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A Sneak Peek at Northern California’s First Shake Shack

Get ready for fried chicken on a potato bun at the Bay Area’s only Shake Shack.


You might as well get in line right now because hordes are no doubt going to descend upon Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto on Saturday when the first Northern California Shake Shack finally opens.

Yes, the wildly popular gourmet burger chain by New York’s Danny Meyer will finally open its doors in the Bay Area. It is right next to P.F. Chang’s in the ritzy outdoor mall.

Opening hours will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. And the first 100 people through the doors on opening day get a free Shake Shack travel bag.

Last night, I had a chance to get a sneak peek and taste when I was invited to a media preview party.

The Palo Alto Shake Shack in Stanford Shopping Center.

The menu boards.

The interior features reclaimed and repurposed materials.

The 2,491-square-foot former Wells Fargo bank building features outdoor as well as indoor seating, including tabletops made of reclaimed bowling alley lanes.

It’s also cashless. You place your order at self-serve kiosks.

As with each of its locations around the country and world (more than 200 and counting), this one includes special menu items made possible through partnerships with local artisan purveyors, including Oakland’s Cream Co., a meat purveyor who specializes in working with certified sustainable ranches.

The special Golden State Double burger.

That includes a Golden State Double two-patty burger made with beef from California’s Richards Grassfed Beef, white cheddar and San Francisco’s McVicker Pickles — all tucked inside a Tartine Bakery sweet potato bun that is golden yellow inside with a fluffy texture. With a coarse grind, and double-decker patties, you really taste the beefy flavor in this one.

The ShackBurger is classically topped with tomato, lettuce and creamy ShackSauce. It’s perfect for purists — juicy, messy and satisfying.

The single-patty ShackBurger.

Behold the mushroom burger.

The ‘Shroom Burger is a surprise with a portobello mushroom not grilled, but breaded and fried for full-on crunch. Melted Muenster and cheddar adds a load of gooey-ooey-ness.

My favorite still remains the Chick’n Shack, a very moist fried chicken breast piled on a bun with lettuce, pickles and buttermilk herb mayo. It’s perfectly crisp, with a batter that’s just substantial enough, and not oily at all. It’s like the best taste of the South transplanted to the West Coast.

The crinkle-cut fries are legendary. They have a nice pronounced potato taste, which, let’s face it, you don’t always get in fast-food fries. You can enjoy it with a side of melted cheese sauce, a blend of cheddar and American, which, yes, will remind you a bit of Cheese Whiz.

Fries with cheese sauce. Because they are crinkle-cut, they are very crisp all over.

Vanilla shake so thick that you can stand a straw up in its center.

There are also decadent frozen custard concretes such as Pie Oh My (vanilla custard with slice of seasonal pie by Fremont’s Pie Dreams), Shack Attack (chocolate custard, fudge sauce, chocolate truffle cookie dough, chocolate sprinkles, and chocolate chunks by San Francisco’s Dandelion Chocolate), and MB Malt (vanilla custard, fudge sauce, and whole wheat chocolate chip walnut cookie from Los Gatos’ Manresa Bread).

The Pie Oh My last night featured pumpkin pie, crust and all. It’s plenty pumpkin-y tasting, too. I would give the edge, though, to the MB Malt just because of those addictive crunchy, flavorful bits of chocolate chip walnut cookies that boast a real honest to goodness hearty grain flavor that helps balance the sweetness of the creamy vanilla frozen custard.

Front to back, the MB Malt and the Pie Oh My concretes made with frozen custard.

Wine lovers can enjoy glasses from local vintners Broc Cellars, Hunt & Harvest, BREA Wine Company, and Robert Sinskey Vineyards. The Stanford location is also the only one where bottles are available for purchase.

The Stanford Shack also will be donating 25 percent of proceeds from opening day, as well as 5 percent of sales from the Pie Oh My, to La Cocina, the San Francisco non-profit food incubator that has been responsible for helping so many immigrant entrepreneurs start their own businesses.

Here’s a tip: If you want to lessen the wait time, Shake Shack offers a mobile ordering app here. Select your location, order your food, and choose a pick-up time. Your meal will be timed to your arrival.

Look for two more Shake Shack locations to open in the Bay Area in San Francisco and Marin in the new year. At this rate, I’d say 2019 may very well be the year of the burger.