Monday, October 19, 2009


Ever on the search for a great burger, a friend took Richard and me to the latest LA burger phenom: Umami Burger. The last time we all took a ‘trendy’ burger excursion to the latest ‘trendy’ restaurant – oops, excuse me, it’s a ‘bar’ (see Burger Nazi) turned out to be a dreadful experience so I wasn’t expecting this latest ‘trendy’ burger to amount to a hill of beans.

I was wrong. It was a hill of beans and more.

The restaurant, a simple unadorned place with a minimalist Asian feel, is strictly a burger joint, albeit gourmet burgers. The first thing I asked: “What’s a Umami burger? I mean really “Umami?” Que pasa? Michael, our young and ‘burger-informed’ waiter, along with Kevin, another young member of the wait staff, explained. It’s the 5th taste: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and ‘umami’ … OK… “Umami?” Savory? Meaty? Are they Japanese burgers? They tried to enlighten me, but I was still in the dark, so I decided I had to have the signature Umami burger to see if I could figure it out.

The menu promises that ‘you will crave this one.’ The menu was right. The burger had among its toppings parmesan crisps, sun-dried tomatoes, sauteed shitaki mushrooms and caramelized onions on a really terrific burger bun and was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. I mean EVAH! The meat was cooked to juicy perfection, red but not raw, and every taste blended together like a well designed room. But I could not detect that 5th taste. I even tried researching it on-line when I got home and read something about a natural MSG used to enhance the meat’s flavor. But, it was more than that. The meat was different. More ‘meaty’ perhaps. I don’t know – but I do know that I have to go back for more.

Of course I couldn’t just try the Umami burger, I wanted tastes of some of the others on the menu, so Richard ordered the Port & Stilton burger w/ caramelized onions. Oh, my, be still my heart - stilton is one of my very most favorite cheeses. Stilton and port one of my very most favorite “desserts.” And married to a perfectly cooked, juicy burger was a marriage made in heaven.

Coming from New York, I never experienced lettuce, tomato and onion as a regular topping on a burger until we moved to LA. So when our friend ordered the SoCal burger (Southern California) with lettuce, tomato and caramelized onions, I thought, ‘Big deal.’ Well, it is a big deal. That 5th flavor thing, again.

This little burger joint also has “sides”… you know, like the one’s you get in most diners or coffee shops – things like fries and onions rings, but these sides are a tad different. The thick fries are hand cut and triple cooked and though they were good, they could have been cooked a little crisper (confession: I prefer skinny fries anyway, so I’m prejudiced) - the malt liquor tempura onion rings were, however, just plain delicious. Michael, the waiter also brought the restaurant’s Umami ketchup made with anchovies, Chinese spices and soy as well as the normal ketchup ingredients. Dipping a fry into this ketchup took that fry from a 6 to a 10.

Also included on the menu is a truffle beet salad, a market salad, a root beer float, ice cream sandwiches, real sodas and Mexican coke. Mexican coke? I didn’t ask.

Other burgers include the Manly burger w/ beer-cheddar cheese, smoked salt onion strings and bacon lardons, the Hatch burger with 4 types of green chiles and house cheese, Turkey Miso burger with Asian BBQ sauce and avocado relish, a Triple Pork burger made from fresh ground pork with chorizo and applewood smoked bacon, manchego cheese and pimento aioli, the Truffle burger with Italian truffle cheese and a truffle glaze and a Casablanca burger made with fresh ground leg of lamb, merguez lamb sausage, pickled apricots, arugula and pomegranate aioli...

As the Governator would say: “I’ll be back!”

Umami Burger
850 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036


MickMil said...

Great description. I've gone 4 times and counting! It's the burger you wish "U mami" cooked for you at home!

Anonymous said...

Zen and the art of Burgers! Great!

Lana said...

Mmmmmm. I am "craving this one" right now!

I think Mexican coke means it has a touch of Vanilla added.


Anonymous said...

I've got to try out this place! When Ilona wrote-- every taste blended together like a well designed room.--I was hooked. Good writing about what sounds like a really good burger joint!

Anonymous said...

Wow that review sounded unbelievable, I haven't had a gourmet burger in I can't remember how long. If only it wasn't 1000 miles away. I guess it wasn't smart to read that review an hour before I'm gonna reheat old pizza for lunch. Ilona I'll have to get down there and try Umami sometime soon.

-Tyler Juhola

Steve said...

I've been wanting to try "Umami" for a while, and now I definitely HAVE to go.

Mexican Coke is made with real cane sugar and US Coke is made with high-fructose corn syrup. Those who drink the two say "drinks made with real sugar have a clean sweetness and light mouthfeel to them, while those made with corn syrup have heavy mouthfeel and a cloying sweetness."

ilona saari said...

Thanx for the Mexican coke explanation, Steve - I really was afraid to ask ;o)

And Tyler - would love to take you for an Umami burger...

(PS - tried posting this earlier -- so if this is a repeat, my apologies...

Alexandra said...

yum. first hot dogs and now hamburgers .. i like that you're keeping summer food simmering through the fall! this umami burger looks absolutely delicious!

Anonymous said...

Really sounds like a terrific burger or burgers.Now we all spend hours trying to duplicate. Even here in Michigan.
Cousun Sandra

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Umami for me. So long 5 Guys!

Chimi said...

C'mon, Ilona, were you really afraid they were going to bring you a little plastic Glad Bag with some ... Ummm, white powdery substance? LOL Just Kidding!

I'll have to reread your review on Tuesday and officially comment then, Ilona. Right now I'm fixing to go to bed.

But, before I go, just a Tip for those who don't want "Anonymous" to show up next to their Comment, but don't want to join BlogSpot either:

Below the Comment Box, select the Name/URL option and enter your Name, Nickname or Username. And you'll be all set.

Anonymous said...

Why didn't you tell me about this place before I left for Berlin, now I'll most probably have to wait till next summer. Upon my return I will check it out with the two best critics I know my two sons Yoshua (13) and Marvin (17) see you then maybe we can meet there. Sid

Anonymous said...

Next time Susan comes to town, the three of us will indulge in what sounds like a festival for the mouth. I'll call her today!

Chimi said...

The meat patty was RED?
Nooooooo! Auuuggghhh!
What is this ... a grilled Strawberry Burger? Just Kidding! LOL Ilona, when I read the ingredients to the Umami Burger, I said, "THAT is definitely Ilona."

I'm confused. In Richard's Port & Stilton Burger, what is "Port?" Porterhouse? But, why do you then refer to it as dessert?

NO Burgers in NY have lettuce, tomatoes & onions ... EVER? OMG!

I love Onion Rings, especially Sonics'. But, Malt Liquor Tempura Onion Rings? Hey, I don't do liquor and I gotta drive. ;-)

Ilona, you KNOW I just had to smile and almost break into laughter at the mere reading of "Truffle Beet Salad." LOL There's just something about the word "Truffles" that amuses me.

ilona saari said...

LOL -- Ports an after dinner 'wine' Chimi - port and cheese is a very common 'dessert' in Europe... I love, love, love it!!! And - yeh - lettuce and tomato is usually served in diners and coffee shops on 'the side' ;o)

Ludwig Van said...

Best burger since the last best burger I had. Umami done told me!