It's easy to miss the restaurant, as it is a nondescript store front on La Brea, wedged between such non epicurean delights as a donut shop and a car wash. But find it we did. Normally, I try and avoid valet parking (what's the point of $3 chicken when you've paid $10 for valet?), but for a mere $2, Umami gets the prize for the cheapest valet parking around.
H and I walked in to be greeted by our dear friend J. It's really a very small restaurant, but they've made delightful use of the space, using warm woods and neutral colors, as well as leaving one wall entirely open to windows so that light pours in. We settled in to to the simple table with a paper table cloth and small succulent plant.
The menu is simple: one narrow page of burgers with the reverse of the page detailing sides, drinks, and desserts. But I say, if you do one thing and do it well, then that's all you need. I'm sick of the cheese cake factories of the world doing a mediocre job on EVERYTHING. I hope this micro-specialization continues.
And speaking of micro-specialization, these guys specialize in Cola! They don't have a liquor license, but they will happily send you across the street if you want to bring in your own booze. But... should you be less alcohol inclined, they have a wonderful assortment of unusual sodas. I opted for a Chai Cola. The first sweet sip is filled with the complex spices of chai tea, although it does have a bitter aftertaste. Think next time I'll opt for a different unusual option.
Being a SoCal kinda girl, my beautiful friend H opted for the $9 SoCal Burger. This lovely patty is topped with butter lettuce, caramelized onions, oven roasted tomato, and what they call: house made processed cheese. Do not be put off by visions of kraft singles dancing in your head. This is more akin to a manchego: creamy and flavorful. This burger is sweeter then the Umami, but still cravably delicious.
J opted for the $10 Turkey Confit Burger, which, while tasty, simply wasn't in the same league as the other two. I would skip this one if I were you.
We ordered the $3 triple cooked hand cut fries. While they had a crisp exterior and a nice dusting of salt, they were so thick that it almost seemed more like eating a potato then eating a french fry. Of course, the house made ketchup made anything utterly palatable.
Far superior in the realm of sides is the $2.5 malt liquor tempura onion rings. The light tempura coating and the complex hint of the malt flavor elevate these onion rings far above their normally greasy, soggy counterparts. (Oh, these are greasy too, it's just a different, yummier kind of grease:) I think I'd eat just about anything in that malt liquor tempura batter.
We ended with Cake Monkey's $3.75 Raspberry Red Velvet Ding Dong. The red velvet cake is light and spongey, and the chocolate coating actually tastes like chocolate. I imagine this is what ding dongs used to taste like before all the chemicals came rushing in to make things taste like plastic. Oh, and then there's the delectable tang of the raspberry filling all mushed together in your mouth. Perfectly sweet!
Overall, we had a wonderfully delicious evening at Umami Burger and will certainly be back for more. Four and a half belt notches!!
One Caveat: get there early! We arrived at 7pm and sat down in a mostly empty restaurant. By the time we left at 8:30, hordes of hungry diners stared longingly through the glass at our table. This is not a restaurant to linger in!! Get in, eat scrumptious burgers, and then move on before ravenous diners start swiping food off your plate.
Umami Burger is located at:
850 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036