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As I was sitting in the tiny, ramshackle dining room of Charley’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers (4616 Granbury Rd, 817-924-8611), I wondered why the venerable burger shack never expanded, opened up a few other storefronts, or went the food truck route. The growth strategy seems to have worked for Fred’s Texas Café and Kincaid’s Hamburgers. Those two places are practically synonymous with “Fort Worth hamburger.” Charley’s is every bit as good as, if not better than, those two institutions.

But the 24-year-old dive just sits there stubbornly unglamorous. The building, if you can call it that, looks like a Hooverville abandoned by a few Okies on their way to mine gold in the Yukon. (I was never good with dates or history.) The point is, the place looks like a stiff wind could blow it onto I-20, but its tumbledown charisma is all a part of the charm.

The menu belies the building’s appearance. A judgmental layperson might see the shack, surrounded by cement on all sides and set back a few yards from Granbury Road, and expect the burger equivalent of a fat, hairy man donned in an unwashed tank top slumped over in a dry kiddie pool waiting for the South to rise again. But this is one of those rare hole-in-the-walls that actually delivers on the promise that most such places can’t. The burgers are composed with creative, well-thought-out flavor combinations, quality ingredients, and are always well seasoned.

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Like many native Fort Worthians, I’ve been visiting Charley’s walk-up window since I was a duckling. I must have eaten there 50 times over the course of my life and I’ve never once been disappointed –– a claim I couldn’t make about a certain few other longstanding, far glitzier burgatoriums.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve always ordered the Project X burger ($12.20 with fries and a drink), a succulent patty with Tabasco sauce cooked into the meat, accompanied by grilled jalapeños and onions, bright, garden-fresh tomatoes and lettuce, and gooey sharp Cheddar cheese. On a recent visit, the divine morsel was wrapped in paper and served in a modest red plastic basket that was almost too small to contain the generous portion of perfectly crispy, thick-cut fries.

My lunch companion went for the Avocado Burger ($12.20 with fries and a drink), a lusty amalgam of avocado, grilled onions, bacon, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce. The salt of the bacon, the cooling creaminess of the avocado, the oozing, elastic cheese all came together in a single impression that bypassed analytical thinking and went directly to raw, thumping want.

With the glut of burger choices already in town and the spate that will be opening in the coming months, it’s refreshing to remember that the best burgers aren’t always the handiwork of some fancypants chef.

Charley’s is what Fred’s, Kincaid’s, and other places of that ilk used to be –– maybe even what they should be. There are no gimmicks. Mom and pop still work there. Everything is simple, good, and reliable –– just the way it’s always been.

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