A few weeks ago Jake and I were out and about and planning on grabbing some lunch. We had decided to go to Fred’s in El Cajon since we felt it needed one last shot before we took it off our rotation. The last few times we had visited, the food wasn’t as good. The fries and burgers were not the same – lack of taste and seasonings. You could tell the quality just wasn’t up to par and not quite the same. Imagine our surprise when we pulled up to the El Cajon location to see a “For Lease” sign! The other two locations are still open (Alpine and Chula Vista) but too far out of the way for a visit. I scrambled to find a substitute for lunch and ended up choosing Charley’s Famous Hamburgers in Lemon Grove, not too far from Jake’s house.
It’s just a little spot with a walk-up window and a drive thru. I’ve watched the drive thru window a lot since we’ve come here a few times now and it’s not really a “window” but a door they open and close. This amuses me for some reason. Like, hey, we don’t need a damn window! A door is perfectly fine, just open it!
Here’s there full menu. I have a feeling it hasn’t changed much in 40 years.
The grill is easily seen through the window and you could just sit there and watch them make your food. I got a strange look for taking this photo, but whatever. See that big pile of bacon on the corner of the grill? Awww yeah!
There’s two seating areas – one right in front near the walk up window, and one in the back that sort of looks like a barn. It’s covered and has a little bit of shelter. The benches in there are totally covered in carved up graffiti.
[triple bacon cheeseburger - $5.39]
This is Jake’s triple bacon cheeseburger. Yes, THREE patties. And they put bacon in between EACH layer so it’s extra bacon-y. I don’t even know how Jake managed to put this into his mouth. Then again, he does have a big mouth… heh heh.
[chili burger - $3.09]
This is T.’s insanely messy looking chili burger. He opted to get it without the included onions, tomato and pickle (just mustard + chili). I don’t order chili burgers or chili anything mainly because of the messiness factor. And well, I just don’t like having sloppy stuff on my food.
[bacon cheeseburger + avocado / $3.39 + $.99]
Here’s my more manageable single patty bacon cheeseburger with added avocado (which is spread on the bottom so you can’t really see it). I got mine with the works – onions, tomato and lettuce + sauce. I’m not sure what the sauce is, I don’t remember, but it’s an orange-ish hue – perhaps a ketchup/mayo combination?
The patty is quite juicy and flavorful and had a nice outer crust. They’re not stingy with the bacon, which is thick cut and slightly crispy. The avocado added a nice, extra creaminess that I love. The fixings are pretty standard – good amount of onion, tomato and shredded lettuce. This was a really simple, excellent burger. No frills, no fancy toppings, just good simple food!
[chili cheese fries - large, $3.89]
Chili cheese fries. Jake and T shared this on our first visit and now we usually just buy regular fries and a cup of chili on the side since Jake really likes the chili here. The chili is acceptable to me as well – I found out that I really liked the chicken nuggets with a little dip into the chili cup. I’m not any kind of chili master but there isn’t a crap-ton of beans in it, which I like. It’s meaty and has a good flavor and that’s all I have to say about that.
[apple turnover shake - $3.09]
On our first visit we tried two shakes – the caramel shake and apple turnover shake. The apple turnover shake was like 20 times better than the caramel one which really just had a hint of flavor in it.
On the other hand, this milkshake has a vanilla base with chunks of their apple turnovers mixed into the shake! The turnover bits somehow manage to stay crisp within the shake. The shake is thick and the turnover bits sometimes get stuck in the straw, but when you get the mixture it’s like having a bit of crisp apple pie with ice cream on top. The bit is still a little crunchy and you get the apple flavor + cinnamon and spices but without the chunks of apple.
Someday when I’m over the apple turnover fixation, I’ll try one of their chocolate + peanut butter shakes!
[single kabob - $3.49]
On another visit, we shared one of the kabob sandwiches. This is a sandwich that’s served on pita bread, with a special seasoned ground beef patty with mayo, lettuce, tomato, onions, bell peppers and radishes. We opted for no peppers, radishes and tomato (since Jake is anti-tomato). The seasonings on the patty is interesting – it has a bit of a Mediterranean seasoning to it. I wasn’t too impressed with it, I decided I liked the burgers and other items more than this but felt I had to try it since it says “KABOBS” in big letters on the front.
[large fry - $2.09]
They just have plain old shoestring french fries here. Jake doesn’t really like them, but I think they’re totally fine. Not as good as McDonald’s, but still acceptable.
[chicken sandwich + added bacon / $2.39 + $1.59]
On another visit I also tried their breaded chicken chicken. They also have a grilled version if you’re looking to be a tad healthier. Of course, I added the bacon again here. I love that it’s so large that it hangs off the edge of the sandwich – no wimpy bacon here, folks! The chicken sandwich was good for what it was – just a simple sandwich with fresh toppings (or, well, bottoms in this case since they seem to put the “toppings” on the bottom here). Much better fare than other fast food chain restaurants, in any case.
[apple turnovers - $1.29 each or 2 for $2]
These are the crazy good apple turnovers! This is the bottom of it, actually, but you can see that this is totally fried and super crispy. It’s about the same size/shape as the ones the sell at McDonald’s except that it’s fried!
Here you can see a bit of the filling and the top – the shell is so crispy and flaky and the inside filling has little apple bits (they’re small and cut up) with cinnamon and other seasonings. These are crazy good and addictive!
Here’s Jake and his youngest son playing “finger chess”.
It sort of seemed more like checkers to me, but I guess “finger chess” sounded more refined? Apparently you can only “kill” a finger diagonally and if you reach the other side then a finger “comes back”. Sorry I can’t tell you more, I’ve never actually played. I’m just the photographer here.
Charley’s has turned out to be a great little find for us. It’s cheap, the kids love it, we love it and their bacon! It’s really simple, no frills food so don’t come expecting for your mind to be blown away or anything. But if you love simple stuff then this is a place you should check out – perhaps you’ll also get to see a brilliant sky like we did one night, too!
Charley’s Famous Hamburgers
Lemon Grove, CA 91945
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