After playing basketball outdoors under ninety-degree weather last Saturday morning, I was down for anything to eat. Han, being the whiner that he is, insisted on having burgers. The rest of us (myself, Lawrence, Daniel Zhu, and Mike) really didn’t have a preference (although I think Daniel mentioned Curry House, but I kind of just ignored him – burgers > curry). Anyways, wanting to impress this group with my “foodie” knowledge, I suggested Umami, as it was the closest gourmet burger place I could think of. Han then blurted out: “Oh hey bro! I really want to try that place!” So away we go…
I had some initial concerns about going to Umami despite being the one who suggested it. My experiences there, similar to the ones at Father’s Office, have been quite inconsistent. Plus they seem to be too cool and popular to care about the customers nowadays, from what I’ve heard. Except that while Father’s Office was trending downwards (before the most recent visit), Umami was just the opposite. My last two visits have been great, coming off of two subpar visits. So with Father’s Office being very good earlier in the week, I was worried that Umami would be the complete opposite. Luckily, I was two-for-two in my burger visits for the week. Everyone seemed to really enjoyed their burgers, as did I. Below is a breakdown of each burger and side:
Han and Mike each ordered the Umami, and Daniel ordered the Manly. I didn’t try either of these on this visit, but I’ve had both in the past, so here’s my take on it. The Umami, which is their signature burger, is probably still the best. GQ Magazine named it their Burger of the Year. It has house-made cheese and ketchup, oven-roasted tomatoes. caramelized onions, and sauteed shitake mushrooms. Just a great burger. The manly burger is much more conventional, but great-tasting nonetheless. Bacon (or in this case, bacon lardons) make any burger awesome. The onion strings and cheddar also went well.
Lawrence ordered what is basically the joint’s take on the Office Burger. There are port-caramelized onions and bleu cheese, and they really worked well with the burger. I’ve had this one a couple of times, and thought that it was very comparable to the Office Burger.
My burger, which was one of their specials that day. I believe it had teriyaki sauce, pineapple salsa and bacon. I really liked the taste of the burger, though it was kind of a mess to hold. The teriyaki was on the watery side, and it was hard to taste the sweetness of the sauce (it was a little more soy-flavored then the usual teriyaki), but the pineapple salsa did just that nicely. The texture of the bacon was rather soft, kind of a mix between pulled pork and pork belly in terms of texture. Everyone knows how much I love pork belly, so this was all copacetic. Still prefer the Umami though, but this was a nice burger that I can see becoming a menu fixture.
This time around, it had some brown sugar. Actually, a lot of brown sugar. I don’t know what to say really. On one hand, the brown sugar went pretty well with the fries. On the other hand, however, this combination made the fries taste more like a sweet potato pie than a side for burgers.
My favorite side at Umami by far. I convinced the group to order two orders of these delicious onion rings. Daniel mentioned that he was hoping these weren’t like the typical type with the coarse, too-crunchy texture. Rest assured Daniel, the tempura batter gave these onion rings a smooth texture, while maintaining a good crunch still. And it wasn’t overly breaded either.
Damn it, Han. I knew the thin fries were mediocre, having had it multiple times in the past. But you insisted on getting them. That’s why they were on your side of the table. Just like you, thin and limp :P
Recently, there have been reports about SBE (the group behind numerous clubs, hotels and restaurants in L.A. like SLS Hotel, The Bazaar, and Katsu-Ya) investing in the Umami chain, and they are planning to expand it nationally. While I’m glad that more people will get to experience these burgers, I’m afraid that this expansion will dilute the quality and newfound consistency. For now, let’s just enjoy what we have: great, juicy burgers served with a hipster attitude.
Chris Hei grade: B+
850 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Note: credit Los Angeles Foodie for the first photo. FYI the valet is “only” $2.50 now (a burger joint with valet lot – really?).