For a while, this Lorton, Va.-based chain was expanding so fast, it was opening five stores a week. Since launching in 1986, Five Guys has grown to more than 1,000 locations, largely on the strength of word of mouth. The company doesn't freeze any of its food, doesn't operate drive-thrus and is free of ostentation (all of its stores have the same red-and-white checkered interior). The food is bought at a counter, cooked in an open kitchen and picked up by the diner. The menu is simple: burgers, hot dogs, a few sandwiches and hand-cut fries. But with an option for unlimited toppings, which include jalapeno peppers, grilled mushrooms and hot sauce, customers can order burgers 250,000 ways. A standard hamburger costs $5.49 in Los Angeles; overall sales for the chain spiked 32.8% last year to $951 million, according to Technomic. The chain says its menu is free of trans fats. In 2010, however, the Xtreme Eating list from the Center for Science in the Public Interest said Five Guys' bacon cheeseburger, with at 920 calories, is equivalent to about two McDonald's Quarter-Pounders.
Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times
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