Cafe Reviews

Where's the Beef?

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The combo includes shoestring French fries -- pale and lightly fried in vegetable oil (folks wanting crispier fries can ask). Think a fry is a fry? These will change your mind -- virtually greaseless, airy and dusted with a hint of salt. A medium drink rounds out the meal: Coke products, fresh-squeezed lemonade, brewed iced tea or coffee.

There are never any surprises, just consistent high quality every time we visit. All this for less than five bucks? No wonder this fad has flourished since 1948.

The Original Hamburger Works, 2801 North 15th Avenue, 602-263-8693. Hours: Lunch and dinner, daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Burger lovers wanting to eat within a reasonable time period and at normal lunch or dinner hours will do well with the Original Hamburger Works. There's plenty of seating at this sprawling cowboy/'50s-theme eatery, and service is quick. Step up to the counter for a Big One (1/3 pound), Great Big One (1/2 pound), or Double Big One (2/3 pound).

The cook will slap your patty on a mesquite broiler, top it with cheese, bacon, green chile, mushrooms or onions. When it's done, he'll call you from your booth beneath a hodgepodge of Signal Gas signs, Coke, Nehi and Orange Crush ads, Howdy Doody posters and flickering traffic lights.

Diners grab their trays and head to the chuck wagon-style condiment bar, loaded with ketchup, jalapeños, sliced onion, sports peppers, pickles, mayonnaise and veggies. A thin coat of ketchup, a top of leaf lettuce and tomato, a few pickles on the side, and my burger suits me fine. The slightly smoky flavor of the meat here is a bonus, but the standard slice of processed American cheese can't compete with In-N-Out's primo dairy selection.

Fries here are medium-thick, skin-on and expertly salted; onion rings are tender, jacketed in a crunchy batter.

The Chuck Box, 202 East University, Tempe, 480-968-4712. Also 7215 East Shea, Scottsdale, 480-998-2327. Hours:Lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Walking into the Chuck Box is like déjà vu -- it's obvious that it's a spin-off of the Original Hamburger Works. Sandwiches include the Big Juan (1/3 pound, and named after Chuck Box's "beef engineer") and the Great Big Juan (1/2 pound).

The cooks at this long-standing Valley burger biz follow the same routine as the Original, though here we can see them in action, peering at us from behind the blistering-hot mesquite charcoal broiler.

The cook tops my burger with American cheese, tosses it on a white bun, lightly toasted on the grill as the meat sizzles merrily away. The burgers arrive virtually greaseless and wonderfully juicy, presented on disposable plates atop plastic trays to be dressed as we desire at the Chuck Box's condiment bar. We settle into a wooden booth, take in the rustic, cowboy digs surrounding us, and dig in.

Chicago Hamburger Co., 3749 East Indian School, 602-955-4137. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
"Home of the Windy City Slider," the Chicago Hamburger Company's sign reads, and it's the burger the restaurant does best. Sized at roughly 3 inches by 3 inches, the mini-burgers are topped with chopped, grilled onion, pickle slices, American cheese, ketchup and brown mustard on a soft white bun. Don't let the size fool you -- you'll fill up fast. Not on the thin patty, but bread. The best choice is the double slider, with enough nicely grilled meat to tackle the bun. A couple of these are a bargain at just $1.22 each.

The more traditional burger, a 1/3 pounder, doesn't satisfy as well, unfortunately. It's simply got too much stuff and ends up being a complicated mess. Charbroiled beef is fine, but it's lost under a cacophony of shredded lettuce, spicy mustard, ketchup, grilled onion, what tastes like processed American cheese, and bright green relish. The eggy bun makes this a touch sweeter burger than the classics.

I'd make the trip to Chicago just for its French fries, though. These are magnificent models of potato, piping hot, skinless, generously salted and crisp-edged.

Lucky Boy, 3430 North 16th Street, 602-274-6440. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
People have been coming to Lucky Boy for more than 50 years, looking for nothing fancy, just cheap eats. They find it, set among a retro-style diner concept with black-and-white tile floors, pink and teal tables and not much else. Orders are placed at a glass-block counter -- a 1/4-pound single for me, topped with iceberg lettuce, passable tomato, pickle and raw onion. I've got a choice of sauces -- ranch or Thousand Island dressing or barbecue sauce -- but ketchup and mustard are all I need.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet