Umami Burger is Coming! Umami Burger is Coming! But Is it Any Good?

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Anne Fishbein
Truffled beet salad at Umami Burger.
There is a wave of hysteria around the local arrival of Los Angeles-based chain Umami Burger. They've got tattooed buns, secret magic spices, and ridiculously long waits for the same dish that McDonald's is selling for $3 -- all things that typically make people go crazy for something.

I believe the infatuation stems from San Francisco giving such a big shit about L.A. and then L.A. not caring about us at all. Agree/disagree? I mean, we love to pick on them and call them all stupid and vain, but when you ask people in L.A. what they think of S.F., they're all, "What's a San Francisco?" or, "You mean 'Frisco? It's cool." Maybe? No? Moving on!

Since we're all going nutso for its arrival, I wondered, "Is Umami Burger all that and a biodegradable bag of organic tater tots?" I looked to L.A. Weekly's restaurant critic Jonathan Gold for his take on the chain.

Gold starts his review of Umami Burger with a little history of the fancified cooking techniques its founder, Adam Fleischman, employs. The process is complex, and involves cooking at a low temperature for a long time, followed by a momentary searing. The results?
The crust of the meat is crisp, sweet, well-browned; the juicy, dripping patties are perhaps juicier, more loosely compacted than one might expect from meat with a developed crust, but not significantly so. The interesting thing was that the meat dripped like a rare burger, but had the pinky-gray color of a burger cooked to medium. It was a good hamburger.

However, Gold goes on to say that he's not sure if it's a good sign that his most memorable meal at Umami Burger was a turkey burger. Hmmm. I wonder if he tried the vegetarian version, made with mushrooms and edamame? It sounds awfully similar to the Vegan Mission Burger. And to that I say: HELL YES.

Gold also writes about one of Umami Burger's not-so-secret weapons:

In the umami game, truffle oil is the first refuge of a scoundrel, and at Umami Burger, they use it by the quart: burgers with truffle cheese, truffle fries and beet salad with ricotta and enough truffle oil to float a surfboard.

So, the takeaway is basically: It's a decent burger with a million specialty toppings and a heavy dousing of truffle oil. Yeah, there's nowhere else in San Francisco to get that!

Gold doesn't mention wait times or service in his review, but this comment on his piece got quite a few likes:

If you don't mind the bad (cranky & slow) service, fries coming 20 minutes after the burger has arrived and is long since gone. Beware ordering medium rare, because it will come raw and barely edible.

And then, there's always Time columnist Josh Ozersky's opinion. I guess only the passage of time, and our more sophisticated palates, will tell.

As of today, Umami Burger's San Francisco location is set to open this Friday, Oct. 7, at 2184 Union at Fillmore. Daily hours will run 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday.

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Nick
Nick

I've had Umami twice in the past few years and each time it was the best burger I had ever had. Perfect bun, perfect patty and perfect taste. Some how they are able to coax an incredible savory beefyness that I have not tasted in any other burger. 

Not a big fan of their new fries. They used to be thick cut, then they switch to skinny in-and-out style, the later tasting a bit like frozen fries, while the former had a nice crisp exterior, creamy interior. .Service was slow on my first trip to their La Brea location (it was within a few months of their opening) but it seemed the kinks were worked out on my second trip to their Urban locale.

jason b
jason b

impression of an impartial - maybe not the #1 best burger i have ever eaten, but probably top 3, and for a measly 9 bucks. best thing around. guessing that all the hate is fueled by 1) hipsters who are looking for the next burger you have not yet heard of, 2) mcd's and BK investors, or 3) jealous east coasters

Footstones
Footstones

Just to play devil's advocate here, I have to say that my visit to Umami Burger in LA was awesome. The burger was cooked perfectly (med. rare, as requested), and was the juiciest I've ever had. The bun was even memorably great. Maybe I came at the right time because service was prompt and friendly.

I've just been the one time, but I can confidently call it one of the best burgers I've ever had. I am very excited to see it coming to SF and hope that it's as good as I remember.

P.S. For people in search of a great and little known burger in SF, check out Monk's Kettle on 16th off of Valencia.

jason b
jason b

i like monks kettle and all but i do not always have 20 bucks to blow on a burger, 10 on a beer.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Congratulations, San Francisco. You're getting an Umami Burger at the same time as... uh... Orange County. ("Anaheim: secret den of hipsters, or misguided demographic research?")

The burgers aren't bad—but what really makes me flip for this place [sarcasm HEAVILY intended] is the way they stack the fries. Oh, man... I must have a right-angle fetish.

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