Burger hierarchy

A tale of two fast-food joints

Five Guys Burgers and Fries
4630 Natomas Boulevard
(916) 419-4109

Five Guys Burgers and Fries rating

The Habit Burger Grill
1431 Howe Avenue, Suite 300
(916) 927-2604

The Habit Burger Grill rating

A burger is a burger is a burger. Balderdash. Exempting the mutations—chicken, veggie and stuff like Spin Burger’s lamb and Reuben creations—there is a definite hierarchy of burgers, with Willie’s and Burgers ’n’ Brew trending toward the apex and Wendy’s at nadir. Those two aren’t cited as the pinnacle of beef bravura because, like Neil Young said when asked if he and Crazy Horse were the best garage band in the world: “Third. The Stones are No. 1, and there has to be someone out there better than us.”

This is the saga of two burger chains that have planted grills in Sacramento and Natomas. Five Guys Burgers and Fries, first opening in Arlington, Virginia, in 1986, chooses tilt-up at 4630 Natomas Boulevard. There’s another franchise in Elk Grove. The Habit takes tilt-up of its own—albeit with a warmer, earthier-toned interior—at 1431 Howe, just shy of Arden.

Beginning with the Guys and its bright white tile, accented with red-checkered tablecloth trim, the place wins the truth-in-advertising award. Yeah, there are some dogs and three grilled sandwiches, but it’s all about burgers. And fried potato spears. Given the paucity of alternatives to the aforementioned on the menu board, the cashier is puzzled by a request for coleslaw. A large order of fries—tilting the scales at 1,474 calories—feeds four. More like 18.

Burgers—$5 to $6.60—are two patties. “Little” burgers are one. The gaffe is 15 different toppings—all at no extra charge—although asking for “everything” yields merely mayo, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, ketchup and mustard. The remainder—relish, onions, jalapeños, green peppers, A.1., barbecue sauce and hot sauce—can be used in combination with the others. An eye-opening mix is relish, mayo, lettuce, jalapeños, grilled onions and barbecue sauce.

But for an outfit described by the venerable Washington Post as “Willy Wonkas of Burgercraft,” they make a pretty flimsy burger, whose bottom bun goes mushy fast. If only there was as much cheese selection—only American—as toppings. Everything is served in grease-spattered brown paper bags with the burger buried under a fries landslide. On one visit, “Casey Jones” blares from the loudspeakers, which presumably adolescents within earshot perceive as a cautionary tale of cocaine abuse.

Far more enjoyable is The Habit. It’s native born: In 1969, 16-year-old Brent “Horatio-Alger” Reichard takes his first job flipping patties at the Habit Burger Grill in Goleta. Four years later, he and brother Bruce own it. Was their dog named Lassie, too?

What distinguishes The Habit is far more options. There are six sandwiches, including tuna, that come on a French roll, sourdough or wheat bun. They have salads! The largest caloried and, therefore, most delicious, is the Santa Barbara Cobb, which given the ingredients could as easily be a Laytonville or Temecula Cobb. A bargain $6.95 meal, nonetheless.

The crouton-heavy garden is fridge-crispy but fresh. The honey/Dijon dressing heavier than it sounds. Staff must be instructed to be unflaggingly—almost impossibly—friendly. A visionary woman in line recommends the veggie burger. It’s larger than the Charburger, The Habit’s signature creation, and is everything she says, despite a bundle of those wispy dirt-tasting sprouts. At 485, it’s only 15 calories more than eating beef. The Habit is a better burger builder, too. A bed of shredded iceberg lies on the bottom weighed down by sweet pickle chips, preventing saturation of the lower the bun.

Interestingly, The Habit puts the calories of each item—as required by law—on the big board over the counter. The Guys put it on less conspicuous takeout cards on the counter. Either way, shocking discoveries ensue. A mandatory-with-burgers vanilla shake—not an option at the Guys—is somewhere north of 680 calories and south of 820. Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise. The Habit lands significantly higher on the hierarchy.