I’ve been a vegetarian for two years now – pretty much ever since I started writing for Lifehacker Australia and Gizmodo Australia, and in that time, I’ve become much more self-sufficient in the kitchen, happy to experiment and try new things. However, the toughest thing for me when switching to a no-meat diet was the lack of fast food. The Hungry Jack’s ‘Rebel Whopper’ is nice, but it’s one of only a handful of vegetarian meals at fast food restaurants, joined by Oporto’s veggie burger and… Honestly, apart from snacks like the Red Rooster Pineapple Fritter, that’s about it. I curse McDonald’s for releasing the McPlant, and bringing it to Victoria last year (but no other Australian states), and to be honest, I really miss easy fast food. Call me a fast food tragic, it’s true, but I miss the good stuff. That’s where Mr Charlie’s comes in.
I tell you, dear reader, I was very impressed with Mr Charlie’s. While it’s not the healthiest food in Redfern, the food served at Mr Charlie’s is a comforting reprive of how I remember McDonald’s to be when I ate meat. Let’s review Mr Charlie’s.
Old Mr Charlie had a parody
Mr Charlie’s opened in Redfern in September 2023, and before then, it has had a small number of stores operating in the U.S. since early 2022, but nowhere as many as the restaurant it’s nominally parodying.
As you can probably tell in the lead image of this article, Mr Charlie’s is trying pretty hard to look like the world’s largest fast-food chain. The colour pallet is approximately the same, as is the font, but on the outside, those are where the similarities end. There’s no McCafe, no line of touchscreens to order from, and the inside doesn’t look anything like modern McDonald’s restaurants.
Ordering is understandably different – one cashier for a small kitchen, with a wait time of between 10 and 20 minutes. Not exactly ‘fast food’, but the food is of the same quality as ‘fast food’.
Unfortunately, there’s not really a dedicated waiting area, so restaurant-goers mostly just idle out the front. There are no tables or chairs that belong to the store, so once you’ve got your food, you need to move on. I consider this a disadvantage for some people, but when I got it the other night with my friend, we just found a park bench and enjoyed our food there.
For a restaurant like Mr Charlie’s, the presentation is everything – emulating one of the most familiar dining experiences in the world, catering entirely for vegans, with an all-vegan menu. Ordering a combo will get you a ‘Frowny Meal’, as pictured in the image below.
The Frowny Meal is Mr Charlie’s combo – a burger, fries, a drink, four nuggets, and a drink (either a can of soft drink or one of the company’s on-tap iced teas – I just got a coke).
To get it out of the way quickly – the fries rocked. They tasted like ideal chips from McDonald’s – properly held together with a sensible smattering of salt – very high ranking on the salt game.
The Nuggets were brilliant, too, although these didn’t taste how I remember McDonald’s nuggets to taste. Paired with McCharlie’s sweet and sour sauce, which tasted more like KFC sweet and sauce than anything, they made a sensible side.
And now, the main event: the ‘Double Not’ burger (stylised as ‘Double Not Frowny’, as a combo). I was tempted by the ‘Not a Cheeseburger’ Frowny Meal, but figured I should try the main event.
The burger consists of two vegan cheese slices, pickles, onion, ketchup, mustard, and a plant-based burger paddy, which had a subtle nutty aftertaste, but ultimately gave me the feeling of eating beef without the lethargic after-feeling or as much juiciness. Or, at least, how I remember beef to taste.
Here’s a look at the inside.
Overall, for a four-item combo, $30 is a lot of money, but I’ll forgive Mr Charlie’s simply for offering an eatery experience that I have been craving for two years now. The prices may be offputting to some customers – $10.90 for the cheapest burger is steep – and people who have been vegetarian or vegan for much longer might not particularly like food that is merely trying to emulate the flavour of a greasy American restaurant, but for me, it hit the spot just right.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, and started recently enough that you may have a craving for meat products, then I recommend Mr Charlie’s.
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Lifehacker Australia
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