Beijing’s “Let’s Burger” restaurant

First let me admit that I like the taste of this restaurant’s cheeseburgers, one of the foods I often find myself craving after days or weeks of only local fare. “Let’s Burger” opened just a few months ago in Sanlitun and I think I walked in by happenstance on one of their very first days in business. It’s run by a fellow from Hong Kong I chatted with that day, telling him his place filled a need in Beijing for a decent, non-fast-food hamburger.

There is such a need, but I decided Let’s Burger doesn’t fill it, and I don’t plan to go back again.

One of the first things that bugged me about the place is that there’s no free water, a courtesy nearly every restaurant here offers, from the cheapest to the most expensive. And you have a choice only of Perrier or Evian at prices horrific to contemplate. And this is the real rub: a can of soda is 18 kuai, which is highway robbery. This is a hamburger house, not a 5-star hotel. A glass of bad-tasting “house wine” is 38 kuai. A mango smoothie is nearly 40 kuai. (In America, that would be expensive.)

And then there’s the price of the burger itself. At first, 58 kuai for a cheeseburger seems kind of sane, since you always pay more for Western food here. However, it is not a meal in itself. It’s too small. Fries slap on an extra 25 kuai, so a burger, soda and fries will come to an unacceptable 101 kuai, or almost $15 USD. I might be willing to pay that around the corner at Blue Frog or Union Grill because you get your own private table and real service and they take your order from a menu – i.e., they’re real restaurants. Let’s Burger, OTOH, is cafeteria style. You stand in line, order off a big green board behind the cashier, they hand you a number and someone comes and drops the food at your table. You pick up the drink yourself. There’s no ketchup or anything else on the table; you have to get up and get it yourself.

This is not a good time for businesses to not give customers their money’s worth. I decided after leaving Let’s Burger hungry this afternoon that I’d never go again. They’ve got a great location, a decent enough product and a great opportunity to fill a need. A shame to see them blow it by being greedy and short-sighted. 101 RMB with no table service….

Pardon the rant. I was just soooo pissed this afternoon.

The Discussion: 24 Comments

The other day, I sauntered up to the counter at the local McTits only to witness the horrific spectacle of the counter girl picking her nose!

Aye Carumba!

I immediately moved to the next line. When the counter girl asked for my order, I replied: “I’d like a McBooger with cheese please.”

March 4, 2009 @ 9:17 pm | Comment

well spoken – only that there are so many more examples of this kind of business plan. Manager of Yugong Yushan moaned the other day that so few Chinese guests come to see concerts there. Well, with beer prices being ca. 30 times higher than at the local noddle shop, what a surprise and what a stupid thing to do if one wants to attract a young Chinese crowd.

March 4, 2009 @ 9:37 pm | Comment

Ah yes, the overpriced restaurant, the #3 complaint from expats.

How about the fact that the burger is 10 times better than the one at Blue Frog?

13 bucks isn’t that bad, honestly. Father’s Office in Santa Monica is at least that much, and you’re lucky if you don’t get your ass beat by the wait staff. And really? Is it that difficult to get your own damn ketchup?

The drinks are over-priced, I’ll grant you that.

March 4, 2009 @ 9:38 pm | Comment

Ouch, those prices are brutal. I have a friend who used to whine about Beijing needing a good burger joint as well. I was frankly quite surprised Beijing was so lacking. He’s since relocated to Shanghai but before when he would only come on business visits, he’d openly dream about getting City Diner, an old favorite, here in Shanghai to expand to Beijing. Sadly, last time I was at City Diner, I was quite disappointed. To its credit, at least their 18 RMB soda is free refills and their ~78RMB burger includes fries, which apparently can’t be said for Let’s Burger. Another good joint we have here in Shanghai is Johnny Moo’s, a Filipino clone of Johnny Rockets but, dare I say, tastes far better.

I hate to say it, but I think Burger King is far more reliable for a decent burger (even if its fast food) than most non-fast-food hamburger joints.

March 4, 2009 @ 9:49 pm | Comment

Vineyard Cafe is passable – it tastes great, but it’s not a true American classic burger. Blue Frog was acceptable, too. But nothing like the really excellent burger you get at a steak house or certian above-average American restaurants in the States. If I have to eat the fast-food kind – something I did only once in my entire stay in China, when McDonald’s was the one place to eat at the Olympic Green – I’ll take Wendy’s over Burger King (and Burger King over McD). Wish there was one here – it would be a much better deal than Let’s.

March 4, 2009 @ 10:06 pm | Comment

T., it’s easy to get up and get Ketchup. But when they are charging Union Grill prices they should deliver the service. I mean, if you’re at a five-star hotel and paying top dollar you wouldn’t be expected to bus your table, even though it’s not that hard to do…. And since, as you say, it’s not that hard to do, then why doesn’t the restaurant do it for you? It’s because they want to be cheap, and having one bottle of each condiment on a single inconvenient table (ever try getting Ketchup there at lunch-time?) is a lot cheaper, and a lot less convenient, than having them available at each table.

And 101 kuai is $14.74 USD, not $13. And that makes a difference nowadays, especially in a city where you can easily get more than enough food for lunch for 30 kuai. And the refusal to give free water? That sucks.

March 4, 2009 @ 10:13 pm | Comment

Let’s Burger is really a mediocre burger, too small for the price and only mediocre. Plus the very odd service situation is borderline creepy. I’ve no complaints with getting up and ordering, but if they insist on this ordering system, what’s with the 5 waitresses who stand around most of the time watching you eat or staring idly out the window? One or two would be more than enough.

I really haven’t found any of the new Sanlitun Village burgers satisfactory, Rickshaw’s is pretty good, but for my money, the Den’s is by far the best, cheapest, and includes fries, its kind of on the small side, but 2 would cost the same as 1 at the other spots…

March 4, 2009 @ 10:57 pm | Comment

“Hey Baby, Let’s Burger!”

I heard that that Hong Kong bloke who opened “Let’s Burger” has some great buns!

March 4, 2009 @ 11:04 pm | Comment

b., I so totaly agree about the creepiness factor. The way those waitresses stand there and stare, and you spend most of the time trying to avoid eye contact with them because it’s just so weird to be looked at like that… Then, as you sip the last drops of your soda, they race over and whisk the glass away, even if you’re not completely finished. Aaargh.

The Den – never tried their burger but now you’ve got me thinking. It’s real close to my place, I’m hungry again, and I think they’re 24-hours, right? Hmmm….

March 4, 2009 @ 11:09 pm | Comment

So๏ผŒyou see why do Chinese get pissed at the looted twins bronzes these days.

Thang:If I were you๏ผŒI’ll order McNipple.

March 4, 2009 @ 11:10 pm | Comment

Amadeus, can you clarify? I’m afraid that comment went right over my head.

March 4, 2009 @ 11:17 pm | Comment

Do you get pissed to pay a thing worth 15m Euro which been stolen from you?

What am I supposed to have at Mc.Tits, of course,tits?

March 4, 2009 @ 11:42 pm | Comment

Thang, I had you on my comment hold list, thinking maybe you were a troll. Are you? I’m putting you back on that list, if you don’t mind, and giving you a chance to show you’re serious about commenting here. Are you?

March 5, 2009 @ 12:22 am | Comment

Hey Richard!

A 101 RMB burger may cost US$14.75 if you use straight currency conversion. And that makes sense if you are being paid in US$, or you are a tourist spending $ in China.

But to get an idea of what that is like for a local, I’d use purchasing power parity. In that case, that 101 RMB meal is actually more like paying about US$33 for a small mediocre burger, fries & a can of sugar water – at a cafeteria! I’m with you – no thanks!

Richard, have you ever actually made a hamburger yourself? ๐Ÿ™‚ You know, it’s pretty d@mn easy to make a good one, assuming you can start with reasonably good beef (and I realize the kind of leap I may be asking for there, by coincidence I’m currently reading Sinclair’s “The Jungle”). I think you could probably make a very tasty Whopper-scale sandwich at home for under 10 RMB. Or, of course you could just ask your ayi to cook one up. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Hope the weather in Jingville is better than Shangtown’s – we’ve had 20 consecutive cold, GRAY, rainy days. Shenzhen is looking better every day. Wonder if they got good burgers down there?

Take care!

March 5, 2009 @ 12:37 am | Comment

The costliest burger cost more than 10 times that. It has lame grilled Wagyu Beef, topped with white truffles in an Iranian saffron and truffle bun – is to go on sale at a fast food restaurant. It is called ‘The Burger” and it cost more $200 at Burger King, and there’s no table service either.

March 5, 2009 @ 1:43 am | Comment

Ah,the cheeseburger. american cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mustard. that’s all you need. The best ones you cook yourself over charcoal in your backyard.

March 5, 2009 @ 2:06 am | Comment

Pugster, that burger you describe is publicity stunt. I would venture to say that literally none of Burger King’s standard customers are going to ever order it, I also believe it is sold at only one restaurant in England. It is not typical fast-food fare (and you know it).

March 5, 2009 @ 7:57 am | Comment

Slim, good points about getting the value for your money. And no, I haven’t cooked burgers in China. Living alone, I don’t really like to go to the trouble of cooking, though I know I should, especially now that I’m only working part-time.

March 5, 2009 @ 8:08 am | Comment

My favorite burgers in Sanlitun:

1. Union Bar & Grille with a slab of blue cheese on top and curly fries on the side. It is RMB78, but that’s comparable to Let’s Burger…

2. Kiosk Big Bite burger (I think it’s around RMB25).

3. The new quesadilla burger at Luga’s Villa: a burger, melted cheese, tomato, etc in two wraps that are then grilled on both sides.

I also like the Den burger, though the meat is usually overcooked. But that fried egg on top is nice and the fries are excellent.

Cheers, Boyce

March 5, 2009 @ 11:25 am | Comment

Thanks for the tips. The only one I tried was Union, and it must have been an off night; everyone tells me how good their burgers are, but mine was lukewarm and the bacon undercooked. I’ll give them another shot. I’ll have to check the others. What’s pretty obvious is that Let’s Burger is inexcusably over-priced.

March 5, 2009 @ 11:45 am | Comment

The no-free-water policy made me instantly hate the restaurant and wish them to go out of business. When customers are paying that much money for a meal in a developing country, the least you can do is give them have free water. You can make a legitimate business case for the high prices of the burgers and such, based on quality, but to charge for taking water out of the tap and boiling it is just petty and greedy. Personally, I find every place around Sanlitun to be overpriced and of no more than okay quality — except for Panino Teca, which offers great bread and great value. They charge appropriate prices and you can drink all the water you’d like. For free.

March 5, 2009 @ 4:03 pm | Comment

@Shanghai Slim

FYI haven’t found a decent burger in Shenzhen yet…but then I’ve pretty much given up looking for one in China at this point. Luckily, Hong Kong is nearby! Incredibly, I HAVE found a decent Mexican restaurant here, but it’s pretty pricey.

March 5, 2009 @ 7:00 pm | Comment

I don’t believe you guys are paying 100RMB for a burger and fries. That’s insane. Your meal is equal to 25% of the MONTHLY average wage of a Chinese farmer, or 1 week’s wages. Just before the Olympics we stayed in a Beijing hotel room (sleeps 2 people) for 200RMB/night. To say this is out of step with the rest of the Chinese nation is an understatement. And no free water? That’s insulting. A pox on his Chinese butt, I say.

Satisfy your craving by getting your ayi to do one for you. After buying all ingredients pay her well and you’ll still have cash left over.

Wow. Anyway, there’s a business opportunity there for a smart person. Burgers and fries are not difficult to cook. Grill, fryer, oil. There are many qualified personnel here in North America.

March 7, 2009 @ 3:11 am | Comment

There was a really good place on Super Bar Street. I am wondering if it is still there. It was run by an American. It’s kind of a hole in the wall with a lot of US sports team shirts on the wall.

A lot of the construction workers who were building the US embassy over there used to eat there on a regular basis. It was roughly about 5 bucks U.S. for a fairly large size basket of fries (and made from sweet potatoes, so quite tasty) and a decent size burger. It was the last good deal on burgers in Beijing as far as I knew. Does anyone recall the name of this place?

March 10, 2009 @ 5:04 pm | Comment

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