Visited with Steve Barnes and Tananarive Due last night. They're a fascinating pair. Before we left they gave us a copy of their latest, "Casanegra," which they wrote with Blair Underwood -- Underwood's been in about a billion things, but the best known is his role on L.A. Law. I haven't read the book yet, but it's noir set in L.A., and I'm a sucker for that.
Earlier in the day, around 2 PM, we ate at Jack in the Box. I swear this is coincidence and unrelated to my mean (but accurate) post the other day -- we were up in Sylmar (desert, mostly), had our 5 year old in the car, and he was hungry, and Jack in the Box was the only thing around. So we pulled in and I ordered a cheeseburger -- Amy ordered the tacos, which, for the record, are terrible, terrible, terrible tacos -- but are first-rate Chinese food, like a sort of weird egg roll with hot sauce. Connor had the chicken fingers, which are not good, but are safe and are not known to have ever killed anyone.
I ordered something called the Sirloin Bacon 'n' Cheese Burger -- cheddar cheese, no onions. It's by a lot the best Jack in the Box burger I've ever eaten: it was almost completely tasteless. It resembled a cheeseburger in interesting ways -- there was bacon, though it was barely noticeable. The cheddar was lousy and a little old, but you could sort of notice it was there. The bread wasn't terrible, the lettuce and tomato were actually fresh, and if I closed my eyes and wished hard I could pretend the mayo really was mayo and someone had thought hard about eggs while making it. The beef was cardboard, which, for Jack in the Box, is a huge improvement.
I got sick, a little later in the day. Terrible stomach ache. About $4.50 for the burger, I think.
Overall, a zero. The stomach ache might have been a coincidence, and I was hungry and almost finished the burger. This is the first non-negative-number burger review Jack in the Box has ever received from me. Progress.
On the way home from seeing Barnes and Tananrive, we rolled through In'N'Out. Those of you living off the West Coast of the United States -- I'm sorry. A 9. The cheeseburger was $1.65 -- it's the best burger on the planet for the money. At the Moran Institute of Cheeseburger Reviews, we rate on an absolute scale -- but money matters, end of day, and that $1.65 cheeseburger is better than anything on the planet that doesn't cost at least four times as much.
Every now and again when I get crabby with serious Christians -- this may be shallow, but it's sincere -- In'n'Out reminds me what good Christianity can look like. The owners are devout Christians who treat their employees better than almost any other similar business on the planet, without being unionized or forced to it in some way. They pay $9.50 an hour for counter help, as of the last "help wanted" sign I saw there. Employees are uniformly cheerful, helpful, and happy to be on the job. Somehow they merge this with incredibly fresh food -- real ice cream in the shakes, never-frozen burgers, fresh lettuce and tomato, french fries cut out of the potato right in front of you. There's no better model of doing well by doing good that I know of, in that market space.
The burgers are the best fast-food burgers you can buy. (Fatburger's flame-grilled burgers are in the ballpark, but are more expensive and are not better.) The default In'N'Out cheeseburger -- there's a hidden menu passed down in In'n'Out lore, google it up if you're interested -- the default burger is on a freshly baked bun, with a superb tangy Thousand-islandish secret sauce, the meat is free of any sort of additives and is from good cuts of beef, the lettuce is crispy and the tomatoes are top notch. This is as good as fast food gets -- every burger variation they sell is a 9 and anyone who wants to call it a 10, I won't argue. Certainly the best burger value on the planet.