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Charley’s Famous Hamburgers, including a Skippy goober

Peanut butter bacon cheeseburgers and banana shakes at Lemon Grove’s time capsule drive-thru

A peanut butter bacon cheeseburger, everything on it
A peanut butter bacon cheeseburger, everything on it

Early on a Friday night, and I approach the back end of a line cars waiting our turns at a drive-thru window, a hundred feet below the interchange linking highways 94 and 125. Lemon Grove petered out a couple blocks back, but this feels like nowhere. Just a blip of asphalt and concrete and powerlines, suggesting even the electricity has someplace better to be. How is there even a restaurant here? I start to wonder. But then I can just make out the small print on the sign affixed to the mansard roof of Charley’s Famous Hamburgers. It reads: “Since 1973.”

Place

Charley’s Famous Hamburgers

8213 Broadway, Lemon Grove

Wow, I think, Place has been around longer than I have. A few months shy of 50 years, which means, when Charley’s started serving burgers, the Reader was just getting started. Lemon Grove hadn’t even incorporated yet. That interchange wouldn’t exist for another quarter century.

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What is it about Lemon Grove that makes it such a haven for legacy businesses? There’s the Grove Grinder, since ’63. Lida’s Italian Food, since ‘55. Hunter’s Nursery, since 1919. They are, each in their own way, relics, and Charley’s is too: a true mid-century drive-in burger shack, painted cherry red and offering outdoor seating only. Only the QR code in the window reminds you its 2022.

"Since 1973," long before QR code menus existed

These days, when a drive-thru wraps around a building this small, it makes little more than coffee. But Charley’s doesn’t even stop at burgers: its menu also touts fish and chips, corndogs, fried chicken sandwiches, and kabobs. But most of us are kicking off the weekend with burgers and milkshakes.

Some of the shakes feel a little old-timey, too, like they’d be at home in a 1950s malt shop. Or maybe at some point I stopped expecting to find root beer floats on a menu. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen banana shakes before, but here they’re a specialty. Only once I find myself pulling vanilla-banana shake ($4.45) through a straw am I able to recognize that adding banana to the milkshake recipe doesn’t merely make it healthier, it enriches the taste and texture as well. The banana shake on its own was reason enough to drive thru.

But really, I’ve come back to revisit Charley’s peanut butter bacon cheeseburger ($7.75). It was here, three months ago, that I stumbled upon the menu item, which some call a goober burger (goober being another word for peanut). That experience got me wondering what other strange things people put on their burgers, and pulling that thread led to a whole feature story about unusual burger toppings. Which would have included Charley’s, except it was overshadowed by another restaurant that serves a bacon cheeseburger topped by peanut butter, jelly, and vanilla ice cream.

In that context, slathering a bit of creamy Skippy peanut butter between beef, bacon, and bun reads practically conservative.

And I will swear by this: peanut butter does add value to the burger experience. Maybe not as much as banana adds to a milkshake, but there’s an unmistakable depth of savor that would make George Washington Carver proud.

However, my first time through, I ordered everything but the sauce on my peanut butter bacon cheeseburger: meaning lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. The cook working that day tried to talk me out of it; in his opinion, the peanut butter works well with the meat, but clashes with the veggies. I heard him out, but figured the burger would be more photogenic. We were both right.

Photos of the stripped down goober bacon cheeseburger look awful, however, it tasted better than my first go round. The lettuce is no problem, and onions work out fine, but I think tomatoes are the tipping point.

What I found myself truly missing on revisit was the shake. Next time I drive thru Charley’s I will nix the tomatoes, order a banana shake to go with my peanut butter bacon cheeseburger, and eat like a king. That is, a mid-century king: Elvis Presley.

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A peanut butter bacon cheeseburger, everything on it
A peanut butter bacon cheeseburger, everything on it

Early on a Friday night, and I approach the back end of a line cars waiting our turns at a drive-thru window, a hundred feet below the interchange linking highways 94 and 125. Lemon Grove petered out a couple blocks back, but this feels like nowhere. Just a blip of asphalt and concrete and powerlines, suggesting even the electricity has someplace better to be. How is there even a restaurant here? I start to wonder. But then I can just make out the small print on the sign affixed to the mansard roof of Charley’s Famous Hamburgers. It reads: “Since 1973.”

Place

Charley’s Famous Hamburgers

8213 Broadway, Lemon Grove

Wow, I think, Place has been around longer than I have. A few months shy of 50 years, which means, when Charley’s started serving burgers, the Reader was just getting started. Lemon Grove hadn’t even incorporated yet. That interchange wouldn’t exist for another quarter century.

Sponsored
Sponsored

What is it about Lemon Grove that makes it such a haven for legacy businesses? There’s the Grove Grinder, since ’63. Lida’s Italian Food, since ‘55. Hunter’s Nursery, since 1919. They are, each in their own way, relics, and Charley’s is too: a true mid-century drive-in burger shack, painted cherry red and offering outdoor seating only. Only the QR code in the window reminds you its 2022.

"Since 1973," long before QR code menus existed

These days, when a drive-thru wraps around a building this small, it makes little more than coffee. But Charley’s doesn’t even stop at burgers: its menu also touts fish and chips, corndogs, fried chicken sandwiches, and kabobs. But most of us are kicking off the weekend with burgers and milkshakes.

Some of the shakes feel a little old-timey, too, like they’d be at home in a 1950s malt shop. Or maybe at some point I stopped expecting to find root beer floats on a menu. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen banana shakes before, but here they’re a specialty. Only once I find myself pulling vanilla-banana shake ($4.45) through a straw am I able to recognize that adding banana to the milkshake recipe doesn’t merely make it healthier, it enriches the taste and texture as well. The banana shake on its own was reason enough to drive thru.

But really, I’ve come back to revisit Charley’s peanut butter bacon cheeseburger ($7.75). It was here, three months ago, that I stumbled upon the menu item, which some call a goober burger (goober being another word for peanut). That experience got me wondering what other strange things people put on their burgers, and pulling that thread led to a whole feature story about unusual burger toppings. Which would have included Charley’s, except it was overshadowed by another restaurant that serves a bacon cheeseburger topped by peanut butter, jelly, and vanilla ice cream.

In that context, slathering a bit of creamy Skippy peanut butter between beef, bacon, and bun reads practically conservative.

And I will swear by this: peanut butter does add value to the burger experience. Maybe not as much as banana adds to a milkshake, but there’s an unmistakable depth of savor that would make George Washington Carver proud.

However, my first time through, I ordered everything but the sauce on my peanut butter bacon cheeseburger: meaning lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. The cook working that day tried to talk me out of it; in his opinion, the peanut butter works well with the meat, but clashes with the veggies. I heard him out, but figured the burger would be more photogenic. We were both right.

Photos of the stripped down goober bacon cheeseburger look awful, however, it tasted better than my first go round. The lettuce is no problem, and onions work out fine, but I think tomatoes are the tipping point.

What I found myself truly missing on revisit was the shake. Next time I drive thru Charley’s I will nix the tomatoes, order a banana shake to go with my peanut butter bacon cheeseburger, and eat like a king. That is, a mid-century king: Elvis Presley.

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