The Madness that is Shake Shack - Is it an Expensive Fast Food Burger? A Cheaper Gourmet Burger? (vs. Golden State) - Review and Pics


There has been much coverage and excitement over the opening of L.A.'s first Shake Shack, the popular New York burger joint that many seem to worship and love. I’ve never eaten at Shake Shack while in New York, so the buzz and excitement is lost on me.

Besides the massive opening day lines, even after a week and a half, the hype is still strong: We arrived around 11:30 a.m. on a weekday, and it was still a 45 minute wait! The line monitor said that it usually gets up to an hour wait during most times of the day.

Reading over their menu, they proudly list that their Beef and Chicken are 100% All Natural with No Hormones or Antibiotics. It’s not Organic, nor is it Grass-Fed, but it seems like they are a step up from the typical Fast Casual Burger joints.

I started with a Fifty / Fifty (Half Lemonade, Half Organic Ice Tea):

It was pretty straightforward, tasting like an average Arnold Palmer.

Smoke Shack Burger (Cheeseburger with All-Natural Niman Ranch Bacon, Chopped Cherry Pepper, Shack Sauce):

It comes on their proprietary Potato Bun. As seen from these photos their Burgers come out ashen-gray, cooked well-done (ugh). So even though they list that they use 100% All-Natural Angus Beef, you’re eating an overcooked 4 oz. chunk of meat.

However, it is surprisingly tasty. The meat is well-seasoned and I could actually taste some beefiness (to use that test talked about in that crazy burger thread on our old board). The Bacon was crisp, but it was very salty! The Potato Bun was kind of soggy and sort of just held the stuff together, but not that well.

But it was actually a solid “fast food” burger.

Roadside Double Burger (Double Swiss Burger with Dijon Mustard and Onions, Simmered in Bacon and Beer):

A Southern California exclusive, created as a tribute to our city, this Burger was soggier and much saltier than the Smoke Shack. :frowning: The Dijon and Onions (simmered in Bacon and Beer) did have a hoppy aftertaste, which was different, but it was still a well-done patty, and surprisingly salty.

I liked the Smoke Shack more. My friends agreed.

'Shroom Burger (Crisp Fried Portobello Mushroom filled with Melted Muenster and Cheddar Cheeses, Lettuce, Tomato, Shack Sauce):

The breading was only slightly crisp and crunchy, but it was delicious! :slight_smile: The melted combo of Muenster and Cheddar really added this pleasant gooeyness, but it was the umami explosion of the Portobello Mushroom that really made this Burger sing! My favorite Burger on the menu. :slight_smile:

Chick’n Shack (Crispy Chicken Breast with Lettuce, Pickles, Buttermilk Herb Mayo):

I think @hungryhungryhippos said it best: It really is like a better tasting Chik-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich. Except that while the Chicken Breast was tender and juicy, it was a salt bomb! :frowning: It was the saltiest thing we ate on the menu. The breading was also inconsistent, already falling off and breaking apart around the sandwich.

French Fries:

The Shake Shack Fries were crispy, hot, and absolutely better than In-N-Out Fries (even when you ask them to be well done).

Rainbow Connection Concrete (Vanilla Custard, Cofax Spiced Crumb Donut, Sqirl Seascape Strawberry & Rose Geranium Jam and Rainbow Sprinkles):

I’m not that much of a sugar fan, but the “Concretes” at Shake Shack were something else always talked about in the many articles I read about Shake Shack, so we decided to try one.

I was skeptical about this, but reading how they sourced Donuts from Cofax (of the awesome Golden State group and Pastry Chef Nicole Rucker (formerly of Gjusta and Gjelina)) and specialty Jam from Sqirl, I had to try it.

The Rainbow Connection Concrete was DELICIOUS! :slight_smile: That Sqirl Strawberry & Rose Geranium Jam and the Cofax Spiced Crumb Donut, mixed with Shake Shack’s Frozen Custard base is genius! Except after 3 bites I was done, LOL. :stuck_out_tongue:

It really is delicious but it becomes cloying after 3 - 4 bites. 1 Concrete was enough for 4 of us to share (none of us wanted any more, feeling it was enough).

So after finishing up, I started to wonder:

What is Shake Shack supposed to be?

Is it an Upscale Fast Food-style Burger? Is it a Cheaper Gourmet Burger? The price point is much higher than In-N-Out (I think a Double-Double is like $3.50 or so) vs. Shake Shack Burger (Double) is $8.09.

Or is it competing with places like The Habit, The Counter, etc., and trying to do a “Cheaper Gourmet Burger”?

I would say reflecting on both sides, I would rather eat the Shake Shack Burger over In-N-Out. It does taste better. I would rather eat Shake Shack over The Habit or The Counter (which I don’t like either of those places in general).

But the prices that Shake Shack is charging is pretty much the same price as one of my all-time favorite burgers at The Golden State.

So, to make sure, we all hopped in the car and drove 10 minutes away to The Golden State to taste test. :slight_smile:

The Golden State

Ever since I read all those threads on our old board about great Burgers, and finally tried it, I’ve fallen in love with The Golden State Burger.

The Burger (Wet-Aged Harris Ranch Beef, Fiscalini Farms Cheddar, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Arugula, Aioli, Ketchup, Rockenwagner Bun):

I order it medium-rare, and it’s MAGIC! It’s juicy, tender, beefy, luscious. The flavors are so good together! And a perfect medium-rare. The Rockenwagner Bun is great (and much better than Shake Shack’s).

It’s just my favorite. :heart:

And their Fries are crisp enough and good, but even better when dipped with their housemade Curry Ketchup! :slight_smile:

Now at first thought, I’m thinking this might not be a fair comparison. Shake Shack is cheaper than Golden State, right? Well surprisingly not really!

Smoke Shack Double (because Shake Shack uses 4 oz. patties (before cooking), and Golden State’s Burger is a half-pounder (8 oz). So:

  • Smoke Shack Double + Fries = $12.63 + Tax
  • The Golden State Burger (includes 1 Free Side) = $13 + Tax

It’s pretty much the same price!

So I asked myself (and my friends): Would you rather wait 45 minutes to 1 hour in line to eat at Shake Shack? Or eat The Golden State Burger which costs the same price?

The answer is easy: The Golden State. By a mile. Even without a wait at Shake Shack.

I would rather eat Belcampo’s Burger (even though I find it inconsistent), but it tastes better than Shake Shack as well.

And Golden State has an amazing curated Craft Beer selection (much better than Shake Shack). I’d rather eat Father’s Office Burger and its great Beer Selection than Shake Shack.

I think it’s probably a nostalgia thing for New Yorkers. But I think to myself: What if I was away in another country for years and In-N-Out, Tommy’s, The Hat or something similar indigenous to L.A. opened up where I was? Would I be super excited and want to wait in line for 45 minutes to try it again?

No. :stuck_out_tongue:

Maybe Langer’s if I was missing it for years. But Shake Shack ain’t no Langer’s that’s for sure.

Ultimately, if I didn’t have to wait 45 minutes to an hour, and there was nothing else around, I’d be glad to return to Shake Shack to have their Portobello Mushroom Burger and maybe their Shack Burger (no overly salty bacon this time). But I’d rather just go to The Golden State, Belcampo or Father’s Office instead.

Shake Shack (West Hollywood)
8520 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Tel: (323) 488-3010

The Golden State Cafe
426 N Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tel: (323) 782-8331


thanks for doing the heavy lifting; i gotta get me to golden state!


until i had a belcampo, golden state was my favourite burger in town. great beer selection, too.
that said, there was a line there on weekdays.


Great report @Chowseeker1999!

I think SS has a salting issue because I have had pretty much all of their items salty AF and also perfectly salted. My shroom burger at the Vegas location was a salt bomb while my chix sand was perfectly seasoned. Then, at a location near Time Warner in NYC (or in that area) my fried were absolutely over salted to the point it was inedible.

I need to try that concrete though. Did you notice a line just for shakes/desserts like other locations?


I really appreciate your extremely thorough write-ups on FTC ! You really put thoughtful effort into your reviews, @Chowseeker1999.

You confirmed what I was hoping, that the 'Shroom Burger and the Rainbow Connection concrete are worth trying. I’m always grateful when restaurants are considerate of vegetarians (or the vegetarian-inclined), rather than relying on tired, old veggie patties.

And while I’m not a fan of standing in lines, and this is a town that loves their queues, I’ll try showing up a few minutes before they open on some Saturday. Thanks again!


Never understood the frenzy some Angelenos have for Shake Shack.

For me, the raison d’être of Shake Shack is that they’re open relatively late (midnight), and is en route to my hotel in NYC, so that when I have a late flight into EWR, I can swing by and grab a burger and a concrete to, um, fight off jet lag.

As always, great report. And, yes, Golden State is eons better.


That concrete looks terrifying.


inquiring minds want to know your choice of hotel in the indomitable nyc.
if this is too intrusive, please ignore me.


Mandarin oriental


Thanks @Ns1. You definitely should try it once. And while you’re there, order the Lamb Burger as well. :slight_smile: So good.

@linus oh wow, didn’t know you ran into lines at GS.


Thanks @A5KOBE. Wow, that’s crazy to hear about their other locations and the salt issue. Yah, for ours, the Fries and Portobello were fine, but for yours it was the opposite salt bombs.

Sadly, no, there was no separate line just for shakes / desserts. That would be convenient.


Hi @MaladyNelson,

Thank you. :slight_smile: Yah, I’d go back for the 'Shroom Burger and Rainbow Connection (with friends LOL). But only if I didn’t have to wait 45 min or more. Give it a try one of these days and let me know what you think. :wink:


Great points, but comparing shake shack burger to golden state burger is apples to oranges, totally different type of burger despite similar prices. Shake shack will never be medium rare in the center like a gourmet pub burger. They use a smash burger technique until the patty develops a browned crust from mallaird reaction on both sides of the patty. That’s where all the flavor lies.

Having said that, totally agree the portobello burger is the best, followed by the shake stack which includes the portobello and beef-patty.


My nephew took me to S.S in Las Vegas 2014 . I’m sure in LA there is plenty of better burger joints . Not to get all worked up about . They did have dollar beers at the counter . I remember that .


I went opening weekend and they ran out of bacon on a Saturday afternoon. I remember watching Drew Stanton suck up the place against the Panthers.


i think the closest comparison to SS in LA is 5 Guys burger, not in n out.

Agreed that the burger at Golden State is AWESOME, definitely one of my favorite burgers in the city along with the burger from Oaks Gourmet. But to compare it to SS is just not fair albeit their similar prices. Just goes to show you how overpriced SS is.


I love me some Golden State Burger!!!


this was a couple years ago. maybe its calmer now. havent been in a while.


The burgers at Golden State and Father’s Office are objectively higher quality than Shake Shack. They just are. That said, if there were no line, I think I’d still rather eat at Shake Shack. And it has nothing to do with nostalgia.

I really like the classic style of burger for one thing. Nice crust on the patty with traditional lettuce, tomato, and spread. I’m not such a fan of the arugula and aioli at Golden State. And the onion compote and blue cheese overwhelm the taste of beef at Father’s Office. Neither is a bad burger per se, just not my style, personally.

I also like the options at Shake Shack. I generally prefer a smaller burger, so a single Shack Burger is perfect for me. I’m not such a fan of the fries at Shake Shack, so I usually get a Mushroom Shack as my side. I love that kind of flexibility.

My main complaint with Shake Shack (aside from the ridiculous lines) is the cook on the meat. I wish their burgers were a little pinker. Some will say it’s because of the size of the patty, but that’s a copout imo. The burgers at Super Duper Burger in SF are about the same size but juicier with a hint of pink. Almost perfect imo.

I urge people to wait for the other Shake Shack locations to open and the crowds to die down. It’s a great burger, but not one worth standing more than a few minutes in line for. Any longer and I suspect you’ll be wondering what the fuss is all about.


Not to sidetrack the conversation, but is Golden State’s burger (which I love) really 8 ounces? I would’ve said more like 6. One of the things I like about it is it’s a reasonable size at a very reasonable price.