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We've got you covered with the go-to spots to ease those post-night-out munchies.
It's a Monday night, the city is surprisingly quiet, and we head to Fehér Hajó Street, now the second Simon's Burger restaurant. It may have been a pizza parlour back in the day, not a huge spot, it's full, but there's no queue, although it's been said many times that there’s a lot of hustle and bustle. It seems to be bustling, with a few tables changing quickly, friends and strangers sitting together, we get a seat a few minutes after ordering.
What is Five Guys and why is it a reference point?
Simon's burst onto the social media scene with the quasi-virtual buddies, the opinion leaders important to young people, who immediately jumped on the bandwagon because "it's the Hungarian Five Guys". But what is Five Guys? A US-based burger joint that has been operating since 1986 and has now become an international chain (they first appeared outside the US in London just 10 years ago), a favourite spot for Barack Obama, Ed Sheeran, Shaquille O’Neal, and Katy Perry, to name a few. And many other celebrities, who swear by kale and açaí berries as their main nutrition source. Right...
The red and white checkered design, the fries-in-a-cup, no-frills Five Guys is incredibly popular, in fact there are three burger giants competing for customers overseas: this one (with $1.7 billion in 2020 sales), Shake Shack (with $280 million in 2020 sales), and West Coast favourite In-N-Out Burger (they don't disclose their revenue figures). Fans of the genre visiting the US will surely go to these places, even if they've already tried them elsewhere in the world. The closest Five Guys to us is in Vienna, with two stores in total. There was talk in the past of them coming to Budapest, but that seemed to be a hoax.
Is this the Hungarian version?
Simon Tóth, who has already appeared on the gastronomic reality show Konyhafőnök with a pig-ear burger, has dreamed big, opening Simon's Burger in Október 6 Street in the 5th district. The design is simple and straightforward, relying on the duo of green and white, and there are indeed many similarities with Five Guys, mostly in terms of stripped-down concept and quality. Simon is quite smoothly writing "best burger ever of my life" on the shop sign, all in English of course, which is the official language of the burger spot. It's really the way everything is communicated, but that's fine, as the target audience has no problem switching to English in a blink of an eye.
The other official standard is the "smash" technique, which is used to make burger patties. The patties housing the beef, which is never made of frozen meat, are placed on the griddle in small dumplings and then flattened with the finishing tool. They love it overseas, and now they love it here. It builds up a proper sear on the meat, frying it in its own fat while remaining succulent and medium rare, conveniently thick. Even if you order a double-meat burger.
A burger should be what it is
According to the Simon's Burger website, the inventor of the idea got fed up with disproportionate burgers, big patties, a thousand extras, and toppings that were way out of the burger genre. A burger should be what it is: two handy, delicious patties with vegetables, meat, and an adequate amount of sauce. Full stop. All of it is homemade, with rustic fries, and if you're bold enough and like salty to sweet and sweet to salty, then top it all off with a shake. Here we are, back to our order.
We were greeted by friendly and smiling service, and the menu on the blackboard on the counter is truly no-fuss: not a single truffle slice or crab tail from Kamchatka is featured. There are hamburgers, cheeseburgers, their smaller (but not small!) versions, and the Simon's Special. The basics include the secret Simon’s sauce, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, grilled onions, and grilled mushrooms. You can order two sizes of fries and choose strawberry, peanut butter, biscuit, oreo, or peach shake to go with it. Both small and large glasses of soda are refillable at the vending machine.
Burger in tinfoil, fries in cups
Just like at Five Guys, your order comes in a paper bag: you can take it away or eat it on the spot. The sandwiches sit in tinfoil at the bottom of the bag, with the fries in a cup next to them. Outside, in front of the shop, we learned that the potatoes came from Vecsés to Simon's kitchen, and on TikTok, as in many other videos, we've seen the preparation method, which is reassuring quality-wise.
Let's start with the smaller burger: it's easy to grab, very juicy, super proportions, it comes with a smash meat patty (the normal version features two!), and cheese on top, we've omitted the onion for now, but it's got tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, and Simon's 17-ingredient sauce all huddled together. It's sandwiched between a sweet but not dominant, light, and fresh patty that hooked us straight away. Obviously, we also went for the 'special', where the double meat with cranberry jam creates a salty-sweet-sour experience. This is a decent size sandwich, also with great proportions. They say it sells the most.
This is what real home-made fries look like
A well-salted, well-prepared home-cooked format, the kind that even meat-free eaters can happily tuck into with their starving friend. Sauce basics are on the counter, you can portion your own, and there's Tabasco on the tables for the wild ones. Because you won't be asking for a double jalapeño and naga jolokia sauce here. Oh, and no gluten-free, lactose-free fitness options either. But do we need those variations here at this burger spot? Not at all, that's not what it's about.
Shake, shake, shake
We tried the strawberry and peanut butter shakes, they weren't kidding on the billboard, it was promised to be perfect. Any flaws or shortcomings in Simon's shake? These milky, icy, sweet, dessert drinks really are the bomb!
And what do we think of Simon's as a whole? It's a new generation of fast food restaurants, quite professionally executed, which really reminds us of the American idol, with simplicity at its core. That's the key here too, they don't try to be subtle and upmarket, they go the gourmet route, they give you great value for money with juicy and quality burgers, super fries, and shakes. Whether it will become a franchise, and whether this time next year there will be videos of Simon's paper bags in Pécs, Debrecen, and Sopron, remains to be seen.