While it's no Musso & Frank or Mateo's, Umami Burger is quickly becoming a fixture in the LA culinary world. Seriously. Six locations have popped up since the original La Brea location opened in 2009 and the popularity doesn't appear to be losing steam. Though it embraces the similar rapid expansion model that made the American Apparel empire so successful, Umami Burger has touched on something that is not only Californian, but authentically Los Angelean. This combination of hipness with total comfort contributes to the easygoing and inviting atmosphere.
The thesis of their menu is fundamentally umami causing one to stumble when asked to describe the precise flavor of what they are eating.
I've been trying to get someone to split the Carnitas Burger with me for a few months now, and finally my dining partner acquiesced. A TACO BURGER!!!
Between the buttery, U-branded bun, sat a pile of marinated pork. The pork is squished into a burger patty and garnished with guacamole, whipped sour cream, and cheddar. Though definitely not my go-to order, it was still satisfying and delicious.
We also ordered the Manly Burger, which is my favorite burger on the menu. It's a full beef patty, topped with crispy grilled onions, cheese and bacon lardons, which adds a richness to the burger in a way regular strips of bacon do not.
This burger embodies the umaminess of the place for me. Is the meat the best part--attributed to the kitchen doing their own meat grinding? Or is it the bacon lardons? It can't be, I eat bacon often enough to know it can't be just that. It must be the harmonious combination of ingredients that creates one of the most satisfying burger sandwiches I've ever had.
In regards to fries, there are three types of potatoes to chose from: the Sweet Potato Fries, the regular house Thin Fries and the Smushed Potatoes. The Thin Fries are just the right size to dip in a variety of house made sauces.
These are the same fries they douse with truffle butter and often feature as a menu special. The texure of each fry is perfectly crisp, never greasy--an optimal vessel for getting the umami ketchup, jalapeño ranch and homemade roasted garlic aioli into my mouth.
Next came the House Pickles. Once the pickles arrived it was glaringly obvious that the only mistake we made that night was not separating the pickle plate from the rest of the order. In retrospect it would have been best enjoyed as an appetizer instead of arriving with the burgers and fries, which overshadowed the plate. It's a shame too, because the spicy caperberries are really delicious.
I'm generally pretty stuffed when I finish a burger, and this night was no exception. Suffice it to say, I never order dessert at Umami, but for those who are wondering, the menu ends and begins with local bakery Cake Monkey's Apple Pie a la Mode.
I went to bed full and woke up hungry, not exactly sure what I was craving. Was it the bacon? Or the bun? Or the burger? I couldn't decide, but I'm pretty sure it was all of that umami.