Food & dining
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    Quick bites

    Spice is right at The Automatic in Kendall Square

    Viet Wings at The Automatic.
    John Blanding/globe staff
    Viet Wings at The Automatic.

    Where to The Automatic, a retro-kitsch hangout from East Coast Grill founder Chris Schlesinger and B-Side Lounge bartender Dave Cagle, on the fringes of Kendall Square.

    What for Late-night munchies that will make your arteries cry out for sweet mercy, plus potent cocktails.

    The scene Someone’s finished basement in the suburbs circa 1974. There are bright-blue-and-black countertops, swoony oldies on the stereo, and wood that calls to mind “The Brady Bunch” set. Young pals and older eccentrics congregate at the bar and at a handful of tables overlooking the street, while a sassy waitress ferries food to and fro, occasionally pausing to greet a new regular.

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    What you’re eating Things your college self likely craved and digested with ease. A “bar snack” section tempts with Frito Pie From Hell, a bag of Fritos ripped open and doused in hot sauce, meaty chili, and cheese; sweet-and-sour pickled sausage; and cheddar cheese with Ritz crackers and jalapeno jam. Fries get their own menu real estate, too, topped with items like “meat debris” or kewpie mayonnaise. There is also a chili dog, a fish sandwich, a sausage bomb, and a variety of meat on skewers. Heartier appetites should consider the “definitely food” portion of the menu, an international smorgasbord of pork schnitzel, mussels in red curry, kung pao vegetables, and peel-and-eat shrimp dusted with Old Bay.

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    Care for a drink? Budget drinkers might opt for a $3.75 can of Miller High Life. Cocktails are a reasonable $11 and range from frozen mudslides to banana daiquiris to Sex on the Beach made with “vodka, juices, and dreams.” For those who prefer to remember those dreams, there’s also a teetotaler section featuring a virgin pina colada and blueberry mint soda.

    Overheard Wine woes; romantic retellings; shock over spice. “I need a wine that is not buttery. I need dry and potent,” a woman tells her friends while the all-knowing waitress looks on, amused. “I keep dating the same guy over and over again, but I like the challenge,” a wide-eyed redhead tells her fleece-clad pal. Suddenly, the lights go out. When they flicker on again, a table of young women is graced with a platter of Frito pie. “I can’t do this anymore! I’m hurting myself! It hurts!” cries one woman, fanning her lips after a mouthful and pushing the plate aside. “It’s Inner Beauty sauce,” says a passing server, shaking her head. “It’s wicked spicy.”

    The Automatic, 50 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-714-5226, www.theautomaticbar.com

    Kara Baskin can be reached at kcbaskin@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.