When I heard that Five Guys was coming to Canada, I was understandably excited; there’s been a lot of hype around this burger chain, and I was excited to see if it could live up. Well, it’s been a couple of years (they started their Canadian expansion in Alberta), but Five Guys is finally here.
The Mississauga location is pretty big, and the decor is no-nonsense: the red and white checkered theme runs throughout the restaurant, which is filled with simple wooden tables, and big bags of potatoes and peanuts (you can help yourself to to peanuts while you wait for your burger). There are no pretensions that this is anything but a fast food burger joint (unlike, say, McDonald’s, with its weird new coffee house aesthetic).
You line up at the cash register near the entrance, you tell them what you want on your burger (it’s the standard assortment of toppings, with grilled mushrooms and onions adding some variety), they give you a number, and you wait for your order to be ready.
The order comes in a big paper bag, regardless of whether you’re eating in the restaurant or taking the food home. I’m assuming the reason for this is the way they serve their fries: they overfill the container of fries, allowing the excess to fall into the bag. It’s a huge portion, and the large order of fries can easily feed a group of four. The fries are pretty great, too — they offer regular fries and “Cajun style” fries, which are doused in a very strong Cajun seasoning. The Cajun fries are an interesting novelty, but the seasoning is overpowering, and they grow tiresome pretty fast. Stick with the regular fries.
But what about the burger? Ah yes, the burger. It’s cooked in the classic American style of smashing a ball of ground beef down onto a hot griddle, which gives each burger an irregular shape and gives the meat a tasty brown crust.
The patties are cooked to well done, but they remain pleasingly juicy with a satisfyingly beefy taste. It’s not the richest, beefiest hamburger you will ever eat, but for a fast food place it’s pretty damn good. On this particular visit the burger wasn’t quite as juicy or beefy as previous visits (I’m told that they are in the process of switching over from American to Canadian beef and are still working out the kinks), but it was still well above average.
The burgers come tightly wrapped in a thick foil wrapper, which is kind of ingenious because it allows the supple bun to get slightly steamed, suffusing it with hamburgery goodness. And indeed, the buns compliment the hamburgers pretty much perfectly: they are soft, pliant and slightly sweet, and allow for a perfect beef-to-bun ratio.
It’s kind of sad that a big American fast food chain has managed to waltz in and outshine something like 90 percent of the local burger joints, but that is exactly what has happened. And I have to say, I am heartened by the crowds at this place. The Mississauga location of Five Guys has been open since January, and of course it was very busy when it first opened; people were curious. But here we are a few months later, and the place is still pretty crowded every time I go. Torontonians are voting with their wallets — we’ve had enough dry, flavourless burgers, enough meatloaf sandwiches, and enough frozen patties. Hamburgers are a quintessentially American food, so I guess it’s only appropriate that an American chain is coming in to show us how it’s done.
I’m seeing some complaints that Five Guys is overpriced; it’s pricey, sure. But you get what you pay for. You want a cheap burger? Go to McDonald’s and order off the value menu. Let me know how that works out for you. And to be fair, if you want a roughly equivalent burger at McDonald’s (which would probably be one of the Angus Third Pounders), a combo will run you something like eight bucks. That’s only a couple of dollars cheaper than a burger, fries and a drink at Five Guys. I will happily pay the extra few dollars for a vastly superior burger.