We Ordered the Entire Menu at the New Shake Shack in Santa Rosa. Here’s What We Thought

Is it better than In-N-Out? We found out.

The breathless anticipation over Shake Shack’s first Sonoma County restaurant is finally over, and though it feels like we’re 20 years late for the cultish fandom party, it’s still nice to be invited.

Wednesday, the New York-based fast-casual burger and shake chain opened for a friends and family preview at Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village. It will open to the public Thursday.

Celebrity chef and restaurateur Danny Meyer opened the first Shake Shack in New York City’s Madison Square Park in 2004 to mass hysteria. In the ensuing years, the brand has continued to gain followers, with more than 400 global locations and an annual revenue of more than $1 billion.

Nationwide openings of the cultish burger bar have caused burger-frenzied fans to line up for hours. More than one couple met in a Shake Shack line, later serving their burgers at their wedding reception. More than 400 people lined up for a special edition David Chang “Shrimpstack” burger in 2015.

I can report that those lined up for the preview were well-behaved and eager to get their hands on some of the much-hyped burgers, cheese fries and hot chocolate cocoa milkshakes, though I was prepared to throw a sharp elbow at anyone in my way, should things get pushy. Fortunately, Sonoma County residents aren’t big on waiting in line for things — especially restaurants — and no one was injured or side-eyed rudely during the opening event.

As a novice to the temple of Shake Shack, my expectations were high. People seriously go nuts for their elementary cafeteria-style crinkle fries, custard milkshakes and potato bun burgers. So, I ordered pretty much everything on the menu, and here’s what’s marvelous and what’s meh at the 14th Bay Area location for the uninitiated.

The California Double Shackburger with fries and a shake from Shake Shack in Montgomery Village Wednesday, February 28, 2024. (Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
The California Double Shackburger with fries and a shake from Shake Shack in Montgomery Village Wednesday, February 28, 2024. (Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

The Rivalry

First and foremost, Shake Shack isn’t going to be a threat to our beloved In-N-Out anytime soon. Yes, they both have burgers and shakes, they both have a huge fan base, and they are both frequented by self-righteous people who claim they never eat fast food.

Shake Shack’s menu is a short novel compared to In-N-Out’s index card menu. There are roughly 22 items on the Shake Shack menu, plus additional limited-time items like the frozen Hot Cocoa Shake or Korean-style fried chicken sandwich. In-N-Out has four — maybe a few more if you count the secret menu. Shake Shack is a restaurant; In-N-Out is a lifestyle choice. Celebrities don’t go to Shake Shack to celebrate after the Oscars.

The Vibe

Unlike most fast food spots where takeout is the only sane option, you want to hang out here for a while. With plenty of natural light, Kelly green accents, plants and clean wooden table tops, it feels more like a cafe than a burger joint.

The Burgers

Thick Angus beef patties that rival higher-end eateries. The signature Shack Burger is your go-to, with cheese, ShackSauce, lettuce, tomato and a soft potato bun (with just a hint of sweetness). It’s a winner.

The ‘Shroom Burger is a close second. This fat portobello is (surprise!) stuffed with melted Muenster and Cheddar. Immediate yes.

Golden State Double: Only available in the Bay Area; it’s a two-patty, two-cheese, garlic aioli pileup. Too much of a good thing sometimes isn’t, but if you’re a double meat, double cheese kind of person, you’ll love it.

The Alternatives: The menu includes vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. I don’t recommend the gluten-free bun, described by my friend as “grainy.”

The Shakes: Everyone else can pack up their belongings and leave the island when it comes to these frozen custard wonders of ingenuity. Usual suspect flavors, but additional limited edition shakes include coffee and donuts, maple Snickerdoodle and frozen hot cocoa. Or, just skip the shakes and have a big scoop of the frozen custard. The level of creaminess is, well, next level.

The Drinks: Soft drinks are available, but the house made lemonade is worth the sugary rush. Try the Yuzu Honey lemonade. There’s also a very brief list of wines.

The Dogs: I’m a hot dog hater, but this split-top, griddled wiener slathered with melted cheese was impressive. Recommended.

The Fries: If you’re a dipper, you’ll love the extra grip these crinkle cuts give ketchup, mayo, honey mustard and BBQ sauce. Cheese fries with bacon are required, but the tiny wooden pitchfork utensil is useless for serious eaters.

Shake Shack is at 2424 Magowan Drive, Suite 1, Santa Rosa, shakeshack.com.