Mr. Sato utilizes his sophisticated palate to determine whether Lil Woody’s is worth the hype. 

On August 24, 2023, the new Dogenzaka-dori shopping and entertainment facility opened in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood. It’s a 28-floor building, with the first two floors reserved for 12 different stores and restaurants.

Our Japanese-language reporter Mr. Sato heard that a brand-new-to-Japan burger place called Lil Woody’s, a chain local to Seattle in the U.S., was opening on the first floor. Of course, being a big meat-eater and burger fan, Mr. Sato had to check it out and see how it holds up to other burgers, so he went off to try it on the very first day it opened.

On the first day of business, the shops of Dogenzaka-dori opened at 1 p.m., but the facility distributed entry tickets earlier that morning to help manage the crowds. Mr. Sato managed to get one easily, but when he returned at one, it wasn’t that crowded, and he didn’t even need to show it to get in.

Besides, the entrance to Lil Woody’s was actually on the outside of the building, and as soon as it opened, people were going right in without showing any kind of ticket, so it seemed like in the end the ticket wasn’t necessary at all.

Once inside the restaurant, Mr. Sato found two touch-screen terminals where you can order and pay. It seemed convenient to do everything all with one device, though it didn’t accept cash. In fact, the whole restaurant was cashless.

Since Mr. Sato had never eaten at Lil Woody’s before, he decided to go with the restaurant’s titular option, the Lil Woody Set, which comes with fries and a drink for 1,600 yen (US$11). Though there were some burgers with interesting names that really drew his eye, like the Fig and Pig, the New Mexican, and the Trotter, he decided to save those for another time.

He did appreciate how fast it was to order and pay. Since the machine doesn’t take cash, he finished placing his order in a snap. This is a great thing, but unfortunately, that meant that a kitchen that wasn’t used to running yet was receiving order after order in quick succession, so the restaurant appeared to be in chaos.

It took an extra long time for the food to come out, and some people who ordered after Mr. Sato got their food before him. The counter even ran out of buzzers at one point. To make matters worse, the seats filled up fast, so not everyone who wanted to sit got a table. Once Mr. Sato had finished ordering and was all paid up, he proceeded to the counter to receive a buzzer, but in the end, it never went off, and a staff member had to bring his food to him. All-in-all he waited about 30 minutes.

It might have gone better if they’d devised some plan to relieve the congestion, like prioritizing takeout orders, or giving discounts to takeout orders. But those issues were likely just first-day complications, so Mr. Sato would guess it’ll probably smooth out as people stop swarming the new restaurant and the kitchen staff gets used to a new workplace.

Anyway, here’s the Lil Woody’s Set Mr. Sato ordered.

The burger was a pretty decent size; about as big as a Burger King Whopper.

It was double wrapped in paper, with the inner wrapper folded to make it easy to hold the burger without as much mess. Mr. Sato appreciated that.

Sandwiched in the toasted bun was a beef patty, cheese, pickles, onion, and ketchup.

After taking his first bite, Mr. Sato could say…nothing in particular about it. It was neither good nor bad; just a standard burger. He didn’t taste anything special about it that made the brand stand out. As far as flavor goes, it tasted similar to a Burger King burger.

Unfortunately, that meant the 1,600 yen price tag was a little bit pricey. A Whopper with the same amount of food (an extra-large-size fries and drink) would cost 990 yen at Burger King, and Mr. Sato had to say that he didn’t taste anything special about the Lil Woody’s burger that would justify the price gap.

Well, in any case, the restaurant has only just opened its doors, so it might still need some time to really show off what makes their food special. And it could be that what makes Lil Woody’s a popular Seattle burger chain is its specialty burgers, so he’ll have to come back another to time to try one of those.

More than anything else, though, Mr. Sato is happy to see a new hamburger brand appear in the Japanese market, and though it might be hard to compete with a burger soaked in a plate of hot cheese or one that comes with a deep fried disk of curry, he’s eager to see how much more lively the hamburger industry in Japan will become in the future.

Restaurant information:
Lil Woody’s / リルウッディーズ
Tokyo-to Shibuya-ku Dogenzaka 2-26-25 Dogenzaka-dori 1F
東京都渋谷区道玄坂2丁目26-25 道玄坂通1F
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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[ Read in Japanese ]