Shake Shack is really, needlessly controversial, and its new Cow Hollow location — the first in San Francisco — is stirring up equally unnecessary debate. The two types I’ve people I’ve encountered fall into these categories: You love it, and are willing to stand for 45 minutes in long, winding lines for a chance to try its iconic milkshakes, or you hate it, and are prepared to argue against Shake Shack’s existence until the end, with a bevy of other, self-described “superior” burgers in your arsenal.
Reality is much less exciting. Shake Shack is OK — a bit overpriced, but there are some truly tasty options. Take the ShackMeister Burger, for example, a limited edition item that’ll be available through March 16, with varying prices across the nation. It’s a cheeseburger stuffed with crispy shallots. It sounds really simple in concept, but it’s really satisfyingly savory and crunchy.
But when it comes to the California-specific menu, The Golden State Double ($10.99) disappoints. It has grass-fed beef patties with cheddar cheese, pickles and smoked garlic aioli — a promising combination if the aioli wasn’t so haphazardly smeared onto one half of the burger. Uneven spread aside, it’s a bit hard justifying the burger for $10.99, when like a lot of Shake Shack burgers, it’s really small.
But Shake Shack isn’t just burgers. They’ve gotten a lot of hype for their frozen custards ($4.99) too, of which they have three special flavors using items from other Bay Area businesses. The California Cold Rush features kouign amann from B. Patisserie, cacao nibs from Dandelion Chocolate, and salted caramel. The Pie Oh My uses seasonal Pie Dreams pie and donates five percent of its sales to La Cocina. The Great Escape is swirled through with sweet, tart strawberry puree and chunks of Dough XX salted sugar cookie dough. Each starts with the same thick vanilla custard foundation.
To me, Shake Shack is by no means worth waiting in line for. (“We waited here for 45 minutes, and we ate in ten minutes,” I overheard a kid saying to his father.)
At the very least, the Cow Hollow location does make it a very pleasant place to wait. There’s an open patio filled with seating and black, white and green tiling indoors. Another location is slated to open at the Westfield Centre mall this year.
I’m waiting for the day when the lines die down and Shake Shack reverts to what it should be — a casual place to grab a burger and beer — instead of the mythicized beast that we’ve hyped it up into.
Shake Shack, 3060 Fillmore St. 415-405-4618
Grace Li is a staff writer for SF Weekly, where she covers arts, culture, and food. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.