On paper, the pup-centric concept behind Charlie Wants a Burger sounds great: a dog-friendly River Walk restaurant specializing in all-American chow, with a charitable tie-in to the Humane Society. But in reality, this utopian doggie vision breaks down faster than a turd in the rain.
On my first visit, I brought my 105-pound Great Pyrenees, Bandero. Thinking smart (or so I believed), Bandy and I tried the street-level entrance on Losoya, in order to avoid River Walk crowds. No dice. Dogs can’t even walk through the restaurant without violating health department code, so diners and their furry friends must go around to the River Walk entrance and sit on the patio.
I specifically brought Bandy instead of our more compact Current mascot, Myrtle the Pug, in order to see if Charlie’s truly caters to all dogs, or only the lap variety. No worries there, the wait staff welcomed Bandero as warmly as they could without being able to pet him (on our visit, staff followed a ‘no petting’ policy, but a follow-up call revealed petting is OK, as long as immediate handwashing follows, which seems reasonable). The patio, formerly of Zuni Grill, seemed a bit cramped for big dogs, so if you bring an extra-large breed, request a round mosaic two-top nearest to the indoor restaurant to get slightly more room.
As for the food, expect typical River Walk fare, which is to say overpriced and underwhelming. The menu offers several half-pound burgers crafted out of what’s confusingly described as “Certified Angus beef, 80/20 ground chuck, and brisket” on the menu. They’re served medium, even when you request medium rare. As is the wont of modern burger joints, creative toppings abound, possibly to distract from the bland patty. I went for the craziest: the San Antonio Luau ($10.95), which came with a thick pineapple ring, several slices of quality avocado, and a dab of cilantro jalapeno cream sauce.
The massive pineapple overwhelmed everything and made my otherwise delicious brioche bun soggy. My (human) dining companion’s more rational choice, the Local, was a solid tribute to SA’s famous bean burgers, complete with Fritos ($11.95). Charlie’s sweet potato fries ($1 substitution with most entrées or $3.50 as a side) might be the best I’ve ever eaten, avoiding the sogginess that is so typical of the deep-fried tubers, and finished with a sweet heat spice blend. Their chipotle ketchup was a perfect complement.
While Charlie’s also sells dog treats, your pet musn’t consume them on premises (again, damned health code) and I figured sneaking Bandy some burger would also be discouraged. However, the staff did offer a cute water bowl so my puppy wouldn’t feel totally neglected as I dined. You can buy merch like that from a counter inside, and 10 percent of proceeds benefit the San Antonio Humane Society.
On my second visit, I went sans pooch and met a friend in the generic indoors for lunch. Much of the décor is Zuni Grill leftovers or photos of Charlie the dog. There are several flat screen TVs because Charlie’s is a sports bar as well, with a happy hour from 2-6 p.m., although your dog, not being allowed inside, cannot take advantage of this.
Round two for food fared worse than the first. My friend was confounded by the mushroom gouda stack burger, finding the hearty slab of portabella atop the patty more than a handful. He spent the rest of the meal searching for the elusive gouda, which never materialized. I ordered a gigantic All American hot dog, tame in flavor and on the cool side of lukewarm. The temperature could be the fault of our server. Without the benefit of a giant dog to catch her eye this time (yes, the same waitress served both times, so this might be a personal problem for her rather than a personnel problem with the restaurant), our server was strictly attentive until the food orders were placed, after which point she got distracted although the restaurant was fairly empty. Well after we finished our meals we managed to flag her down for the check, which took another 20 minutes to process, at which point a torrential downpour had started.
Trudging three blocks in the rain to the closest city parking garage, I reflected on who this restaurant was meant to serve. Its valet-free location is too expensive and inconvenient for most locals, and how many tourists could possibly travel with their pups? Moreover, it seems dog-friendly in name only, every outreach to canines thwarted by health code. I expected better of the Paesanos Restaurant Group owners. What a drag.
Charlie Wants a Burger
Best Bets The Local burger, sweet potato fries
Hours 7:30am-10pm, Sun-Thur, 7:30am-11pm, Fri-Sat Entree
The Skinny Great … If you’re a tourist trapped on the River Walk with a small- to medium-sized dog, or a sweet potato fry connoisseur