The most conspicuous item on the board at Li'l Woody's, Marcus Lalario's new Pine Street burger emporium, is a dish called Crack. Crack consists of a basket of Dick's-esque French fries accompanied by a cup of the milkshake of your choice--to be used as dipping sauce.
"When I was a kid, I used to always go to Wendy's and dip my fries in the Frosty," says Lalario of Crack's genesis. "Once you have it, it's like crack."
Frankly, a fry/shake combo sounds like crap, the sort of thing only a whimsical stoner would combine after taking a 3 a.m. rip from a three-foot bong. Shockingly, it's not crap: A shake made with Molly Moon's strawberry ice cream ranks but a notch below tartar sauce on the fry-accompaniment scale. Clearly, that stoner was onto something.
Yet Li'l Woody's, at its core, is all about beef. And its New Mexican, a 1/3-lb. patty topped with green chiles and homemade queso sauce, instantly ranks among the best burgers in the city. The meat and toppings (do yourself a favor and add a couple strips of Hills Bacon) are choice, but it's an unlikely star--the bun--that pushes it and Li'l Woody's other burgers into elite company.
"We wanted a shitty backyard barbecue bun--that was good," says Lalario, who will disclose only that Li'l Woody's buns come from a producer in Tacoma. "I don't want everybody using my buns," he explains, in protecting his source's identity.
Li'l Woody's look can best be described as rustic moderne (if that's not a common architectural descriptor, it should be), with its loft and paneling resembling a sauna. Functionally, it's something of a work in progress: Its liquor license has been approved, but must be processed properly before beer and wine can be served; its late-night weekend hours ('til 3 a.m.) won't take effect until sometime in October; and the onion rings on the menu won't be available until an auxiliary freezer arrives to store them, which should happen any day now.
For his part, Lalario is something of a nightlife magnate on Capitol Hill, with stakes in Captain Black's, The Saint, HG Lodge, and Molly Moon's. (He also does marketing for Batch 206, a local distillery which former Showbox owner Jeff Steichen has an interest in.) Given this pedigree, it comes as a pleasant surprise that Li'l Woody's staffers exude none of the cooler-than-thou 'tude that permeates the Hill. Rather, the gentlemen behind the counter are sweet as the shakes that the fries get dipped in.