People think that LA is full of health freaks who eat quinoa, drink wheatgrass shots and practise yoga. And they’re right! But in between hydrating on coconut water and energising with a spirulina smoothie, there’s always the option of a retox with a greasy burger.
The brainchild of wine writer Adam Fleischman (pictured), Umami Burger was started in 2009. The idea behind the concept was inspired by Fleischman’s obsession with the fifth sense of taste, umami, which he’d come across while reading Heston Blumenthal’s books.
He bought any ingredient he could find with umami properties and experimented for a month in his kitchen by mixing seaweeds, miso, fish sauce, soy sauce, cheeses and dried fish, before developing his secret signature Umami sauce and opening his first Umami Burger restaurant on South La Brea Avenue.
And what started as a humble burger joint has become one of the biggest success stories among Californian upscale fast food chains, with a growing portfolio of 20 locations around California, Florida and New York.
The secret to its success are its fantastic burgers, which pack a punch on flavour and thanks to their soft buns, go down like a homesick mole. The full recipe is top secret, but the special Umami sauce contains some soy sauce and the dust, made up of ground-up dried porcini mushrooms and dried fish heads, as well as other umami enhancers.All the patties are cooked sous-vide before being seared on the grill and served medium rare.
Here are the top burgers from the Umami menu.
Umami Burger ($11/£7)
The original creation aims to truly maximise the umami flavour experience. Toppings comprise glutamic acid (the scientific term for umami) flavour punchers such as shiitake mushrooms, caramelised onions and umami ketchup, with an oven-roasted tomato and a Parmesan crisp giving texture. It’s pretty rich but utterly delicious.
Manly Burger ($11/£7)
This one is not for the dieting LA ladies: covered with huge pieces of bacon lardons, crispy fried smoked-salt onion strings and melted beer-cheddar cheese, it’s a whopper of a burger but a million miles removed from what you might find at Burger King.
Truffle Burger ($12/£7.70)
This is the ultimate burger at Umami, which is about as moreish to the burger fiend as a hit from a crack pipe is to a junky. It’s topped with a mild truffle-infused cheese and a truffle glaze – nothing more, nothing less. Perfection.
The Greenbird ($12/£7.70)
Umami’s take on the turkey burger and a must-order option for the non-beef eaters among its customers. It features birds from Shelton Farms, crushed avocado, green cheese, butter lettuce, sprouts and the green goddess dressing.
Ahi Tuna Burger ($15/£9.65)
One of two burgers with a patty from the sea and most certainly the healthiest option on the menu, it combines seared Ahi tuna with avocados, gingered pickles and wasabi flakes that lend a spicy kick against the sweetness of the brioche bun.
Shrimp Burger ($13/£8.35)
Only available at UMAMIcatessen in Downtown LA, this concoction sees a hefty patty of juicy prawns topped with a tangy Japanese shredded seaweed salad, yuzu-kosho aioli and Japanese spices. Original and a definite winner.