Since 1986, Five Guys Burgers and Fries has focused on keeping things simple, serving burgers wrapped in foil and bagged to-go in greasy brown paper sacks, even if you're eating in; Idaho potato fries, hand-cut and fried in peanut oil; cold Cokes; some hot dogs. It's a classic American operation, its roots stretching back half a century to the original roadside burger stands of the hamburger's Golden Age. There's just one twist: Five Guys offers all of its toppings for free. And there are fifteen of them, ranging from simple ketchup and mayo to hot sauce, relish and fried onions.
The company has a cultish following....Five Guys has been handed awards both minor ("Best Burger in Raleigh") and major (love from the Zagat Guide, eight years running), and quotes these raves on red-and-white signs all over the restaurant. But Tim and Nina, or their Zagat minions, must've been either very hungry or very high or both when they rolled up to Five Guys, because if the South Parker Road location is indicative -- and it should be, as the chain prides itself publicly on its consistency and uniformity, coast-to-coast -- then I weep for the future of this country's burger pushers.
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I did not like Five Guys. Not even a little. Good thing, then, that this week's review is a two-fer: taking down the Five Guys operation while, at the same time, welcoming The Counter, a burger chain with West Coast sensibilities that stands out, even in this already viciously overcrowded market.
Also this week: In Bite Me, I find a surprisingly good burger at Ruby Tuesday, of all places; count up the number of seats that the Counter and six other restaurants at the Vistas at Park Meadows have added to the dining scene, and report on a disappearance from that scene. And I make a return visit to CityGrille, which claims it has the best burgers. It doesn't, but it may have the best french fries with chile. -- Jason Sheehan