There’s a bit of a trend that’s been sweeping Toronto the past year or so. And no, it’s not guys wearing pants that are way too tight and way too short. It’s gourmet burgers. Actually, there’s a noticeable upswing to make a more “sophisticated” version of just about everything. We see it here with the increased trend of “premium casual dining” (I’m not joking, that’s the term they actually use) which causes restaurants like Milestones and Moxie’s to look almost like upscale lounges. We also see it with the fact that Wendy’s and even, holy shit, Tim Horton’s going for the more upscale crowd with renovations to the look and feel of their stores. At this rate, maybe the local Dollarama is gonna turn into the Fiverrama, VERY NICE!
And why wouldn’t proprietors be interested? Slap on a new coat of paint, serve up “sweet potato fries” as a side, and suddenly you can charge and extra buck or two for every dish that you serve. Sure the upfront renovation costs may be expensive, but the long-term effects are pure mo-NAY. Toronto’s burger scene is not immune from this. We now have names like Burger Priest and Holy Chuck Burgers, to name a few. These burgers are way more expensive than your regular $3-$4 fast food buns, and of course, being the hip person that I am, I had to try one of these. Enter: Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
Five Guys isn’t totally what you would call an upscale joint. It’s not as crazy as Burger Priest in terms of “gourmet”-ness and it’s certainly a more down-to-earth joint. The whole place feels like an unpretentious fast-foodesque joint, but the $7-$8 price tag that comes with their most basic burger tells you that this is, most definitely, in the ballpark of “upper” burgers. And since everyone and their mom seems to have eaten here (except for me), I simply had to sample one myself. It’s also an international chain, with branches in both Canada, the US, and the UK. The street cred is strong in this one.
Walking in, you’ll be greeted with a symphony of red-and-white checkered tiles. Seriously, there’s so much of this pattern that I thought somebody vomited the national jersey of Croatia all over the place. It’s charming, but a bit much at times. What’s NOT much is their menu selection. At its core, Five Guys is about four kinds of burgers: the basic hamburger, the basic cheeseburger, hamburger with bacon, and hamburger with cheese AND bacon. Huh. And they also serve their famous fries two ways: Cajun, or regular. Of course, like many modern places, there is quite a bit of toppings and condiments you can choose for your burger. But from its very utilitarian and basic menu options, you knew that this was a place that meant business. Ain’t nobody got time for fancy-schmancy brisket burger with dijon remoulade sauce and all that. That’s what I mean about this place being both gourmet but not TOO gourmet?
I opted for the simple little hamburger with bacon (but not with cheese this time, though I have since returned to try that one too) and loaded it with many of the toppings that I love like onions and extra onions (no date night for me afterwards!), along with mushrooms, lettuce, and a few others. This is important: their standard hamburger has TWO meat patties. If you just want one and pretend to be a tad healthier (aka if you’re me), then opt for the LITTLE burger. It was still a rather impressive sight, seeing a burger that many purists praise to be one of the best ones around actually be very simple and straightforward. I ordered a side of their cajun fries out of pure curiosity, and all I had left to do was wait. And wait some more. Unlike many walk-in fast food places, Five Guys actually takes a while longer to prepare, and that in itself is a vote of confidence towards the overall quality and freshness of their burgers. However, this can understandably be a bit annoying for those who are accustomed to the rapid delivery of a McDonald’s or Wendy’s. So if you’re REALLY hungry and can’t wait around 10 minutes for your burgers, do not come here.
After the wait (they really should have wi-fi here!) came the food. One burger and one fries.And in my opinion, it was an extremely delicious burger. It’s strangely hard to describe, seeing as how the whole thing is so simple and plain-looking, but I guess if I have to put my finger to it, it’s really the freshness that you can taste, that sold it to me.The burger was super tender, with a rather strong meaty taste, but refreshingly devoid of crazy flavours. I just had mine with mayo, ketchup, and a wee bit of BBQ sauce. For a person who is as seasoning-crazy as I am, it’s very high praise to say that a plain burger was tasty. In fact, the only thing that was missing was a bit of gooeyness, which I rectified in a later visit by adding cheese. In my opinion, if you’re only going to go for either the cheese or the bacon (but not both), opt for the cheese. The meltiness and textural contrast that the cheese presents outweighs the additional saltiness of the bacon (which by itself was not bad, it just wasn’t anything special).
The fries were a curious bit. Obviously they were flaming HOT (temperature-wise, that is), having come out of the fryer, but the crispness is a bit lacking while the cajun spice only provided hits of flavouring without an overall saltiness that I often like in my fries. Sadly, McDonald’s fries were still better. These weren’t bad at all, and was a nice change, but again I can do without. This was a bit disappointing because I really really wanted to love the fries, but in the end I felt what I feel these days towards most Android games on my tablet: I like ’em just fine, but I won’t notice them if they’re not there. A near miss but still worth a try.
Overall, I would recommend Five Guys. Sure it’s not going to be a full-on gourmet burger experience, but it’s a VERY solid step up from your everyday burger chains. And two people (well, two smallish Asian people like myself and WW at least) can be reasonably stuffed for around $20. You’ll get good value for your money, and there’s something very American about the whole place that ends up being a bit charming. Plus, you can totally negate any health illusions you may have had from ordering the little burger by fooling yourself that you’re drinking healthy at the PresoTea next door.
Wait….bubble tea IS healthy right? I mean, it’s just tea. God.
–Final verdict: Mari Makan!
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
3987 Highway & East
Toronto, ON L3R 5M6