Shake Shack has landed in San Diego, and appears to be multiplying. The East Coast burger chain launched in the UTC mall last summer and opened its second Mission Valley location at the end of 2017, just before announcing future locations in Del Mar and Little Italy. And it all started with a New York City food stand.
675 Camino de la Reina, Mission Valley
When Shake Shack emerged in the 2000s, it was like New York finally had its answer to In-N-Out. The Shack offered everything In-N-Out had been denying the Big Apple by refusing to expand east of the Mississippi: its own iconic branding, winky "secret" menu items, and a legion of fans hyp
ing its burgers with cultish devotion.
Some New Yorkers have even suggested their burger chain is better than ours. We've politely disagreed.
There's been enough written on the topic since that it's practically become its own literature. Google search results show articles and videos debating which burger is better have proliferated the web going back to, at latest, 2008.
Just as New Yorkers have heard about West Coast burgers forever, word of Shake Shack has made it out here in recent years. Last time I visited New York, I took time out of my rigorous pastrami and Chinese food schedule to stop by a Shake Shack to see how it compared.
And no sooner had I taken a seat in the new Mission Valley location, than I heard the party at the next table compare the two burger joints.
But we might be comparing Shake Shack to the wrong California restaurant chain. Back in 2015, Union Square Hospitality Group, the company that founded Shake Shack, bought a minority stake in Tender Greens, a Los Angeles fast casual chain that has thrived in Southern California during the same time frame.
Even as Shake Shack has started to colonize Southern California, the people of New York are starting to get their first taste of Tender Green restaurants, beginning with a Union Square location opening last weekend. And I think they got the better end of that trade.
It was my opinion, and my roommate's, and the unanimous conclusion of a large group of teenagers seated around us at the Mission Valley Shake Shack, that In-N-Out burgers are better. No argument. We're hard-wired to crave the Double-Double's signature flavor; something the Shack can't match.
Meanwhile, my single patty Shake Burger with American cheese cost $5.69. The equivalent In-N-Out cheeseburger goes for $2.60, just down the road. While a Double-Double costs $3.75, the Shack's two patty answer goes for $8.49.
The big difference is you're getting a cleaner product. Shake Shack pledges that its beef is 100-percent natural, with "No hormones and no antibiotics ever." While In-N-Out made a promise a couple years ago it would transition away from antibiotic-treated beef, it has yet to follow through. Or adjust prices as a result.
Thing is, natural ingredients is a the selling point for Tender Greens too. That chain's brought chef-driven, locally sourced food to four locations in San Diego, and I see them all adding value to our fast casual market, at prices equivalent to a Shake double patty burger and fries (also, order a shake).
And now Tender Greens will do the same in New York, while we get a burger joint in return.
If you ask me, we're all set for iconic burger chains. If New York City was going to send us one of its famous eateries, I can think of a few Manhattan spots that fill a greater need in San Diego. For example, Union Square Hospitality also owns Gramercy Park, which has both a Michelin star and a James Beard medal. One of those would go over really well around here.