The saturated fat heavyweights of Charlottesville’s burger scene have to be Riverside Lunch and Five Guys. A fight promoter here and there has tried to throw Boylan Heights, Cheeseburger in Paradise, and sometimes even Red Robin into the ring, but those wealthy froof burgers, delicious though they may be, can’t help but succumb to the relentless body slam assault of Riverside and 5G.
In one corner is Riverside Lunch, a long-standing favorite among Charlottesvillians. In some ways it is both the defending champ and the underdog, having been here much longer than Five Guys and yet working with less money and a smaller team. There is no doubt that it’s the crowd favorite. What is its patented secret move? A special flattening technique that is highly advertised but poorly understood.
In the other corner is Five Guys, a recent arrival from the DC area making waves all the way to the Mississippi. 5G has already settled into at least three locations around Charlottesville, and shows no signs of slowing. What is its patented secret move? The very opposite of Riverside, or so it seems — a single brief pat with the spatula to sear but save the juices. It also wraps your burger in foil so that everything steams and gels together while you transport your burger to its final resting place, even if just a few feet away at one of the cafeteria style tables. It also offers all-you-can-eat peanuts in the shell while you wait, and even encourages you to discard the shells on the floor.
Speaking of tag teams, Riverside fries are skinny and from the freezer, with seasoning salt on the table. 5G fries are thick and fresh, available with either regular salt or cajun spice seasoning, and malt vinegar bottles at the counter. Both offer generous portions, but 5G throws an extra handful of fries in the bag with everything else, an inspired touch that appeals to the McDonald’s child in each of us, eager to milk every last (or first) fry from the happy meal box or golden arches bag.
At the end of round 12, neither burger is on the mat. Flattened and leaking juices, maybe, but not out. If I had to score the match I’d say that 5G eeks out a victory in the actual burger and fries department, but Riverside still reigns in the atmosphere, people-watching, and Charlottesville pride departments.