Umami 1: The Umami Burger

Los Angeles’s burger scene is as vast as it is eclectic, hence our desire to create this website. Though the places to go get a great burger are seemingly innumerable, there are definitely a few spots whose names are repeated just as countlessly in response to the question “what’s the best burger in L.A?” Umami is definitely among them. With 9 locations in Southern California (made 10 by Umamicatessen) each boasting ever-so-slightly different menus, Umami truly has claimed its post atop the pantheon of local burger joints. The interior design of each location is unique unto itself, but in all cases sleek and curated, leaving no doubt in the customers mind that this is no divey greasy spoon, but rather an establishment that demands respect.

Umami is a burger restaurant. Though there are numerous creatively constructed options (usually about 10 staples and 3 or 4 specials on any given day) and several outstanding sides on the menu, the only entrée they offer is a burger. If you’re the type to order a chicken caesar salad and watch your friends indulge in the enjoyable food from across the table, you’ll need to eat before you come. These guys don’t waste any menu real estate with non-burger dishes, to their credit.  I nearly always find myself at the Los Feliz location, purely due to its close proximity to my home. That particular venue has 11 regular menu burgers, always a few specials, and more often than not the ingredients necessary to create a past special or former menu item if you know to ask for it. (Secret menu = me feeling special. Win). It also has a great selection of craft brewed beers, affordable wines, and fancy non-alcoholic sodas if those are more your speed. No detail has been overlooked. Should it still remain unclear, I LOVE this place, not only due to the consistent quality of the food, but to the aforementioned creative construction. Their flavor combinations are definitely atypical, and the result is phenomenal.

Umami’s signature burger (the Umami Burger) is far more interestingly assembled than it is named. All of their burgers begin with a course ground, well seasoned, hand formed patty cooked medium-rare unless otherwise requested (don’t you dare ask for it well done) on a very soft sweet bun that reminds me quite a bit of the pandesal that The Oinkster used for its Pork Adobo Burger during burger week (which still visits me in my most pleasant dreams). It is then topped with shitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, oven-roasted tomatoes, a parmesan crisp, and house made ketchup (which is extra think and has a healthy hint of white truffle). Everything about this combination of flavors is perfect. There is so much tartness from the tomato, ketchup and parmesan, but the meatiness of the shitakes and the juicy crumbly beef bring it right back into sublime equilibrium. The bun is thick but very soft and malleable, and its sweetness is the finish on each bite. Accompanied by tempura battered onion rings, or the most amazing hand rolled cheese tots you will ever have in your life (those are on the secret menu, so don’t forget to ask, and be prepared to impress your friends) I can say with some confidence that should I ever find myself in a situation wherein I get to choose my last supper, this is what it would be. Perhaps that’s a bit dark but this burger is that good, and as I discovered while scouring the internet for photos to steal for this post, apparently GQ feels almost as strongly as I do about this meaty masterpiece.

If you’ve never been to Umami before, go. If you feel overwhelmed, go with one of their pairings that has a burger, side, and adult beverage all picked out for you. Try additional sauces with your side, because they make them all in house. And then think about how awesome it is to have a fine meal out at a nice restaurant and still get to eat a cheeseburger, because that is most definitely awesome.

-Geoff Sawyer

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