Tracing its roots all the way back to the 1950s, Charlie’s Kitchen has long been a fixture in Harvard Square. The restaurant has gone through some changes and improvements over the nearly two decades that I’ve been a customer: the asphalt area on the left-hand side has been transformed into a “beer garden,” the live lobster tank has disappeared from the front of the first floor, and patrons can now have alcohol along with their meals at the tables on the sidewalk out front. The menu, however, has remained largely the same.
The food is, for the most part, “greasy spoon” roadside diner fare but is incredibly inexpensive, considering the location, and it is pretty darn tasty, if I do say so myself.
Though I occasionally venture into the land of the tuna melt and the surprisingly excellent chicken fingers, my go-to Charlie’s meal is the double cheeseburger. This is something that they are, or at least make a neon claim to be, famous for. I’m not entirely sure about the legitimacy of that claim, but I am sure that you simply cannot beat the $5.25 it’ll run you for the twin patties served with cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickles, placed upon a sesame seed bun. Who doesn’t love a sesame seed bun?
The burger also comes with their regular thin fries, which you can switch out for mashed potatoes if you like. I’m fairly certain the latter come from a box in powdered form, so if that’s not your thing you can upgrade to waffle or beer fries for a small charge.
If you’re like me and have a culinary death wish, then I suggest asking for some gravy on the side. It won’t cost you anything other than a few minutes of your life, and it is a must for the fries, unless you’re one of those boring ketchup people. Don’t be one of those boring ketchup people.
As previously alluded to, there are a number of dining areas to choose from. The downstairs feels the most like a traditional diner, with booths along the left-hand side and a bar along the right. It is a good place for families, as well as those disinclined to climb stairs. The second floor is my preferred haunt, with a comfortable meandering bar and plenty of tables and booths.
Other attractions are the fantastic jukebox that features an eclectic assortment of punk, metal, soul, and rap, as well as local music, and a cave-like and generally windowless atmosphere. The latter is good for avoiding the accusatory rays of the sun while enjoying a few pints on a random afternoon.
If you are the type who enjoys the outdoors, you can sit in the small section of tables set up on the sidewalk in front. But if rumbling buses and Harvard Square traffic are not your idea of a pleasant backdrop for a meal, then you can opt for the “beer garden.”
Enclosed in the area to the left of Charlie’s and behind the small building next door is a world unto itself. It has its own smaller bar with a number of tables, and tends to attract a bit younger crowd. Though I am all for imbibing a few outdoor beverages when the weather calls for it, I’ve never gotten acclimated to either spot. Give me the faded, yellowed, drop-ceiling, cocoon-like ambience of the upstairs any day.
Are you going to have the best meal of your life here? Not likely, unless you’ve been eating nothing but cardboard and expired yogurt your entire life. But you will get far more than your money’s worth and you will leave satisfied. And with the extra money you saved on food, you can get an extra beer or two, or maybe upgrade that PBR to a Brooklyn Lager or a Lagunitas IPA. Live