As a foodie and fast-food lover, the second I landed on the West Coast, I was already dreaming of the iconic yellow arrow pointing towards the red letters of legendary burger chain In-N-Out, calculating the distance between where I was staying to its closest location. Coming from South Florida, I’m spoiled with colorful home-cooked meals, grilled meats from all over the world, and a daily diet of white rice, a protein, and beans — a stark contrast to the dreaminess of a double patty burger made to be eaten in the car.

In-N-Out Burger is a fast-food restaurant infamously known for their secret menu and West Coast exclusivity (although they do have various locations as far east as Texas). Californians, food critics, and chefs swear by the fresh burger patties, real potatoes, and creamy milkshakes that have transformed the fans of the chain into a cult-like following.

The chain has been around since 1948, where it was originally created as a drive-thru only restaurant by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, California. It quickly became a local sensation celebrated for their handmade patties, fresh ingredients, and dang good burgers all served up as quickly as possible. The combination of a high-protein meal served with efficiency is the most American concept I can think of; and it has served In-N-Out well over time!

In 1961, In-N-Out began to distinguish its food items and the first “Animal-Style” burgers were prepared as a response to customer requests, according to their history profile on their website. The origins of the term are speculative and the company website makes no comment other than its iconic definition: an Animal-Style burger — as it exists on the current “Not-So-Secret menu” — is any burger with lettuce, tomato, a mustard-cooked beef patty, extra pickles, extra spread, and grilled onions. Additionally, you can now order Animal-Style french fries, which are fries topped with grilled onions, mustard, and extra spread. These special menu items coined in the 1960s have proved to be timeless classics as they still remain relevant (and delicious) today! 

Finally, in 1964, the chain added the “Double-Double” on their menu officially, which is now their most popular order. As you may have already guessed, the Double-Double is a burger with two patties and two slices of cheese, and pairs perfectly with a strawberry milkshake. Interestingly enough, milkshakes were not added to the In-N-Out menu until 1975, made with real ice cream in strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate flavor options.

Due to the elusive nature of all the secret menu items that the chain offers, they’ve remodeled their online menu to include a section titled “Not-So-Secret menu” that thoroughly explains all the imaginative combinations that can be ordered at any of their locations, including Animal-Style items, a grilled cheese, and “Protein Style” just to name a few. The ability for such a large fast-food chain to offer unique items like these is demonstrative of their commitment to the customers requests; all of the iconic secret menu items started off as a wacky request from a customer. Many attribute this accommodating attitude, putting the customer first always, as the reason for In-N-Out’s major success since the 1960s.

As I drove in from the SFO airport, there was a shining yellow arrow in almost every mall. I was surprised to see just how many locations there were and jealous of how casually native Californians went to get a Double-Double on their lunch break. The line was long — I can say that it definitely was not “In-N-Out,” but took around half an hour to creep through the drive-thru. I happily ordered a Double-Double meal with Animal-Style fries and a strawberry milkshake, as well as the small paper hats that all the employees wear inside. Their system is perfectly designed for customers to eat comfortably in their cars: the meal came in a large paper box that fits perfectly on the lap of the driver, napkins, and cutlery.

Anna Arriaga

The burger itself was gorgeous. Fresh, crunchy lettuce with a ripe, juicy tomato and the gooiest of cheddar cheese slices sandwiched between the two burger patties, topped with a dollop of mayonnaise and all enveloped in a fluffy burger bun sprinkled with sesame seeds, stuffed in a paper sleeve with the In-N-Out logo, to make eating the greasy monster a little less messy.

Anna Arriaga

Still sitting in my paper tray was the box of potato french fries absolutely drenched in a mix of special sauce, which can only be described as a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup, and grilled onions. The strawberry milkshake was the ideal way to wash the rest of the dairy and meat down, tasting just like the powdered strawberry Nesquik of my childhood and the creamiest of ice creams. 

I’ll say this: it’s worth the hype. The burger patty is filling and satisfying, unlike most other fast-food chain restaurants, and the menu diversity makes going there more exciting (plus I got a really cool paper hat)! I’ve also discovered that the history of the establishment makes the products all the more enticing as they seem to be timeless classics, lasting more than 60 years and through various economic recessions. Now, there are over 300 locations spread much further than Baldwin Park, California with thousands of employees and much more hype than ever!