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Feb 23, 2009 09:18 PM

Umami Burger: Two Visits

For review and pics: http://reservationforthree.blogspot.c...

Umami, Part One

Have you, by chance, heard the This American Life show about fiascos, specifically the part about the school play that devolves into one hilarious fiasco? If not, head over for a listen ( As Tater and I were driving down Pico on the way home from lunch at Umami, I was thinking about how unfair it is to review a newly opened restaurant. And I was reminded of this classic This American Life bit.

Now let me pause to just say several trustworthy bloggers have been to and enjoyed meals at Umami, so my first experience may have certainly been an exception. But as Tater and I were sitting there, waiting and waiting for my sliders, I realized I had just witnessed a true fiasco. I'd also just like to say up front that the sliders were pretty darn good, so at least the food is off to an encouraging start. And they carry Cake Monkey's amazing cakewiches and cookies which is always a good thing.

It turns out that Heather John, from Foodinista, was also at Umami at the time and caught the second of the two arguments I heard. The first, between the owner and a couple and then one between the couple and another table. There was actually talk of "taking it outside" during the second fight!

Anyhow, in the hour or so that we were there, we witnessed two tables angrily walk out, two confrontations, and the poor cashier/server running around overwhelmed, yet trying to remain calm. It took way too long to order and even longer to finally get the sliders. I'm pretty sure they forgot my order, even though by the time I got my order I was the only table in the place! The sliders turned out to be pretty tasty, though there was just the tiniest bit of blue cheese and just a few onions.

They ran out of food which prompted an early closing. It felt like things were spinning out of control and I left wondering just how this place would fare.

Umami, Part Two

I didn't want to review Umami without trying it one more time, so the three of us went today on the way to shopping for glasses. Good news, Umami was SO much better today in almost all areas. The owner seemed more relaxed, there was a busser and more staff in general, our burger was delicious, and there were no brawls. The fries were pretty good (I prefer shoestrings), even better with the aioli and the buttery bun was perfect. A couple menu changes: the sliders are only for kids now (with blue cheese and onions??) and the order of fries is larger and $3.

While Umami is quite small, there's enough space for the portable high chair and I think loud baby noises would be fine. Tater didn't freak out during both of our visits so I'd say he seems to like it. They must have amazing PR because they're being mentioned everywhere. I'm hoping their operation can keep up with the crowds.

Umami Burger
850 South La Brea

Umami Burger
850 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

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  1. I'm glad you tried it again, although that first time sounded crazy! They actually didn't have any PR until it had been open a week or so already. The owner is well known around L.A. and it was mainly through Chowhound and a few blogs that the word spread. I'm going back soon after a few days of less meat-eating.

    1. I live around the corner (almost) and was a bit worried about trying it after reading all the reviews about them running out of food, closing early, bad service, etc. And then I tried it with 2 friends on Friday, at lunch (reviewed somewhere on the "new burger place on La Brea thread" and had a really good experience, and the burgers were awesome! I hope they stay open a long time.

      1. I love how these posts keep getting deleted. Well, not love, just find it funny. Does anyone know when they'll be officially open?

        3 Replies
        1. re: sarcasmsk

          As explained in our posting guidelines, "We don't allow reviews of "soft open" or "friends and family nights", which are held for a select group prior to the restaurant's opening to the general public. These nights represent either the restaurant pulling out all the stops to impress for a smaller than usual crowd or the time when a restaurant is still working out the kinks and not expecting public review. They won't usually accurately represent the actual experience of dining at the restaurant once it's fully open for business."

          Umami Burger had a longer "soft open" phase, but since it is officially open as of this week, that policy no longer applies.

          1. re: The Chowhound Team

            Thanks Chowhound Team for the explanation of your reasonable policy.

            In all fairness to Umami, I think our first visit was probably in their "soft opening" phase so the chaos was totally understandable. As with most new restaurants, it seems like Umami is ironing out the kinks and continuing to improve.


            1. re: Suebee

              i thought they were already open, what is this about soft openings. i think i first hear of it on a thrillist blurb a few weeks back.

        2. We add a very tasty lunch their last weekend as well. No staff drama. In fact, the waiter was unusually friendly (in the right way) and accomodating.

          The pork burger was the best I've had since a solitary experience at Lucques years ago. Really delicous. Toddler loved the truffle burger and husband went with the classic. I particularly like the loosely formed patty texture. Liked the chunky fries a lot. We had half a burger left over and we took it to go for toddler. Husband ate it the next day (!) and said it was delicous. Go figure.

          Wasn't wild about the cookies. Way too much stuff going on and too sweet by half.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JudiAU

            LOVE that your toddler is such a gourmand - it gives me hope for our little one! And I'll have to try that pork burger, it sounds divine!

          2. Went to Umami burger on Saturday around 3:30 pm. It was just us in the restaurant and as we walked in there were many tables that hadn't been bussed. There were some staff in the kitchen, my wife actually said hi to one of them, but we still sat for 10-15 minutes and no one came out. I walked up to the register and a guy who i think is the owner came out and didn't make eye contact until I asked if he was open.

            Anyways, we ordered the Umami burger, California burger, and fries. Umami was just ok, a little on the dry side. The California was pretty good and very juicy. We liked the fries as well, quite thick but once they cooled down a little, very tasty. I think we'll be going back, hopefully the service will be better. The burgers aren't mind blowing, but pretty solid.