We have several things to thank Los Angeles for – frozen yogurt, Korean tacos, cupcakes. But burgers? Um, been there, done that.
Is there anything new that we can learn about a good juicy hamburger from the Los Angeles chain Umami Burger? Judging from the crowds outside the chain’s first Northern California outpost in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood, it appears, at least, that a lot of people want to find out.
Along with making its burgers with quality beef, Umami plays up the Japanese coined term umami, a fifth taste described as a savory combination of salty, sweet and bitter. Umami Burger’s menu has several specialty burgers, and one made especially for the San Francisco location – a bacon-wrapped scallop burger ($15).
The scallop burger (no beef in this burger) is so popular that it was sold out when I checked out Umami last weekend. Instead, Umami offered a special ahi tuna burger ($15), which my friend Ken ordered and couldn’t stop raving about.
I tried the truffle burger ($12), which was simply a beef patty cooked medium rare and topped with a single slice of house-made truffle cheese and moistened with a truffle glaze. All that truffleness would make you think there would be a distinct taste of truffle, but I could barely detect any taste other than the meatiness of the beef.
The burger was the type that seemed oily but I’m going to pin that on the glaze. Overall, it was good, but not the best burger I’ve had. It seemed a bit naked to me, so I’d be willing to come back to try something more ambitious like the namesake Umami burger with shiitake mushrooms and Parmesan chips.
There’s an assortment of sides to also try, like the sweet potato fries ($4) or something called smushed potatoes ($4.50). I’m not into fried goods, so I was happy with the Japanese caprese salad ($7), which added a touch of umami with a squirt of sesame oil on the ball of burata cheese.
The meal can continue with an assortment of desserts like a root beer float or ice cream sandwiches, along with more Los Angeles imports with several novelty baked items from Cake Monkey bakery.
Umami has the slick feel of a well-oiled chain, from the kitschy Japanese props like the samurai sword that greets you up front to the uniformed and efficient staff that keeps the tables turning to get the hungry crowds in and fed faster.
This burger chain seems to fit right into the city’s Marina crowd, and while I wasn’t necessarily blown away from my truffle burger, I’m still intrigued to go back to try another one. It’s that search for the perfect bite – or taste.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
Umami Burger, 2184 Union St. (near Fillmore), San Francisco. PH: 415.440.UMAMI. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. No reservations, major credit cards accepted. umamiburger.com
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