A Contrarian’s View of Steak N’ Shake

Steak n ShakeI grew up in the Midwest, in a flyover state not worth visiting or mentioning. And I grew up eating Steak N’ Shake. I indeed have fond memories of the place – I recall post game celebration dinners with my Little League team, and daring friends to eat the little sport peppers from the condiment jar and the like. But then as my taste buds matured, I visited less often, finding the burgers to be overly dry and the fries to be lacking. Since I moved away and grown into what I’ll freely admit, a food snob, I haven’t looked back.

I can understand the excitement that this place drummed up when it first opened. There were those that shared the same nostalgia for the chain, those that were genuinely curious, and those that bought into the hype. Early reviews have been positive – Rachel enjoyed her meal here (it would have been better without the wait), and the hamburger mavens at Serious Eats seemed to love it. But my visit last week was vindication for my dislike of this chain.

Steak n Shake

I ordered the original double double with cheese ($3.99), which comes with a small order of fries. The burgers are cooked using the griddle and smash method, which will theoretically trade off a bit of juiciness for a nice crust of beef. Any self respecting diner will use this technique, and even Danny Meyer looked at Steak N’ Shake’s cooking method as inspiration for Shake Shack. But whereas Shake Shack’s burgers are a triumph, Steak N’ Shake’s burgers fell completely flat. On my visit, the burgers were grainy and horribly dry, with no distinctive crust or beefiness. In fact, the only thing I could actually taste during each bite, were the pickle and onion, which overpowered the limp little beef patties.

Steak n Shake

If the burger was mediocre the fries were terrible. As you can see in the photo, they managed to be simultaneously burnt as well as mushy and wilted. And as a commenter pointed out, they were a wreck of salt. I could understand such a fry failure if the turnover was slow – but on my visit there were was a steady line of customers, which should have resulted in fresh product.

Steak n Shake

The chili ($2.29 for a cup) didn’t win Steak N’ Shake any favor points with me – I found it to be too sweet, with odd notes of cinnamon and cardboard.

As much as it pains me to admit it, though, it’s more than a fair deal. Outside of a lunch from Wendy’s or McDonalds, it would be tough to find a burger, fries, and side for six dollars and change. And the burger, while no match for a Shack or even Schnippers and Five Guys, is easily better than something you’d get at McDonalds for about the same price.

When writing a review, especially a negative one, I make a point to try the food as many times as I can before laying down the hammer. However, these guys don’t get a free pass from me just because they’re new and working out opening kinks. They’re a publicly traded chain with 487 locations, which means they’ve had that many tries to get it right. And I’ll admit I walked into the restaurant with a chip on my shoulder – I have no love for fast food or for chain restaurants. It’d take a miracle to get me to like a chain restaurant that serves over-processed, fattening, race-to-the-bottom foods catering to the lowest common denominator. I know I’ll get plenty of flak from this post, however I simply think that New York deserves better than this.

Steak ‘N Shake Signature Is Good, But Not Worth the Wait (Yet)


  • You wanna talk about salty? I’ve never had a saltier worse tasting burger than at shake shack, and I’ve tried those at least 10 times. Every time, I think disparaging things about this hamburger bastion! And then disparage myself for continuously giving it second chances when I know it is pure SH*T and that I totally f’ing despise it! I must be allergic to Danny Meyer.

  • are there many people out there that hate SS as much as my buddy, Goats? I’ve never witnessed such hatred for anything by anyone in my life….

    • I had a double over the weekend. I enjoyed it even more since there was no line.

    • One track. Goats haz it.

      It’s worth acknowledging, as you do, that it’s still a good deal, but the apparent variability – my first SnS burger and fries wound up in better shape than yours, for instance – gives pause. At least at McDonald’s, you know what you’re going to get every time, even if it’s always terrible.

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    Sorry Goats, but I have to disagree. I am willing to break my “no red meat or pork” rule for Shake Shack, because it is so damn good. If Bourdain tells people it is probably the best meal you can get in Manhattan for under 15 bucks, you are probably wrong.

  • I think you went in with more than a chip on your shoulder.

  • I don’t get it either. How can everyone like it and I find it to be so foul….? It’s like I’m allergic to it. And I love burgers. I even like the beef blend they use. I buy it myself from fresh direct. But every time, I shake my head….and whip myself with chains. Well not really. I just punish my taste buds, and later my colon, for my straying….

    I had black shack last week, and that was hardly better. Maybe anything with the word “shack” in it should be avoided…

  • There are other haters of the Shack. I unite with them at our secret fight shack meetings.

  • i dont know Goats, i think that’s bizarre. It’s a great burger.

  • Ive never been a fan of the shake shack burger – i’m of the “too salty” camp as well…and I loves me some salt. While, I wont go to the extremes of Goats, I will say there are definitely people out there who don’t think its be be all and end all or justifying of anywhere near the levels of fanaticism that it does.

  • Meanwhile, in Africa… none of this matters.

    Yeah, I went there. And I added nothing to this discussion. I’m not ashamed.

  • SS is a fav burger. Those fries look craptastic abov indicating SS might even be a suitable potato side and their fries aren’t even preferred.

    I’m fine with haters. We all have different tastes. Like I happen to enjoy Indian curry dishes but not everyone does. :P

    Plus it is one or more less persons standing in the line and getting in MY way to order. I dislike lines and still refuse to wait if MSP gets mobbed. Torrential Rain, arctic chills, and snow shall clear the way.

  • they totally need work on their fries and im surprised they havent made that happen by now.

  • Their fries are shitty ore ida versions. And thanks Cheeese, I do need a newsletter. And a fresh piece of cotton. My ear is bleeding heh….

    Streetmeas–was the curry road really necessary. I would rather be shot in the head than fed anything curry. You know that it gives me the willies just to smell it! VILLEEEEE! DISGUSTING! NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION! I’d rather snack from my own toilet! Possibly even your own toilet…than be forcfed anything “curry”…ugh….I just spit out some regurgitation on the floor…

  • They need to take the salt dispensers to Ottomanelli’s in Woodside. Those burgers need salt desperately.

  • I think the different locations have variations of QC on the SS burger. I gave up on the Midtown West 8th Ave location after a few dried out patties. OTOH I went last month to the Madison Park SS on a whim & it was excellent, I would return there weekly if I had no respect for myself.

  • @Huck: HA! I feel the same way.

  • Chris H., I’m totally with you. I couldn’t understand why everyone was so excited. Too many high school nights were spent waiting (and waiting) for a lackluster burger and fries, or waiting another eternity for a simple shake order in the drive-thru. There are SO many better places in New York, and I’m including Wendy’s in that.

    • @LITC, your Wendy’s comment is cracking me up, the picture of the SnS burger here makes it look exactly like a Wendy’s double burger.

    • Wow those are some sad looking burgers and fries. I’m convinced most people in NYC don’t know what good burgers is or what good friend is in general. It explains the long lines for Shake Shack.

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    Got fries & a shake the other night and was totally disappointed. Fries too salty & greasy. Shake had no taste (was supposedly chocolate). Maybe I’ll try the burger sometime, but I think Wendy’s would be just as good from what I’m reading. Too bad the one near Grand Central is gone.

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    I don’t get the excitement over McMerican food. In my flyover past, I always thought the appeal of S&S was that it was better than Denny’s or IHoP or other chain diners. Not a high bar to clear, especially here. I do like that it’ll herd the tourists into an easily avoidable location. And away from my favorite spots.

    Now, if a place opened with Chicago-style hotdogs and pizza, or great Memphis and western KY vinegar BBQ, then I’d shiv a yokel to get inside.

  • I tried Steak N’ Shake last week. The contrarians view is right on. Steak N’ Shake is more tourist trap garbage. There is more wrong with this place than I can remember.

    Lets start with the food. I tried the Signature burger. The meat was dried out and salty. It made for a terrible burger that made some of the fast food burgers look good.

    The fries are so thin that they are crispy to the point of being overcooked. They were overloaded with salt.

    They ran out of bottled water. The only other reasonable option for a work lunch was their one size soda (large) or their $5 milk shakes.

    The soda came in a styrofoam cup. The only other place I know still using styrofoam is Chick-fil-a. This is not the end of the world, but it is unusual.

    It is a very small space with almost no seating area which means the only place to eat is at a tiny counter. It was extremely crowded because after your order, there is pretty much nowhere to go. Don’t plan on dining in.

    If the restaurant was small, but the food was great, then the crowd and size of the space wouldn’t matter. But the food is TERRIBLE, there is nowhere to eat, and it can get crowded with tourists.

    I recommend that Midtown Lunchers stay very far away from this place. Go to Tacos y Quesadillas across the street. There is nowhere to eat there, but the food is great. And if you’re craving a burger, go to the generic deli on the NE corner of 52nd and Broadway. They make large diner style burgers with good fries. The deli has nowhere to eat, but the food is good and it’s not overrun with tourists.

  • I agree with everything Harry says.

    The fries are just awful. Too thin, overcooked. Terrible.

    I tried the Signature burger last week. I enjoyed it, however it was way too salty.

    I tried the Guacamole burger today and it was just terrible.

    The vanilla shake is excellent though!

    So I guess stick with the Signature burger, and only eat it if you like salty food.

    The place is too small. There are something like 15 seats. The line is ridiculous. Who is going to wait 30 minutes and up for bad food? I waited 40 minutes the first time. Luckily, today I waited only 5 minutes, but after me, the line quickly developed into out the door and snaked around the line system they set up outside.

    I am perplexed.

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