poor scientist. will blog 4 food.

the culinary adventures of a self-described foodie

Umami Burger = Japanese for Best Burger EVER?!


Picture it:
It’s a few days after Christmas in Los Angeles. Despite the date on the calendar, it’s a beautiful 70 degrees with the sun beaming through cloudless skies. TC and I are sitting at the end of the Santa Monica Pier, after gridlock traffic prevented us from accomplishing Plan A: The Getty Museum. This was turning out to be a nice consolation prize though, and a game of Skee-ball and air hockey definitely helped to cheer us up.

As the street musician armed with a keyboard and an amp belts out old, cheesy love songs, I turn to my Yelp app to research lunch possibilities. A familiar name comes up: Umami Burger. One of us remembers, “Hey, isn’t that the place that ZF recommended?” A few days earlier, ZF, who had graciously agreed to let us stay at his apartment during our L.A. trip, gave us a list of recommended restaurants and bars. Indeed, Yelp backed up his recommendation: this Umami Burger place was quite popular, with an average of 4+ stars and over 970 votes.

To avoid the lunch rush, we take a long walk around Santa Monica and finally head to Umami Burger around 2:30pm. Even with the large picnic tables outside, the place is packed. The wait isn’t horrible though, maybe 20-30 minutes. About 5 minutes into our wait, TC gets up to ask the host about getting our orders to go. Miraculously, two seats open up for us outside. Score!

we have arrived.

We are starving, but our hunger is reigned in by the prices. Starting at $10, these burgers aren’t cheap, and they don’t come with fries either. But whatevs. We’re on vacation, let’s splurge a little. I order the truffle burger, which features house-made truffle cheese and truffle glaze. TC gets the Kombu #1 meal, which includes a Umami burger (hamburger patty with shiitake mushroom, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, parmesan crisp, umami ketchup), thin fries, and a bottle of Singha.

Maybe it’s because we’re starving, or maybe because we had no idea what to expect, but this experience is easily one of the most pleasurable meals I’ve ever had. I’m two bites into my luxurious, truffle oil-soaked burger when I hear TC look lovingly at his burger and say, “I never want it to end.”

Amen, TC, amen.

Because sharing is caring, we each eat half of our burgers and then trade. While we like the Umami, we agree that the truffle is superior. Every bite is just so unbelievably awesome… it’s hard to put it into words.

The Umami burger

The truffle burger: pure deliciousness.

After we finish our burgers, TC considers ordering one more but we decide to save some room for dinner, which is only a few hours away. We seriously think about coming back for another meal before we leave L.A., but then we find out that they just opened a Umami Burger in San Francisco. Hooray!

So, less than a week later, we’re visiting with EF at her mom’s place in SF, which just happens to be a 5-minute walk from Umami Burger. What a happy coincidence! We convince EF that it’s a great idea to go there for dinner (it wasn’t that hard really).  The three of us shared the truffle burger, the green bird (turkey burger), and the oxtail, which was the special that day. I have to admit — the truffle burger wasn’t as good the second time around. It might be because TC and I had hyped it up too much in our minds, or perhaps it’s because the Santa Monica location is superior to the SF location. Regardless, it was still pretty darn spectacular and way better than any burger I’ve ever eaten. The turkey burger was surprisingly flavorful in a meaty way (a good thing). I don’t remember much about the oxtail. I think it was kinda salty? Maybe TC and EF have a better recollection of it.

My advice: go, but keep your expectations in check. Oh yeah — the fries and the umami ketchup are great too!

(About the title: I know that umami means the 5th taste in Japanese, but that just didn’t sound as good, OK?)


Author: Jen

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

8 thoughts on “Umami Burger = Japanese for Best Burger EVER?!

  1. I recently enjoyed “manly burger” at the SF Umami Burger and it was as good as advertised. I agree with you that the umami ketchup was also a nice bonus.

    • Good to know re: manly burger. I want to go there with a big group and order one of each burger in order to sample of all of their burgers. Then everyone could order their favorite, if they were still hungry.

  2. This sounds amazing! I love TC’s initial reaction. Throughout the post, I kept hoping you’d tap into your nerdy scientist side and explain that umami was the the fifth taste, coined by a Japanese group (describes tasty, savory, and a hint of meaty, I think). And then you had it at the end. Well done, JYL, PhD. Well done! 🙂

    • Thanks! Actually, when EF and BR were in SF, they had a choice between Barney’s (local burger chain) and Umami, and they went with Barney’s, mostly because the idea of the “fifth taste” didn’t sound appealing to BR. haha

  3. I remember the oxtail burger as very “beefy”. And i was very impressed with the turkey burger. I thought the truffle was by far the best, though. Maybe because I don’t know what I’m missing at the Santa Monica location…
    Funny that ZF still hasn’t been there, but you guys have been to two!

    • I can’t believe ZF still hasn’t been to Umami Burger!
      Anyway, I’m glad we didn’t hype it up too much that you still ended up liking it.

  4. I’m on the fence about this place because while I initially enjoyed my first and only experience here, I was totally hit with MSG overload afterwards — a very specific backache and a thirst that could not be quenched. This place claims it doesn’t use MSG but umami is the same “flavour” one finds in MSG. I don’t think I’m that sensitive to MSG but my reaction was so severe I can’t see myself ever going back, as tasty as the burger was.

    • Yikes! That sounds very traumatic indeed. I get the post-MSG thirst, but I didn’t notice any unusual reactions to Umami Burger. Maybe it was a one-time deal, but I wouldn’t blame you for not trying it again.

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