Editor's note: Please welcome AHT's newest contributor, Charles Lam. Charles has been reading Serious Eats for years and is going to help beef up (pun...intended) our Seattle coverage. If you have any recommendations, let him know in the comments!
1211 Pine St. Seattle, WA 98101 (map); 206-457-4148; lilwoodys.com
2nd location at 2040 NW Market, Seattle WA 98107 (map)
Cooking Method: Flat top
Short Order: Basic burgers with tip-top toppings and beautiful beef. Should be a classic for years to come.
Want Fries With That? Yes, yes, yes. They're crack.
Price: Big Woody, $7; fries, $2.50 for a side, $3.50 for a basket; milkshake, $5
Capitol Hill used to be Dick's Drive-In territory when it came to the Seattle burger rivalry, but while Dick's has garnered much of the national hype, several boutique burger joints have debuted and are feuding for the title of Capitol Hill's Best Burger. Opened in 2011, one of the frontrunners is Li'l Woody's, and they're bringing serious competition.
Located in the rapidly transitioning Pike-Pine corridor on Capitol Hill, Li'l Woody's is surrounded by hipster-chic hair salons, independent coffee shops, and under-construction residential towers. The space is a tiny two-story sliver of a building, taller than it is wide, but airy and sunny—at least, when the sun is out.
Li'l Woody's menu is between-bread centric, featuring seven burgers, three sandwiches, and a sampling of sides and drinks. The burgers are anchored by the Big Woody ($7), a third-pound burger topped with bacon, cheddar, chopped onions, chopped pickles, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and house mayo.
While the Big Woody sounds like an exceedingly normal burger, the attention to detail spent constructing the sandwich is outstanding. The beef is sourced from Oregon's Painted Hills Natural Beef, a collection of ranchers who raise their cows sans growth hormones and antibiotics. The never-frozen beef is ground coarsely by Painted Hills and delivered daily. Li'l Woody's hand forms the beef into loosely packed patties, leaving plenty of room for the cheddar to ooze into the burger.
The patties are simply seasoned and cooked to a crusty well done on a flat top grill, resulting in a strong, beefy base to build on. Other temps are unavailable due to the volume of burgers served, but that doesn't leave the final product wanting of any moisture. The fat content is high enough that the burgers are still plenty moist despite their doneness.
But while the beef is good, what makes the Big Woody shine is its supporting cast. The bun is a perfect fit for the patty and is soft and pillow-y with a light toast and a hint of sweetness. The house mayo is surprisingly rich and offers the bun a protective layer from moisture, guaranteeing that the bread stays structurally sound until fully consumed. The bacon is thick and plentiful, but it's more of a background player, mellow and appearing only every once in a while, than at the forefront of the flavor. The vegetables are bright and fresh, cutting any excess richness from the beef or bacon before it gets out of hand.
The somewhat surprisingly key element that brings everything together is the chopped onions and pickles. Chopping the two ensures a bit of both in each bite and the avoidance of any awkward slipperiness.
The sides are just as meticulous. The fries ($2.50 for a side, $3.50 for a basket) are hand cut and soaked in a mixture of water and vinegar before meeting the deep fryer, ensuring they come out a little bit more crisp. You can get them with housemade queso ($5) or with a little bit of milkshake ($5—don't knock it 'til you've tried it. They're called "crack" for a reason). If you want a little bit of a kick, Li'l Woody's habanero sauce is freely available, and if you're an anglophile, so is the malt vinegar. Their onion rings ($6) are also solid, with a crisp and fluffy batter that doesn't pull away from the onion between bites.
The drinks are varied, with a selection of bottled cane sugar sodas ($3), a Coke-family soda fountain ($2), draft beer (prices vary), and milkshakes ($5) and root beer floats ($5) that might be some of the best ever. Made with Seattle-favorite Molly Moon's ice cream, the shakes are thick and rich without being overly dense or heavy.
In opening Li'l Woody's, owner Marcus Lalario aimed to build a Capitol Hill classic, and a classic Li'l Woody's might be. With its attention to detail, its consistently impressive menu, and a few more years under its belt, Li'l Woody's might just find itself home to Capitol Hill's best burger.
About the author: Charles Lam is a Seattle-based writer and journalist. During the day, he is the editor of the Northwest Asian Weekly. At nights, he enjoys West Coast breweries, indie music, and Seattle weather. He loves em dashes and uses oxford commas. Follow him on Twitter @charlesnlam.