In Search of the 5th Taste at SF’s Umami Burger

Umami Burger opened on Columbus Day in San Francisco and I was among the masses that was ready to try this L.A. burger. I’ve had multiple L.A. friends tell me it’s one of the best burgers they’ve ever eaten. Touted as the 5th taste, umami is “a pleasant savoury taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products” (that sounds very hard core). My friend Amy and I ate at the newly-opened San Francisco location this weekend.

Pickles side order at Umami

Pickles side order at Umami

Tempura-fried onion rings

Tempura-fried onion rings

Truffle cheese fries

Truffle cheese fries (excuse the out of focus shot)

Truffle burger

Truffle burger (with the classic U stamp)

First off, let me start with the burger. I ordered the truffle burger, which was served with house-made truffle cheese and a truffle glaze. With just one bite,  I could tell that meat was high-quality. It was juicy and dripping with delicious fat. It had that nice “meaty” taste and I wanted like 3 patties of it on my burger. I was a little surprised that I couldn’t taste more truffle. The waiter had said that the burger was more subtle in terms of the truffle oil (it only has 1 drop but the cheese is truffle-infused), but I was still expecting a flavor explosion in my mouth. It probably didn’t help that my roommate had eaten there a few days before and had boasted how much flavor the burger had. Perhaps, the bar was set too high in my mind? I’m not really sure. It was still delicious and I devoured it in no time. My one complaint was that the burger seemed kind of small for $12. I felt like I could have eaten another one (thissiwhyyourefat.com).

Amy loves pickles and ordered them. We were all surprised to find out that it was a plate full of delicious pickled vegetables, including beets, daikon, shitake mushrooms, okra and kimchi. My favorite were actually the mushrooms because they were slightly sweet and had a really complex flavor. I watched Amy from the corner of my eye add pickles to her Cali burger and I commended her in my head. It looked like the perfect addition.

The tempura onion rings were very greasy, BUT they had gorgeous, thick slices of onions. My biggest pet peeve is when you bite into an onion ring and then you end up ripping the rest of the onion out with it. You’re left with just a crispy “C” of fried-ness. I think this was the first time that I could bite into an onion ring and it felt like a hearty “crunch.” Despite the greasiness, the onion rings were so good and I’d probably order them again. Also, I was totally in love with their homemade ketchup and found myself slathering it on everything. I probably would have spread some of the ketchup on those pickled items if I wasn’t with company (I didn’t want them judging me).

The truffle cheese fries are a secret item on their menu (so are the cheesy tater tots, which I will have to order next time). I actually found the fries had more truffle taste to them compared to my burger. I liked the combination, but I think the fries needed to be fried just a little bit longer. Do you think I could order them “well done” like you can at In-N-Out?

I will say that the service was superb. Our waiter was SUPER friendly and gave us the low-down on “umami” and what his favorite burgers were. He spent a decent amount of time answering all our questions and he brought me extra ketchup 3 times (I’m a ketchup whore).

Overall, I liked Umami Burger, but I don’t think I would wait an hour again (it was peak time on Saturday night). It is a little bit expensive for how small the burger is, but I really appreciate the high quality of the ingredients. I would want to try a different burger and definitely try the cheesy tater tots. Maybe, they can give me a whole bowl of ketchup instead of tiny spoonfuls too. Best burger ever? No. Did I taste “umami”? I’m really not sure. Will I go back? Definitely, yes.

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