Japan isn't particularly lauded for burgers. It has a whole bunch of other amazing shit it does better than anyone else in the world, so why would it be? Our research yielded nothing that really warranted inclusion with the myriad of ramen, sushi, izakaya, shabu-shabu, yakiniku and okonomiyaki places that dominated our list. Except one. But we were never going to get there, it was in a small town called Takayama in the middle of the mountains. No chance. Until we saw that the trip itinerary had us exploring the Japanese Alps and travelling straight through the fucking place (pretty sure mentioning it like a billion times before had no bearing on this.)
Either the internet is selling Japan's burger scene short or the emergence or burger places is relatively new, as we saw quite a few places that looked worthy of popping into and trying. Even though we couldn't because we usually in the process of walking somewhere else to get food. So this much lauded place in Takayama held an extra special significance. If it was shit it would be the biggest anti-climax in holiday history.
Takayama is a delightful town. It is quaint, with a lovely historical old town, and a tiny bar run by an absolute legend called Kensei. Center4 is equally cute, nestled on a mostly residential street a couple of doors down from the local post office. Inside there are only a handful of tables and bar seats, surrounded by dangling Americana and the shell of a canoe. The feel is simultaneously both American diner and distinctly Japanese.
It is so quiet too, you can barely hear the sound of the meat on the grill even though chatter in the place is hushed.
The decor is a strong clue to the inspiration on the bacon cheeseburger, which are distinctly American. The thick slice of tomato, crisp iceberg lettuce and chunks of onion identify it as a classic California diner-style creation. It is a good one. The bacon was insanely tasty with the right amount of crisp char and chewiness, and the beef was also nicely charred and juicy. American-style mustard added a welcome tang, and a thick lashing of kewpie-like mayonnaise added a extra rich, dense creamy depth against the crunchy fresh vegetables (we might start using it at home on ours). The cheddar had a touch of sharpness and had melted into a glorious elasticity. The bun was simple, like a soft bap, which squished delightfully. It was familiar yet nuanced and very satisfying.
There are only a limited supply of Hida beef burgers every day here, so we made sure we booked a table for as soon as the place opened to guarantee one. It was fucking worth it.
Japanese beef is so wicked. All the wagyu we ate was immense - marbled to fuck, melt in the mouth soft and supremely beefy. And the Hida beef here was also great. A thick, wonderfully seared patty sat on top of lettuce leaves and the same thick mayonnaise was spread on the top bun. That was it. The patty was loosely packed, cooked to a nice medium, juicy, and very velvety. The flavour of the beef was exceptional, a unique umami hard to fully describe. The creamy mayo snaked through the umami savoury in the mouthful, but in essence it was just a really good minced beef sandwich.
Run by a couple that just love making burgers, this is an absolute gem in the most unlikely of places. No wonder it is always so busy. If you're ever in the middle of the Japanese mountains you should definitely go, this is one place where the TripAdvisor score is actually accurate.