Much has been made of Cherry Bomb's "Hot Rod Girl" waitresses. Don't let that bother you. The downtown Raleigh spot's loaded burgers and well-made sandwiches—not to mention its 66 beers on tap—deserve as much attention as the leggy staff members. In fact, I found the high level of service the Hot Rod Girls delivered more memorable than their high-and-tight outfits. Maybe that's just me.
Cherry Bomb replaces longtime Raleigh institution Joe's Restaurant in a somewhat challenging location on a corner at the warehouse district's edge. With its varied menu of American favorites and its self-consciously retro atmosphere, it fills a niche that needed filling on the downtown dining scene: a reliable place to grab a good burger and a brew that isn't overrun by hipsters sporting fauxhawks.
At first glance, the menu looks fairly standard, with typical focus group-approved staples. But taste the Tricked-Out Mac & Cheese ($6.95), tangy and rich with bleu cheese, bacon and sweet diced apples, and you'll realize that Cherry Bomb is as serious about delivering good food as it is about its American Graffiti vibe. Most of the starters, including the fresh, lightly battered L.A. Low Rider Fish Tacos ($6.95), are hearty enough to make a meal of, as are the pizzas ($7.95–$9.95). With toppings that include Memphis-style barbecue and Philly cheesesteak, don't expect anything to challenge a traditional Neapolitan execution, but do expect satisfaction when you sink your teeth into deep piles of cheese and toppings.
Most satisfying, though, are the burgers. Thick, juicy handmade patties come with a range of creative topping combinations. The best is The Cherry Bomb ($8.95), which boldly marries beef, bleu cheese and a tart and chewy dried-cherry marmalade. Get Dave's Wife's Potato Salad on the side and you'll wonder if she really is back there in the kitchen whipping it up.
The beer menu includes loads of locally brewed choices on tap, so finding some suds to soak up your meal is a treat. Pints are $3 on Tuesdays, and appetizers are half-price after 11 p.m.
More surprising than the high-quality food and service was how kid-friendly Cherry Bomb is. The wait staff was as indulgent of my 3-year-old's need for a fresh lemonade as they were of the need of the nearby party of 20 for another round. And they were all smiles when he got up to dance beside the booth to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean."
As far as I'm concerned, if you serve great beer and burgers and let my kid dance in the aisles, you can wear whatever you want.