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A New Yorker Reviews Oxford Shake Shack

Shake Shack is more than a fast food restaurant to me. I’d go there on half days with friends or eat and talk for hours with my teammates after our last practice of the year. My parents would always take me out for burgers there when we went out to the Museum of Natural History. So when the chain opened a new location on Cornmarket Street last month, I was relieved to be able to cure my homesickness with a late-night black-and-white milkshake. 

Walking into the restaurant the day after arriving in Oxford, there were high expectations. The goal was clear: emulate the food and experience I’ve had for years in New York without breaking the bank. And, with their earliest closing time at 11:30 PM, I was excited to finally have a non-kebab option for a late night dinner in uni.

Originally, the founders intended to only run restaurants in NYC but decided to expand in 2010. With their first UK location only opening in 2013, it’s certainly newer than most American fast food exports.

The menu has always been basically the same–burgers, fries, ice cream, shakes– but there are rotating specials seasonal to the menu. When I went, a pistachio shake was on offer. The burger offerings are plenty, so it’s easy to find something you’d like: besides the “Shackburger” with their delicious house sauce, a bacon cheeseburger, shallot burger, and chicken burgers, for the vegetarians, there’s a scrumptious mushroom burger as well as veggie burgers. The crinkle cut fries also had the option of an added cheese sauce and/or bacon. They tend to be in the conversation when discussing the best fast food French fry, so I never miss out, even if I’m never hungry enough to not have to share. The hot dogs, which shot the restaurant to fame, are less-ordered, though people still got plenty of shakes in classic flavors like vanilla, chocolate, caramel, and strawberry. There’s also alcohol, ice cream with a twist (‘Concretes’), and even dog treats.

 I got my usual: a Shackburger, cheese fries to share, and a black and white milkshake. It was a bit pricier compared to at home, especially with the conversion rate – £8.95 for a burger and £4.25 for a portion of fries.

So, in all honesty, I was dismayed at the results when taking a bite. 

The burger tasted fine: well-seasoned and fresh, with crunchy Romaine and tomatoes to cut through the heavy meat and brioche bun. My one qualm was the absence of delicious tangy sauce. The fries were crunchy and salted just right with a fluffy, warm middle – a reliable buy. The cheese sauce, though, tasted different from the one at home – blame British cheddar – and it was much thicker and cold. And the texture was hard to dip and often broke the fry I wanted to eat . I blamed it on the cold day and moved on. The shake gave me mixed feelings. I was used to super-thick shakes that were more like ice cream than shakes, and it certainly tasted the same– sweet vanilla ice cream with hints of fudge sauce swirled throughout. Yet the texture felt wrong– too runny and only at the bottom did it start to get thick enough to feel right. 

Essentially, this Shake Shack was not the Shake Shack luxury I’m used to. It felt just like any other part of my experience at Oxford – similar enough to what I knew that I understood what it was supposed to be, yet different enough that it could never be like my expectations. The sit down experience upstairs, with its cute bookshelves and view of the street,  truly had high yapping potential. The food was good, though not worth a daily visit (especially with those prices!) 

If you really want a burger, Shake Shack’s is so much better than McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Five Guys, and it’s worth the extra pound just for that sauce. If you’re ever craving cheese fries with a real sauce rather than shredded cheddar or a shake when Najar’s machine is broken, Shake Shack is the place to go.

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