The pleasures at Lee’s Place Burgers, off a side street in Newton Centre, are simple: Perch atop a tall stool, munch on burgers and fries, look through the picture window at bundled bodies navigating the fresh snow. We yearn only for a chocolate milkshake.
Lee’s is a classic burger-and-fries place, owned by the same family that ran Lee’s Sandwich Shop on Church Street in Harvard Square for many years. When Cambridge rents made it difficult to sustain a modest restaurant, the family - now two brothers, a daughter, and a nephew - looked elsewhere, and eventually settled further west, in the space that once housed Flippin’ Burgers.
The Lees imported some of their sub sandwiches but decided this time to focus on burgers, a larger version of the ones they served in Harvard Square. Nothing costs more than $7.
These burgers ($4.50) are simple, juicy, and far superior to flaccid disks of fast food, but not lavished with embellishments. Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles are free. Mushrooms and bacon cost extra (mushrooms, 50 cents; bacon, $2). Buns are warm and crispy. Cheese steak sandwiches ($6) are packed with curly, thin-sliced meat, peppery and draped with melted cheese. Hot dogs ($2.50) are all-beef, and served with a choice of ketchup or house sauce - an interesting mix of mayonnaise, mustard, honey, and cayenne. Fries ($2.50, small) are thick and standard, but sweet potato fries ($3.50, small; $4.50, large) are a salty treat. Salads are basic but well-made - the Greek salad ($5) is topped with kalamata olives and feta - though we’d prefer homemade dressing to the plastic packets we get.
The Lees, who painted the restaurant walls mint green, make this a cheery spot. Sandra Lee works the cash register, ever helpful, always smiling. This is a tiny place; maximum capacity, 14, would pack diners elbow-to-elbow. Large mirrors along each side wall make this nook look bigger (and provide entertainment for kids maneuvering to see multiple versions of themselves). Tall stools line the front window along one side of the restaurant; shorter stools, perfect for young children, sit in a row on the other side. Lee’s does a brisk takeout business. One night, an ambulance pulls to the curb and EMTs dash inside to pick up their meals. Another afternoon, teenagers stop by, car idling out front, to fetch their burgers. They get the same food, but they miss the chance to stop, for a moment, and watch the world go by.