Review: Have California Burgers perfected the Australian In-N-Out Burger? (Melbourne)

Ever since burger makers cottoned on to the quality and popularity of the iconic In-N-Out Burger in the US, they’ve been trying to replicate it. And this trend isn’t restricted to Australia – many on the East Coast of the US will know Shake Shack, whose own take on the In-N-Out style burger has made them one of America’s most popular burger spots. Not bad for a brand that started as a little more than a food cart in Madison Square Garden 13 years ago.

Down-N-Out in Sydney has been one of the more recent entries in the Australian market, offering “Tiger Style” in lieu of In-N-Out’s “Animal Style” across two locations, as well as a similar approach to their burgers. Meanwhile, in Melbourne’s suburb of Windsor, a small burger spot called California Burgers (42 Chapel Street) has been perfecting their own take for years. The location has been a beloved souvlaki spot on Windsor’s iconic Chapel Street since the 1970s, and when the current owners took over in 2009, while they continued operating it as a souvlaki, starting a secret burger menu on the side, infused by their love of their eventual namesake. Their burgers became so popular that in 2015, they re-launched as California Burgers, offering a slew of burger options inspired by their favourite California burger chains – most notably, of course, In-N-Out.

The walls at California Burgers are adorned with icons of their namesake.

Like the iconic chain, California Burgers aims to do everything on site, with freshly cut, daily delivered tomatoes, pickles, lettuce and a house made pink mayo as their own “secret sauce”. They only use American Cheese and they hand smash every patty themselves. If you’re looking for the closest things to the standard In-N-Out style burger, you’ll go for the “California Classic” for a classic cheeseburger ($10),  or the “L.A.X.” for the Double Double ($14).

Two L.A.X. burgers accompanied by a side of fries

Also like In-N-Out, and emblematic of the birth of California Burger’s own menu, in addition to what you see on the board, there’s an extensive secret menu which can provide you with a multitude of additional options for the presentation of your burger. “Carnivore” style will pile it with different types of meats, the “Calabasas” is the equivalent to the In-N-Out “Protein Style”, and provides the burger in a lettuce bun, and then there’s of course the “California Animal Style”, which infuses the bun with mustard, and puts on extra pickles and sauce. This is definitely the presentation of choice for yours truly. You can also get your fries covered in American Cheese, if that’s your thing.

The large American Cheesy fries ($10) are a popular menu item

So – the ultimate question. How do they stack up? Having eaten In-N-Out Burgers for the majority of my life, I can safely say these are the best take on the burgers I’ve had in Australia. The buns aren’t exact matches – they use Bread Top’s Brioche Buns, which don’t quite match the consistency of the In-N-Out signature buns, but they cook them perfectly – a simple factor which many attempts at replication have failed. Of course the meat tastes different, but they sit at a similar size to the Californian original, providing the right balance between vegetables and meat, with their house made pink mayo delivering a close-enough taste replication to fool yourself into thinking you’re eating the original. Balance that with the freshness of the ingredients, and you have everything that makes the In-n-Out Burger so great.

Credit: APL Photography

Unlike In-N-Out, however, California Burgers offer a wide range of meat options for their burgers. Famously, the US chain only provides the one sort of patty (or lack of, if you want a “Grilled Cheese”). You can get the “Malibu”, which offers up a Turkey patty, the “Compton”, which is fried spicy chicken breast, and there’s also a vegetarian option – though it’s not on the menu. This will give you all the trimmings, with Saganaki cheese patty.

Vegetarian? Get the classic with a Saganaki cheese patty!

While Burgers are the heart of their menu, Souvlaki remains a permanent part of their fit out, and as with their approach to burgers, they aim to do everything on site that’s possible – from deboning the meat to freshly chopping the tomatoes and onions. They also continue to offer the standard Greek inspired trimmings like Spanikoptia and Saganaki. They also use their souvlaki for a new “secret” taco menu, pictured below, and you’ll find a large collection of American and Mexican sodas for your enjoyment.

Now, be it California Burgers, Down-N-Out, or even Shake Shack… the one thing that no one can figure out how to do is match In-N-Out on price. What costs $10 here at California Burgers, costs less than $3 there. But if you put that aside, California Burgers has delivered the best take on an In-N-Out Burger I’ve ever had in Australia. Sure, it’s not the real thing, but if you’re in Melbourne, this is the next best thing. And what’s even better is that the joint is open until 4am on Friday and Saturdays, and until 2am the rest of the week.

California Burgers

Address: 42 Chapel Street, Windsor Victoria 3181
Contact: 03 9525 2280