. The crustier burger, if you will, develops the caramelization that ultimately makes for a more flavorful end result. The salt level also varied slightly, from a little under-seasoned to appropriately seasoned but I didn’t find that changed the overall experience all that much. The burger is small, and it’s easy to tear through it in just a few bites, but I always feel like I want something more out of it. The bun, while a perfect fit, has never been toasted and is limp and sometimes chewy for some reason at the Chestnut Hill outpost. Lettuce and tomato have surprisingly been pretty solid even during the colder months, which do help add a lightness and a crunch. Everything is a la carte at Shake Shack, the burger is a great bargain for $4.75 (you can double the patty for $7.30), fries are $2.70 and the shakes and concretes start at $4.25 and go up from there, so at the very least you’re easily spending over $11 and I’d argue not getting that full if you do opt for the single and not the double. It’s deceptively not a steal of a deal like some will lead you to believe, but easily a better product than 5 Guys or Tasty Burger by a mile. Fries aren’t as bad as they say but aren’t that great either, and are the crinkle cut and frozen variety we all know and like. They are seasoned just fine but are mostly limp and pretty boring. Shakes and concretes are overrated in my humble opinion, as I often have difficulty picking out the promised flavors and are quite small and uneventful considering it’s half of the restaurant’s namesake.
Shake Shack is an interesting one for sure; on the one hand it’s the prototypical West Coast style burger with ingredients far superior (namely Pat LaFrieda beef) than some of its competitors, although I’m skeptical if Chestnut Hill is or was using it. The ShackSauce is what you’d expect it to be and further enhances the classic burger approach, and the bun (although never perfect), lettuce and tomato all fit and serve their purpose to a T. But fries are ultimately disappointing (they are currently testing out fresher and a newer look fry in NYC) as are the shakes and concretes. The value is sort of there but sort of not, and it’s sort of a great burger in many ways but kind of can’t live up to the hype in other respects. It’ll never be in my discussion for best burger in Boston but I do get the appeal for its simplicity and quality of ingredients, the beef certainly being the one stand-out on its best days and is probably the best tasting beef in a fast-food style burger I’ve had to date. If Shake Shack can tighten up the consistency from visit to visit they will easily be one of the middle to top tiered burger spots in town for years to come.
Overall Score: 85