Imitation. The sincerest form of flattery to some, punishable thievery to others. With regards to burgers, it stands to reason that there will be some recipe overlap- since there are thousands upon thousands of places to get one, and certain constructions that just work well. Dressing your burger the same way that In-N-Out dresses theirs does not make you a biter or imposter, it means that you know what’s good. However, some burger peddlers’ offerings are specifically familiar to such a degree that there is no denying the origin of their recipes. Fusion Burgers is an unapologetic example of exactly that.
Fusion Burgers began as an irrefutable Umami knock-off. A little background: Fusion Burgers of Highland park was opened by a father/son team who both used to cook at the Umami in Santa Monica, and I have seen references to the fact that they parted with Umami on undesirable terms (though I can’t find any legitimate corroborating evidence). The first menu that was issued for Fusion upon its grand opening was almost identical to Umami’s menu, down to design and layout. They must have either caught enough flack (or a cease and desist letter) to make them want to update it, because only weeks after opening, a new menu was released with slightly modified recipes, less obvious names, and different fonts. As has been addressed previously, we LOVE Umami. Before I ate at Fusion, I had basically already decided that I was going to like it, and would simply try to be accurately critical of just how unoriginal their entire dining experience is.
Upon walking in the door for the first time my sympathy level for Fusion skyrocketed, because the place is BUSTED. It looks more like an off-track betting station than a burger spot. A false wall separates a small kitchen from a small dinning area, and it doesn’t even reach the ceiling. The difference is made up with lattice. If you have it in your mind that these guys are attempting to compete with the incredibly design savvy Umami, your first impression of the interior will be so bad that it’s endearing. They only have seating for about 15, and you order and/or pay at a little window in that false wall by the front door, much like a window through which you would pick your lucky horse, and pass your cash. I took a seat with a menu and located Fusion’s version of Umami’s signature burger- the Parmigiano burger.
Since having dined at Fusion, the menu has undergone further subtle modification. At the time of my meal, the single difference between the ingredients of the Parmigiano burger and the Umami burger, were the sesame seeds on top of the bun. Now Fusion lists the ingredients balsamic onions, sun-dried (rather than oven dried) tomatoes, and the white truffle infused “house ketchup” is now nowhere to be found on the Fusion menu, though it was certainly on my burger. Shiitake mushrooms and the famous parmesan crisp are still very much amongst it all. The grind, seasoning, and flavor of the beef was (though perhaps not surprisingly) identical to Umami’s. The tomato, and bun as well had extremely reminiscent taste and texture. The biggest difference was that the mushrooms were more chewy than I have ever been served at Umami, surely because they use dried ones and do not reconstitute them as much. The chewy shiitakes were not a shortcoming though, they added an interesting textural layer to what would otherwise be all soft components.
Overall the Parmigiano burger was spectacular, and despite my rather accusatory tone up until this point, please note that Fusion Burgers’ lack of originality in no way equates to bad food. They do cheesy tots just as well as Umami does, the burgers are slightly bigger, and slightly cheaper too. I have also tried the Noir Burger (Umami’s Truffle Burger) and I think Fusion’s was actually better. The pinot noir sauce they use is positively stellar. The only real bummer about Fusion’s menu is the fact that the original recipes pale in comparison to the doppelgangers. The Mexican BBQ burger with its Al Pastor pork patty and grilled pineapple slice sounded quite intriguing, but was more sloppy than flavorful, and the same could be said about the chili cheese burger. The gents running this place are making obvious effort to develop the restaurant’s own identity, surely in no small part due to the fact that every bit of press they’ve gotten has fingered them for swagger jacking L.A.’s alpha burger spot, but nonetheless. In an effort to clarify my opinion: I’m rooting for Fusion. The development of Highland Park’s dining scene is exciting, and Fusion Burgers not only meets a need but they take nothing away from Umami by being where they are and doing what they do. I hope they find their customer base and continue to expound upon the existing menu, but do not envy the task of having to figure out the most appropriate offering to follow spot on replicas of the best burgers around.