Chuck’s Burgers, the hangover saviour

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So, last night I had promised myself I wouldn’t get too drunk. I have to start a new job this afternoon teaching computer skills to young kids at a charity school, and even if it’s just a volunteer thing and you’re not getting paid, you still can’t turn up to class hung over and not ready to do give it all you’ve got right ?

But then I met these two great Indian guys and we drank beer for hours at my local street bar and as I was leaving, all my friends pointed up at my balcony next door and said “Hey man, music please… hit us with those funky tunes you play”. And once I start playing music, well, it all goes downhill from there. Moving on from the beer I started playing PSY’s Hangover WITH a bottle of soju in my hand just slamming it down. Then I started playing Wiz Khalifa’s Wild and Young and Free which is just like a tradition at my house, especially singing along on the balcony swigging straight from a bottle of local rum.

Well, you can imagine how that turned out.. with Yi holding my head as I “drove the porcelain bus”. Falling into bed with a bowl beside me, I thankfully woke up feeling… better than could be expected. But I knew that couldn’t last without some food. And I don’t mean phở either. I mean burgers.

So I jumped on my bike and rode up to McDonalds thinking I would bring back a big bag full of sloppy crap that would at least fill my stomach and stave off any feelings of unease so that I could go to work and do my little charitable thing teaching some Vietnamese kids how to hack China, or at least do a mail merge.

But after waiting in the parking lot for the ticket to be written up and stapled onto my bike, and walking in and waiting in line even longer, I ordered all my “yummies” and handed over a 500.000 vnd note. And the young Vietnamese clerk rejected it. She’s like “Sorry sir, I cannot accept this note”. And she’s pointing to one corner which has like a three millimetre bit missing from it. That’s it. No rips, no tears, no huge gaping holes. A little 3 mm piece of polymer that has nothing written on it missing. I just looked at her and said “Are you joking ? It took me ten minutes to get in here and order and you are refusing my money because of a tiny little bit missing ? I’ve got worse notes from this handed to me straight from my bank !” and she just shakes her head and says “Sorry sir”.

As incredulous as I was that McDonalds wanted some mint condition uncirculated note, I didn’t have the energy to be angry and I know it’s not her fault so there’s no point yelling at her no matter how farcical the situation is, so I just go out and get my bike and wait in line again to exit, and then I cruise round the block to Chuck’s Burgers on Le Lai street. I am surprised to see the bench outside almost filled with bikes parked there. Wow, busy Sunday morning. The old parking guy gives me a smile and a nod. No tickets necessary here. He’ll sit nearby and watch it so nothing to worry about.

I walk in and there’s Charlie Ta towering above his employees with a big smile on his face yakking to a customer. He gives me a wave as I walk in and says “Hey man, two days in a row huh ? Sorry I missed you yesterday”. I showed him my 500k bank note and told him what happened at McDonalds and he just laughed. “That’s crazy man. There’s nothing wrong with that note. I’ll accept that any day. What would you like ? You got a beer on the house for your trouble”. And grateful for the warm and friendly greeting I take the bold move of saying “A triple man. I’m hung over and I wanna go the triple”. “So, regular double beef and bacon cheeseburger, but extra meat patty and extra cheese ?” he confirms and I add, “You got it man, oh and extra fries too.. gimme that large serving”.

Charlie introduces me to the guy I’m sitting beside and we all chat about stuff like we’re old friends. It’s a busy morning and a car pulls up diagonally across the whole sidewalk beside our bikes and a whole family of slightly overweight and very hungry looking Vietnamese pile out and walk straight up and start ordering.

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It’s so weird to hear Charlie break into Vietnamese because everything about him and his shop is just so American. He’s got that typical Californian accent where half his sentences end with “Right ?” or a high five and a big grin, he sells bigass burgers and genuine imported root beer, but then he drops into Vietnamese to talk to the local guests and you have to chuckle because it’s so easy to forget he’s Vietnamese at all.

Unfortunately I didn’t have my phone and I really wanted to photograph this cheese-dripping masterpiece so I was considering getting it to take away but Charlie wouldn’t hear of it. “No way man. I wanna see you sit here with me and enjoy that burger. Don’t be running out on me. Hey, I gotta tell you about my wing night tomorrow. One of my old customers says I make some of the best spicy wings around and he’s been complaining that they’re not on my menu anymore so tomorrow, for one night only, we’re having wing night”. I asked him what sort of sauce he was using and he pulled out a huge bottle from behind the counter that probably came from Texas or Louisiana and had a sticker claiming “Extra spicy” and it LOOKED extra spicy too.

“Oh hell yeah”, I said. “I’m not really a wing fan normally, but that looks pretty mad. Sign me up. I guess I’m eating here three days in a row” I said as I stuffed the last bit of cheese-covered beef into my mouth and washed it down with the highly recommend root beer and said goodbye to Charlie as I slid off my chair, stomach stuffed and hangover cured, promising to return tomorrow night to sample the spicy wings. Because even ignoring how absolutely stunningly delicious the burger was, just dropping in and chatting to old friends and new at the counter of a burger bar while the owner laughs and tells you stories is a WAY better experience than some snooty kid with a cap and a hairnet smiling and telling you she can’t accept your slightly imperfect bank note in exchange for some VERY imperfect burgers. Sometimes a hangover cure isn’t just a burger… it’s that early morning beer and a chat with friends and a more cheerful parking attendant and an invitation to a once-only spicy wing night.

That’s more than just food. That’s a place to hang out and talk about your killer night. That’s why I’m so glad I live just across the park from Chuck’s Burgers.

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