The Chuckbox in Tempe combines burgers with nostalgia for an original experience

The Chuckbox in Tempe, Arizona.
The Chuckbox in Tempe, Arizona.(Jeff Popovich)
Updated: Oct. 20, 2021 at 8:00 AM MST
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TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- When I was putting together my list for local places known for burgers to check out, several of my colleagues who are Arizona State University alums were quick to respond with a resounding and almost unified question: have you been to The Chuckbox? After living in Phoenix for just over four years now, I was embarrassed to admit I hadn’t ever heard of Chuckbox. After hearing the legacy, stories, and sheer appreciation for this beloved burger joint from so many, obviously, I had to see what the buzz was all about!

Kept it simple by ordering 'The Big One' with a modest topping of lettuce, tomatoes, onions,...
Kept it simple by ordering 'The Big One' with a modest topping of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles.(Jeff Popovich)

Pulling up to the rustic and quaint little restaurant off University Drive and Forest Avenue, which is just east of Mill Avenue, I could feel the history and ASU pride for this eatery that’s well-withstood the test of time since its inception in July of 1972. Despite being flanked by towering new hotels, apartments, and offices, this burger joint has a cozy charisma that catches the eye and invites you in. While the interior has had the occasional facelift over the years, the longstanding members of the staff have done an absolutely superb and remarkable job at something that makes Chuckbox so rare and special these days -- keeping things the same. Whether you frequented in the 70s, 80s, 90s, or 2000s, this neighborhood burger joint keeps everything just the way you remembered it, even using the same color paint when it’s time to freshen up the interior.

The interior and ordering line at The Chuckbox in Tempe, Arizona.
The interior and ordering line at The Chuckbox in Tempe, Arizona.(Jeff Popovich)

Building such dedicated and loyal patronage among ASU alums and the local community takes time and clearly shows that the science at Chuckbox has been foolproof for nearly 50 years. Chuckbox Manager Chris Guthrie contributes their following and success to several factors.

“I think honestly the main one is well, most places try to chase the fads and keep up with trends and work really hard to do those things; we work just as hard to keep things the same,” Guthrie explained. “We don’t often introduce new menu items. We don’t change a whole lot, and we pride ourselves on the nostalgia factor because it’s not something a lot of businesses can offer.”

Guthrie says one of the biggest compliments the staff gets is when someone comes back 10 or 20 years later and says, “it’s as good as I remember it.”

“It means everything to us. We couldn’t do what we do without them, and we build genuine connections with our customers and take pride in that. Greeting them when they come in, knowing their order, knowing their name, things that you just don’t get with most other restaurants,” Guthrie said. “We really pride ourselves on building that rapport and building that relationship with our customers.”

Nostalgia fills the air within the restaurant (aside from the heavenly aroma of mesquite-grilled meat and fried foods of course) and quite literally encompasses you. As I interviewed Guthrie, I overheard a nearby table of an ASU alum explaining to a visiting friend how he and his friends would come to Chuckbox after a tough test to grab a burger and beer and relax. Another table featured a multi-generational family of seven. While engaging in open and friendly conversation among some of the staff and I, an older gentleman at that table said he had been coming to Chuckbox since ‘88 and was now bringing his grandkids. The legacy and family traditions alone are heartwarming.

The infamous Chuckbox grill in action!
The infamous Chuckbox grill in action!(Jeff Popovich)

Another big factor that contributes to the rate of return: the food! According to Guthrie, The Chuckbox gets its meat fresh every day, the kitchen’s ‘magic dust’ seasoning that gets sprinkled on, and the viewable open mesquite fire grill. That grill is the equivalent of a cast-iron skillet; it has seen countless patties and churned out stunningly charred and light mesquite-smoked burgers for decades. And who could forget, the condiment table! The veggies are cut fresh daily, the homemade ranch is next-level sauce game, and the table’s motto of ‘have it your way’ really harkens to the customer’s freedom to pick and choose how they want to build their plate. According to Guthrie, between the condiment table and food, there are 7,864,320 different options/combinations that can be made at Chuckbox!

The condiments table at The Chuckbox in Tempe, Arizona.
The condiments table at The Chuckbox in Tempe, Arizona.(Jeff Popovich)

‘The Big One’

The immediate flavors right out the gate is that smoky, mesquite char to the burger lent graciously by that infamous grill and the magic dust seasoning. The smokiness isn’t overwhelming at all, just a subtle reminder in the background that compliments the mesquite. The magic dust seasoning is sprinkled onto the patties as they cook, encasing the top and bottom of the patty with a unique kick that blends well with the mesquite-infused charring.

The thin but sizeable patty holds together very well and has a well-executed cheese melt between too melted or hardly melted at all. The veggies’ freshness is actually noticeable, and believe me; they make a world of difference in support when biting into a hefty burger!

The Chuckbox's 'The Big One' burger and Jalapeno Poppers.
The Chuckbox's 'The Big One' burger and Jalapeno Poppers.(Jeff Popovich)

Bite after bite; I couldn’t help but think to myself why I hadn’t visited The Chuckbox sooner. The science of Chuckbox is seriously something other restaurants should consider. Sticking to what works and holding true to that memory and legacy built up among so many of its customers is why the food is just downright phenomenal and why Chuckbox is held in such high regard. From here on out, there will simply be a ‘Before Chuckbox’ and an ‘After Chuckbox’ when it comes to the idea of a consistent comfort burger. If you’ve already been, or haven’t been yet, take a walk through those doors and join The Chuckbox family.

This is the second segment in a series on burgers in the Phoenix metro. Arizona’s Family Foodie is rolling out to some beloved local joints and restaurants around the Valley to check out some seriously stacked patties and two-handed beasts. Whether it’s a local staple or something new pushing the boundaries with one of America’s arguably most cherished foods, let’s roll up our sleeves and enjoy some juicy burgers!