I was in somewhat of a touchy mood when we finally arrived at the Santa Monica branch of this rapidly growing little chain (there are five outposts in LA now, with more on the way). Principally, because nothing on the website tells you it’s in a fucking Fred Segal store, and partly, because Google Maps sucks. So we walked circled a couple of blocks for fifteen minutes trying to find it.

So, note to any non Santa Monica residents looking for this place, if you see spot Fred fucking Segal, you’ve found it.

I ordered the SoCal burger and my dining companion ordered the Manly Burger (because he so is). When they arrived they looked brilliant, like straight-out-of-the-dressing-room pretty. Mood swiftly reversed.

The bun gets top billing here, as it’s amongst the best I’ve ever tasted, probably THE best.

It’s got the shine of a brioche (with their signature ‘U’ toasted into the top half), but isn’t really a brioche. It’s chewy, but super-squidgy. Substantial, but not stodgy. A superb example of how well a burger bun can be made.

And there’s definitely a can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it extra dimensional taste to the patty that makes it unique, an almost kinda hint of gravy. That signature umami. Hard to describe without over-hyphenating.

You can see from the pictures the meat is soft and ever so loosely formed; the result being it crumbles away in your mouth after each bite, mingling with everything else in the burger: the full hit in every bite. The consistency of the cheese is spot on and the house sauce, a homage to In ‘n Out’s ‘Spread’ if I’m not mistaken, adds a fresh tang without overwhelming it.

The only terribly small issue: the loose grind of the meat and the slightly anaemic bottom bun caused the burger to fall apart about three quarters of the way through, so the final few bites were frantic, morsel-rescuing mouthfuls.

The Manly Burger, their take on a bacon cheeseburger - with it’s thick lardons and crispy onion strings - looked, and apparently tasted, bloody epic.

“No unsettling flavour combinations or trickery. It’s just a good burger. Craft over science.”

Umami Burger on Urbanspoon

There’s certainly a touch of Heston Blumenthalerie in the way these guys go about experimenting with different flavours and ingredients, not to mention their namesake fifth taste. The dude that owns the chain certainly talks almost evangelically about the painstaking construction of each burger. And it shows. Everything in it is crafted from scratch, and we applaud the wicked craftsmanship on display. Unlike Heston though, there’s nothing weird here. No unsettling flavour combinations or trickery.

It’s just a good burger. Craft over science.

Umami is an important place. Arguably, they’re at the epicentre of the quality mid-priced resurgence which is having a major impact on this side of the pond too. And for that reason, as well as a damn fine and totally unique burger, Umami is smack bang at the top of our Essential LA Burgers list, cosying up to In-n-Out. Go.


  • Rob.