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Fast Food Faceoff: In-N-Out vs. Whataburger

Let’s settle this once and for all.

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As stomachs begin to grumble on road trips, Texans are drawn—almost trance-like—to the orange-and-white beacon of Whataburger. The chain has built its reputation on being fast, friendly, family-owned, and consistently tasty. But we’ve got news, Whataburger fans: There’s a new burger joint popping up across Texas that not only checks those same boxes, but has an equally devoted fanbase.

In California, In-N-Out has gained a cult-like following not unlike Whataburger’s in Texas. The transplant currently has 35 locations in Texas, mostly concentrated in Dallas-Fort Worth. But the chain is expanding slowly across Austin and San Antonio metro areas, and in July bought land in Houston—a tacit confirmation of longtime rumors that it would expand to the largest city in Texas.

A Texas Relocation Report released earlier this year confirms what many Texans, at least anecdotally, already know to be true: Californians are moving to Texans in droves. It makes sense, then, that In-N-Out would capitalize on these newly minted Texans’ taste for animal-style fries. But will the continued influx of Golden Staters bring with them a shift in Texas’s fast food sensibilities? Could the hype of In-N-Out eclipse the tried-and-true taste of a quintessentially Texan drive-thru experience?

We asked our own recent California transplant, Charley Locke, to make the case for her home state’s fabled burger stop. The Texanist himself, David Courtney, has stepped up to the plate to defend Whataburger’s honor. Let’s settle, once and for all, which one of these state favorites comes out on top. After you read through their defenses, be sure to cast your own vote.

Burger

In-N-Out: The key to a great fast food burger, of course, is the meat, and In-N-Out’s is the best because it’s the freshest. There’s no freezer. No microwave. No heat lamp. Look into the open kitchen—that’s right, at In-N-Out, there’s nothing to hide—as friendly cooks take your fresh burger, done just as you like it, and top it with similarly fresh ingredients. Delicately melted cheese hugs your patty, and hand-leafed iceberg lettuce and generous slices of tomato and onion rest atop it. The glorious stack is then encased in a bun that’s toasted just as buns should be: only on the inner side, making it crunchy on the inside, soft on the outside. The result? A bite that tastes like juicy burger meat, accented with the taste of ever-true American cheese and tangy-sweet special sauce (no overpowering taste of mustard here, Whataburger), with the textural variety of crunchy lettuce and ripe tomato. It’s a bite that tastes like celebrating with your teammates after a tee-ball championship, like that late-night sense of freedom when you first got your driver’s license, like college road trip pilgrimages. The taste of an In-N-Out burger is classic. The yellow arrow points you toward home.

Whataburger: A Whataburger cheeseburger as it comes right off the menu—sans the “just-like-you-like-it” embellishments for which the restaurant has become known—provides its eater with the platonic ideal of a fast food burger. The warm, soft, and ever-so-toasty white bread bun has a slightly buttery kiss of golden toasting inside (the actual secret ingredient to this flavor is known as “bun oil”). A subtly seasoned beef patty—griddled to a fast food perfect medium-well-to-well doneness, then topped with a thin slice of silky American cheese—exudes a zap of umami, balanced by de rigueur veggies of lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion and a relatively minimalistic condiment (read: yellow mustard). Put all together and wrapped in that familiar orangey-yellowy paper, and its individual elements join forces for a wholly satisfying cheeseburger experience. Plus, with a bun that’s five-inches in diameter, it’s bigger than your typical burger. And as everybody knows, a bigger burger is a better burger. The meaty core of the Whataburger is a thin(ish), but large(ish) slab of 100 percent ground beef, formed into a tender and tasty patty that is sturdy enough to not fall to pieces as the burger is consumed.

Fries

In-N-Out: In-N-Out offers a platonic fry: thin, crispy, and salty. My coworkers’ compared them to cardboard, which they have somehow confused with fresh from the ground potatoes. You know, the humble, oval-shaped vegetable? They’re shipped to your local In-N-Out from a farm, cut, and—moments before they are served to you—fried in 100 percent vegetable oil. They’re fresh, they’re tasty, and they’re just the right consistency and saltiness to dip into your creamy milkshake (made with real ice cream). Fries aren’t crispy enough for you? Go ahead and ask for them extra-crispy, and the good people of In-N-Out will gladly oblige. That’s the thing about a fast food chain where they actually make the food fresh, and to order: you can actually get your meal exactly how you want it.

Whataburger: Whataburger french fries are without peer. The thin-cut (not shoestring thin, mind you) potatoes are deep-fried to a point of perfection that results in a snappy exterior and sublimely spuddy interior. They come pre-salted and are so good that they made a star of an everyday condiment. Whataburger’s Fancy Ketchup is so famous that it has its own T-shirts. A ketchup with its own T-shirt! Such a thing would certainly not have been possible without an impeccable fry.

Ambiance

In-N-Out: In-N-Out is delicious, but I’m not just loyal to the food. When you walk past that welcoming yellow arrow, you know you’re among your people. Step inside for the endearingly old-timey menu and uniforms, including a free paper hat. (I’m not the only lifelong In-N-Out fan with happy childhood memories of wearing those hats for hours on a family road trip—which wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the drive-thru.) And clinch your membership in the In-N-Out club by ordering off the famously secret menu. Animal-style, which adds pickles, special sauce, grilled onions, and mustard to your order, is just the most well-known of the variations. Speaking of menus, do you notice anything else? In-N-Out not only has superior quality, but it also has unquestionably better pricing (and compensates its employees well, with a minimum of $11 per hour and insurance for full and part-time workers). A burger, french fries, and a shake? At In-N-Out, that’s a reasonable $5.85. At Whataburger, it’ll cost you a steep $8.22. Save those extra dollars for a second black-and-white shake. You’ll want it.

Whataburger: The in-shop dining experience at Whataburger is a thing of service industry beauty. Friendly and efficient employees (friendliness is a Texas trait) in not-overly-uniform uniforms are there to serve. And serve they do. Order at the counter from a straightforward menu, take your iconic table tent number (Like the Fancy Ketchup T-shirts, a commemorative keepsake version of the Whataburger table tents are available to purchase) to a seat and wait for your order to be delivered right to you with an offering of napkins and condiments—including that famous Whataburger Fancy Ketchup. Service with a smile.

Conclusion

In-N-Out: Is it the fanciest burger and fries you’ll ever have? No, of course not. If you’re looking for a truffle-bison burger with parmesan-encrusted sweet-potato fries—or even “Fancy Ketchup”—get outta my drive-thru. When I want a burger and fries, I want a burger and fries, not a honey butter chicken biscuit or taquitos or apple pie. (And I definitely don’t want a “garden salad.”) “Just like you like it”? I like it simple, fresh, and good, not with unnecessary trimmings distracting me from the main event. I like “quality you can taste.” In-N-Out—founded two years before Whataburger, mind you—is where you go when you want a delicious classic. It’s simply the best burger-and-fries in town.

Still not quite convinced? Fine, don’t take my word for it—ask Texas’s Queen B.

Whataburger: Founded by Harmon Dobson in Corpus Christi in 1950, Whataburger, on the quality of its made-to-order burgers, and eventual ever-presence (there are now over eight hundred Whataburgers scattered across the country, with some six hundred of those located in Texas) has become a Texas institution. If you grew up in Texas, it’s likely that you grew up on Whataburger.

But how good is a Whataburger? Really good. Really. In fact, summer before last, Texas Monthly administered a carefully controlled blind taste test in which Whataburger faced off against four worthy competitors, including recent California transplant In-N-Out Burger. Spoiler alert: Whataburger won. And it wasn’t even close. From the eleven impartial judges, Whataburger earned 46 out of a possible 55 points and five first-place votes. In-N-Out came in next to last with nineteen out fifty-five points and five last place votes. There’s burgers and then there’s burgers. In the immortal words of Mel Tillis, “it’s not just a hamburger. It’s a . . .Whataburger.” Plus, from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. there are taquitos.

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  • Allan Folsom

    Waterburger, hands down.

    • Jed

      somewhere, mel tillis is smiling at that spelling.

      • Allan Folsom

        Yeah, well Jed it is also Warshington D.C isnt it?

  • RLynne

    Born and raised in Houston. Have lived in southern CA for many, many years now–and love it. Will probably never leave.

    There is no comparison between In-N-Out and Whataburger. Whataburger blows In-N-Out away.

    WHATABURGER IS WHAT A BUGER SHOULD BE.

    • jdondet

      Well there I have to disagree with you. I have had burgers from both places and I love In-N-Out! But we all have our own favorites and that is what makes it all good.

    • PaulOlly

      If you were raised on Whataburgers then too much mustard is what a hamburger should be. For anyone else it’s not.

    • Jim

      Keep on dreaming. In n Out or nothing.

  • ardvaark1965

    In and out burgers are just like Californians screwed up in the head! We got an in and out in Killeen, so I tried it! It was crap, probably good for girlymen but not for a real man! Never again! Whataburger is a mans burger!

  • sherwood

    Food poisoned by Whataburger. Never again. In-N-Out’s fresh food is the best

  • Sam Jacinto

    The Texanist has committed a grievous error. The Whataburger with cheese is not “topped” by a slice of cheese. The cheese on a Whataburger is where it belongs – alone between the meat and the bottom bun. Any other placement is just plain wrong.

    BTW, I’m still peeved that the In-N-Out bullies trademarked double-double and triple-triple and threatened suit.. We all know that WB was using those terms on its menu decades ago (at least 45 years ago by my own recollection)..

    • Dan on the River

      The term “double-double” is trademarked!!??? I have been eating double-doubles since I started working out of college in 1978! Sneaky California attorneys!

      • Sam Jacinto

        Yep. They trademarked several years back. When they moved into Texas, they threatened to sue. I had DDs and TTs as early as 1972

  • Go_Down_Moses

    Typically love Texas Monthly but so many factual errors. And … “platonic?” Twice in the same article? About burgers?

  • Ruckus_Tom

    I worked overseas for a couple of years in the late 90s. First place I went to when I got home was Whataburger on the way home from the airport. A number 2, no cheese, extra pickles and onions, whatasized with a root beer is manna from Heaven.

  • Moe1138

    Living in the SF Bay Area, we have an In-N-Out less than two miles from us. I would consider this an “ok” burger joint. This is not my local favorite. My favorite servers a malt in the tall parfait glass and gives you the metal container it was made in, which adds another glass-and-a-half. Add to that their spicy garlic fries…
    I’m hungry.

    • Dan on the River

      Garlic fries & a malt? I’m hungry too.
      Napa Valley is the only place I have had garlic fries. It’s a great combo and I do not understand why it’s not offered more widely.

    • Jim

      Mel’s is horrible.

  • Jose Alverez

    In & out is total crap. Cardboard fries made from the potatoes no one else will buy, burgers in the “I’ll eat it, I’m starving range”.
    Purely marginal all around. Must have been imported by people who ran away from the mess California has become.

  • gary schroeder

    lived in Texas
    ate both In-N-Out and Whataburger
    Whataburger tasted better
    Better beef Better Taste

  • victoryman

    Love them both.

  • SgtGLH

    What a difficult choice……..both are awesome and the only fast food for me. What a burger has onion rings.

  • TexasOwl

    When I want a good drive-thru burger, I head to Whataburger every time. But when I want something a little fancier, Liberty Burger is the best.

  • Jae Bee

    Ive lived in So Calif most of my life until recently moving to Houston area. Comparing In & Out to Whataburger is just plain stupid…there is NO comparison and cannot be. Texans are always gonna love Whataburger even if they honestly don’t for the shear fact In & Out is California and from what Im discovering Texans have this dislike for Californians and anything California….I personally don’t like Whataburger for several reasons….and I don’t like the fries….I actually dont care much for In & Outs fries either…but the burgers? Heaven on a plate

  • Dan on the River

    None still as good as a Myti-Burger from Oak Forest in Houston!!

  • Chris Yust

    So, I get kidded by my friends and customers all the time. They call me The Hamburger Queen. Yes, I am a connoisseur of burgers. My Mom was the original Queen and I am following closely in her footsteps. Back in 1958, when I was in 1st grade, I would “fake” an upset stomach so I wouldn’t have to eat the awful school cafeteria food. Mom would be called and she knew just the elixir. A Whataburger! Walk up window, no frills, a few blocks from school. Mom never let on that she knew I was faking it. She understood.
    Fast forward after 20 years of fulltime RVing. Many burgers across the U.S., Canada and Europe have crossed my palate including many In N Out Burgers. Yes, I like In N Out Burgers. Would I drive out of my way for one? No.
    The minute I cross in to a state that I know has Whataburgers, what do you think my first stop is?
    I LOVE Whataburgers. Plain and Simple. The best.

  • Kozmo

    Geezus. They’re both crap. What’s the point of this infomercial “article”? The last time I tried a fast food burger, including the sainted Whataburger, I couldn’t even finish it. But people are so used to eating garbage, garbage is what they get.

  • Trey Brown

    In-N-Out has the absolute worst french fries in the history of fast food. Cardboard? That’s a compliment.

  • paganW

    There’s a reason it’s cheaper at In-N-Out, their cheeseburger is 1/8th of a pound (2 oz). That’s about the size most places put in their kids meals. It’s also why there’s such big slices of tomato, onion, and lettuce. So you don’t notice that they gave you a patty more appropriate for a 7 year old. And don’t even get me started on those nasty, mealy fries.

    • RLynne

      In-N-Out fries are truly foul. They’re the reason I don’t eat there. I don’t mind In-N-Out burgers (although they’re certainly no match for Whataburger), but I cannot eat their fries.

  • Rufus Firefly

    One contestant wins a faceoff.

  • perks

    In -N-Out – Much prefer them, have had a few nasty dried out burgers from whataburger. I threw them out the window. Hope the varmints didnt get sick from them. Hoping for an In -N -out in Gainesville TX soon.

  • c money

    I live in Denver and have no “state affiliation” to either company. Everyone in TX is going to say Whataburger is better & everyone in CA is going to say In-n-Out is better.
    Anyone who doesn’t have an allegiance that has eaten both knows there is zero comparison. In-n-Out blows away Whataburger. It’s actually a joke to even put them up against each other.

  • PaulOlly

    Sorry, Whataburger, WAY too much mustard, can’t taste anything else. If you were born and raised on Whataburger that is, of course, the way it should be, but for anyone else it’s just too much.

    • Jed

      Ah … have you considered asking for less or none?

  • Richard

    Once he mentioned fries dipped in a milkshake all credibility went out the window. I read no more.

  • Bruce Bjorkman

    Dont Californicate Texas, like ya did Oregon. Yankee Go Home!

    • Jae Bee

      gees Bruce….hate much?

  • Farrell Katz

    The best burger in Texas is no more! That title when to a double meat/double cheese burger from Roy’s Grocery on Mound St. in Nacogdoches circa 1974! As a student at S.F.A., we lived two door down from Roy’s and would walk over to the store for a quick lunch for little money. They would wrap the fresh off the grill burger in paper and put it in a brown paper bag. By the time we got back to the house we could tell how great the burger was going to be by the size of the grease stain on the bag, Now that was the best burger bar none.

  • WhyMeLord

    We travel (a LOT) — grand kids get to vote. (They will eant anything that won’t est them first an s few things that will) We eat at In & Out on occasion but only for a change (or if there are no What-a-burger shops near by)

    Visitors (out of state or out of country) it’s What-a-Burger hands down.

  • Renewnews

    have had both… neither in California. In-N-Out just west of Phoenix… WhataBurger in Texas…. would go miles out of my way for an In-N-Out….
    maybe the differences in quality have a lot to do with managers and workers in each area… which is true for a lot of franchises.

  • Fatma Pho

    Although I grew up with Whataburger, I am not a rabid fan. It’s a fast food burger, not Michelin dining! I have been sissified to enjoy mayo & ketchup or even thousand island rather than mustard. The best Whataburger I ever had was when the franchise in Addison was brand new. The corporate trainers were still on site and they made one hellava good burger. Perfectly seasoned and not too much mustard. For those unfamiliar with Dallas, Addison is an upscale foodie area. High rent. Highly competitive. That franchise is still there.

    One of the first In-N-Out’s built in Dallas is just outside of Addison at 635 & Midway. We tried their burgers when they were brand new and they sucked. The burger was overpowered by onion & tomato. The slices were twice as thick as the meat! It was several years ago and I can’t say I remember anything about their fries or their shakes. I never saw a reason to return.

    Personally, I really like Whataburger’s fries – better than McDonald’s when they’re fresh. One thing Whataburger fails at is their shakes. I haven’t had one in more than 20 years, it was so bad. If it has changed, please tell me, but the last one I had was made with mellorine – an ice cream substitute made from cotton seed oil. Yes, it is just as disgusting as it sounds. Thank goodness for Sonic and Steak & Shake! (Use real ice cream and offer malts as well as specialty flavors, topping and add-ins.)

    Some of the great things about Whataburger not previously stated:
    Spicy ketchup
    You can get cheddar instead of American at no extra cost
    Some pretty good specialty burgers
    Extras like grilled onions & peppers, and avocado
    Open 24 hours

    There is not an In-N-Out Burger near me, so I can’t comment on its relative popularity, but I can say that my local Whataburger will have a stack of 10 cars just about anytime after 11pm.

  • SpiritofPearl

    Dan’s.

  • Jae Bee

    Basically everyone who has voted and made comments on here see this as a “Texas versus California” thing….how sad. Ive had both Whataburger and In and Out on several occasions….for me personally I prefer In and Out and I live here in Houston. To say In and Out is a “sissy burger” is just plain stupid and ignorant. If you want to go by which burger place has been around longest…well that’s In and Out Baldwin Park 1948 so they have Whataburger beat there. Trademark rights would go to them. I like them both..they have different tasting burgers…both are good and are equally delicious…but I do PREFER In and Out side by side