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In-N-Out Burger: worshipping at the mecca of meat

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I touched down in Las Vegas Saturday night, went to Avis to get a huge SUV for the weekend, and immediately headed to the meat mecca, a shrine that calls our name. In-N-Out Burger.

This wasn't the first burger chain to make it in Southern California, but it was the best. Still privately owned by a California family and loved by millions around the world, In-N-Out Burger simply makes the best burger the world has to offer. Or so I'd heard: Now I was going to eat one for the very first time.

We sprinted through the doors of the store on Dean Martin Boulevard and found ourselves in a mosh pit of death-metal proportions. The counter was mobbed by at least fifty people of varying ethnicities and age. We stood in line -- at least the line we could discern -- and waited to place our order with the holder of all that we hold sacred.

After a ten-minute wait just to get to the counter, our nerves were on edge. We had heard about the secret menu, read it online, discussed it on blogs and watched the YouTube videos - and we still hadn't come to grips with the fact that yes, we were going to place an actual In-N-Out order. I was the first to reach the register. "Bring me a 4x4 animal style with grilled onions," I stammered. The gal taking my order looked at me like I was a regular, but wasn't quite sure. So she asked me again, and I repeated it back to her. Little did I know that when I placed my virgin order, it was going to be a labor of love.

Our order number was 62, and they had just called 34.

A long line was still snaking from the right to the left, where a kid in glasses was expediting all the orders. He was knee-deep in burgers, fries and shakes; no way could he keep up. But that was before I saw him jump into superhero mode and start tossing orders like Roger Clemens to all the willing and waiting masses.

Ten minutes later, our number was called. It took two of us to grab the two trays filled with nirvana and carry them to our booth. My order was the monster truck of the bunch: the 4x4.

I'm not a small man; I can carry some food around in me. But when I took my first bite, I got a little scared. This wasn't a Scooby Snack, but an all-out mystery meal. And I was acting like a Thelma. The burger looked just like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, inching its way towards me with all four pieces of meaty goodness just oozing their way out of the bun, spilling with them four slices of fresh-cut cheese.

The first bite was better than any burger I've ever had, carrying the taste of fresh-cooked beef with a hint of grease from the flattop that it had been cooked on. The lettuce was extra crispy, and the grilled onions had just the right amount of sweetness. It took me about twenty minutes just to get through that burger, plus we had fries and a chocolate milkshake. My stomach was starting to rebel against all this fried and frozen goodness, but I persevered.

After we finally finished our meals, I went to the counter to buy a T-shirt and thank the staff for making my first meal in Vegas such a memorable one. And as we drove to our hotel on the Strip, we were already deciding that we had to return to In-N-Out on our way back to the airport.

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