Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Umami Burger - Los Angeles, CA

Burgers have been a frequent conversation topic among friends these days. Everyone that's lived in California has a soft spot for In-N-Out. I have severe cravings for it when I'm away from California and my friends from out of town are known to want to eat it as soon as they get off the plane. It's just darn tasty and doesn't feel like you're eating fast food at all. I know people love Father's Office too, but In-N-Out and FO are almost in a different category and have peacefully coexisted as the reigning champs in the LA burger war for years.

This year, however, I've heard of some new noteworthy contenders, namely the Umami Burger and Five Guys. Five Guys is a popular hamburger chain from D.C. that opened up a few stores in Cerritos and Carson (so random!). I tried the Five Guys' burger in D.C. years ago and it was good, but I can't remember if I thought it was better than In-N-Out, probably not since I haven't really craved it since. I have yet to venture to Cerritos or Carson for Five Guys, but I will have to stop by one of these days.

I finally got to try Umami last week after a grueling stair run (which was more of a walk for me) in Santa Monica. I won't go into details, but I was sore for days. I thought for sure that my knees would buckle and I'd roll down the stairs like a hedgehog and end up splattered on the pavement on Ocean Ave. Thankfully I survived and the reward was burgers afterwards. Sweet! They have several locations in LA, but we went to the one on La Brea. It's a pretty small restaurant and beware, they won't seat you until your whole party is there.

Here's the menu. Note the grease stains. A good sign indeed.
I think between the four of us, we ordered the Manly Burger, the SoCal Burger and the Port & Stilton Burger. I got to try the Manly Burger and SoCal Burger (thanks JC). You have to order the sides separately, so it gets a bit pricey. We got the two types of fries (thin and really thick), onion rings and a salad. You also get to choose a condiment. The malt liquor tempura onion rings were awesome, but the portions here are quite small. They also have five different types of condiments, you get one free side with a side purchase. I think we tried the umami ketchup, house spread, dijon mustard and the roasted garlic aioli. I think the aioli was our favorite.

Sorry, I got consumed with eating and yapping but I forgot to take pics of the sides, but here are our burgers. Marcos said that these hamburgers look like the hamburgers Popeye's friend, Wimpy, used to eat. Don't you agree? The buns, apparently Portuguese, are round and high. They apparently only cook the meat medium rare or well done. They cooked ours medium rare and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. The flavors melded together beautifully. I tried the manly burger first, which had beer-cheddar cheese, smoked salt onion strings and bacon lardons. I have no clue what bacon lardons are, but they tasted like pieces of pork belly. Definitely a hearty burger, not for the faint of heart.
Here's the SoCal Burger. I tried this after the Manly Burger, and I actually liked this better. This is more comparable to the In-N-Out burger, but fancier. It had lettuce, oven dried tomato, house spread, house made american cheese and caramelized onions. Very oishii.
It's definitely on the pricey side for a burger and fries, so I don't think this will replace my In-N-Out burgers. If anything I'll just have to eat more burgers now. I think the general consensus from the group was that they preferred Umami's to FO, mainly because you have different options and can customize your burger. I read a funny article somewhere that Sang Yoon, owner of FO, visited Osteria Mozza and asked whether he could order the pasta tasting for just two people instead of for the entire table, as was printed on the menu. Nancy Silverton, owner of Osteria Mozza, is rumored to have said, "only if you let me order a hamburger without cheese the next time I'm at your restaurant." hahaha.

Umami Burger is named after the concept of "umami," the fifth taste. Often times, it's acquired through the use of MSG, but usually it's the savory, meaty flavor that you taste from stock, broth, meats and cheeses. Everyone has these receptor cells on their tongues apparently. I'm sure there are people whose umami taste buds only get triggered by an In-N-Out or FO burger. I can't really figure out which burger reigns supreme, they are all really good in their own way. I'm just glad there's plenty of taste buds in my mouth for an In-N-Out, Father's Office, Five Guys and now, an Umami burger.

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

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