Portlandia, Astoria is not. Nor does Charlie's Chowder House fit the current common stereotype of an Oregon Coast that is all about such nostrums as sustainability, fair trade, local-sourcing, and organic farming. Not that there is anything unsustainable about what you'll eat at Charlie's; it's just that the management seems to be more concerned with providing good food and good times to its clientele than with earnestly saving the ocean and the earth from us rapacious humans.
I knew we were in for a, let us say, eclectic experience when I saw the window that presents to pedestrians a diorama of a Barbie Doll mermaid hovering over a pile of pirates' bones while two sharks swim close, apparently ready to eat her. Inside, décor is vaguely Polynesian, each table accoutered with a different salt-and-pepper set. The menu, on which each line is written in a different color of ink, includes tunesmith quotes from the likes of Bob Dylan ("I got a brand new suit and a brand new wife, I could live on beans and rice") and Jimmy Buffet ("Life is just a tire swing and jambalaya was the only song you could sing").
It is a broad menu, including southern gumbo, shrimp Creole, turkey chili ("NW style"), and burgers made from buffalo, marlin, shark, or tuna. Charlie's is famous for its peppery chowder, and rightfully so. The menu is a little confusing, listing it as "Astoria's Own Chowder – New England Style," but it is definitely more West Coast than Yankee, packed with ribbons of pork and chopped clams so tender and savory-sweet that sometimes you think you have hit a nugget of bacon when in fact you are enjoying a morsel of clam. Manhattan chowder is another dish altogether. It has plenty of shellfish and is fine as an appetizer, but has none of the clam chowder's charisma. I like the grilled mahi mahi tacos with cabbage and cheese and bright chipotle salsa. Grilled salmon and a tuna steak are both yeomanly, if not memorable.