After hearing much hype about the Los Angeles burger chain known as Umami, I finally had the occasion to visit this past week with an old friend from high school and two of his friends. I had heard quite the range of reactions to this place. Some have claimed it’s a life-changing burger experience, while others have been underwhelmed at best. I gotta be honest, I don’t really go ga ga over cheeseburgers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a terrorist – I appreciate a good cheeseburger. But for me, a burger is something you grill up in the backyard at family barbecues or spend $5 for a double double combo at In ‘n Out. When you start trying to sell me “gourmet” burgers, I lose interest. I’m sorry, you can call it whatever you want, but at the end of the day it’s still a burger and fries. As a starving artist I’m careful with my money – if I’m going to throw a chunk of it down for a good meal, it’s not going to be on a cheeseburger. But that’s just me.
Consequently, I was never in that much of a hurry to get to Umami. But, being that it’s such a talked about LA establishment, and seeing that I am the starving artist, I felt it was time I check it out for myself. I went to the original on LaBrea, which has a charming Japanese feel to it: bamboo-lined walls, Japanese artwork, and a lovely little fenced-in patio, which was where we sat. Immediately upon looking at the menu I was irritated. Burgers starting at $10 and you have to buy your fries/sides separately. This means if you want a burger, fries, and a drink, you’re easily going to spend $20 with tax and tip…. on a burger and fries… not impressed.
Though our waitress was very pleasant, we waited a good 20 minutes for our food. Come on, Umami, it’s an effin cheeseburger on a Wednesday night. But I will say, I did enjoy my food. Though I’m not (currently) a vegetarian, I really appreciate creative food (and frankly I just was not in the mood for ground meat) so I went for the Earth Burger, which had a mushroom and edamame patty topped with house-made ricotta, white soy and truffle aioli, cipollini onions, butter lettuce, and a roasted tomato. Very well-seasoned and as satisfying as any “real” cheeseburger. But what I REALLY fawned over was their “smushed potatoes,” described on their menu as “double fried creamer potatoes”… I had no idea what that meant, but I wanted them… all over my body. It turns out they were baby potatoes fried, smashed, then fried again, and served with a garlic aioli. A borderline sexual alternative to french fries – super crispy crunchy crust, light and soft interior, a little greasy, and alarmingly addicting. Well done. My check came to $19 after an even four-way split (my friend and I shared the potatoes). Worth it? Not so sure.
While I was not completely wowed by my experience here, I certainly wouldn’t write Umami Burger off. I could see myself getting a hankering for those potatoes at some point. And I feel I have to try the signature “Umami Burger” topped with shitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, a parmesan crisp, and a roasted tomato. But only when I feel like dropping $20 on burgers and fries.
850 S. LaBrea Ave
Los Angeles 90036
Click here to read my review on YELP.