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.

Special Ahi Tuna Burger ($15)

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.

Japanese Caprese Salad ($7) with an umami twist from the squirt of sesame oil on the cheese and thinly sliced cucumbers

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 on Urbanspoon

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

Truffle Burger ($12) with house-made truffle cheese and glaze

The back dining room

The Umami bar

Samurai sword reminds people this place has Japanese influences

Sweet potato fries with sprinkle of cinnamon ($4)

Ice cream sandwich ($5) made with caramel-balsamic ice cream in a chocolate chip cookie (it was already melting when it arrived at the table)

Crowds waiting outside Umami's orange burger lips

13 Responses to The Fifth Taste in Burgers

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    Is the ahi burger as good as the one at Gott’s (Taylor’s)?

    • Ben Ben says:

      I don’t know. My friend Ken ordered the ahi burger, and he just loved it. But I don’t know if he’s had Gott’s version. I’ve heard theirs is pretty good too.

  2. hungry dog says:

    I’d like to try this–after all the hype. But, I don’t love going to the Marina. Wish one would open up somewhere else in the city.

    • Ben Ben says:

      They were going to open a location in Oakland, but decided to just focus on this one spot for now. … I hear you about the Marina. Every time I check out places to eat there, I just feel like I’m eating around all the jocks and football players from high school. 😉

  3. Cookie says:

    My hubby really wants to check this place out! Looks like he should soon!

  4. Renee says:

    I was sitting at the same table as Ben and Ken. I loved the umami veggie burger. It looked plain and small, upon arrival, but the flavor really delivered and I was not left hungry. I also ordered the house-made pickle platter. The kimchi was very tasty and I enjoyed the dill pickles as well, but the standout was the pickled long bean. My husband had the cali-burger for its homemade american cheese. He said he would have enjoyed the flavor if the burger had been med-rare instead of rare. He said the flavors did not meld. All in all it was a bit pricey but very tasty.

  5. renee says:

    Great blog Ben! I now have you on my google homepage

    • Ben Ben says:

      Thanks Renee! It was nice meeting you, and I was so envious of your pickle platter. It looked so interesting with an array of things to try for the pickle lovers.

  6. Sandy says:

    Try the HATCH burger. Simple, but you won’t be sorry 🙂

    • Ben Ben says:

      Hmm, sounds interesting. I guess I’m spoiled and want something with my burger other than the meat and bun. Even lettuce on this burger would have probably distracted me, but instead I just focused on the oil.

  7. I finally got out to this place after seeing it on your blog. Total agreement about being a tad underimpressed by the truffle flavor. Was it even there? I ordered the truffle fries though, and had just come back from Las Vegas where I ate real truffles from Joel Robouchon and distinctly remembered its flavor. You HAVE to try their cheesy tater tots though. I liked the burger, but again, agree w/you about the lack of toppings.

    • Ben Ben says:

      Oh, you’re teasing me to break my deep fried rule to try those truffle fries. … I feel like I have to try a really good truffle dish to set a good base for truffle flavor. I had a risotto dish awhile back with truffles on top but flavor wasn’t super distinct. I wonder if it also depends on the particular truffle they found? Truffle is a mysterious flavor to me.