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Umami Burger, does hipster cred excuse terrible service?

My SO and I finally made it to Umami Burger La Brea today. We live within walking distance, but after hearing so much about their "growing pains" we decided to let them work it out for a while. When we saw that they'd opened other branches we figured the early problems were taken care of and decided to partake of what most people described as a pretty special burger.

There was a line outside when we got there around 1-ish. We chose to sit at the counter and avoid the wait. The manager (or who I can only assume was the manager as he wasn't a server) seated us, that is, after he finished checking the box office results on his phone.

Once seated, we waited, and waited and waited, my SO tried to catch the manager's eye, a server's eye. They all purposefully averted his gaze. Seriously, it was ridiculous, I guess the manager had to drill down on those "Avatar" numbers. Finally our server shows up, we ordered a couple burgers, ketchup and mustard (it's a separate order there and they make a big deal on the menu about how you only get one with the order of a side, go figure) fries, onion rings a salad and a couple sodas. The two different sodas we wanted were sold out. We switched our orders.

About 15 minutes later our burgers arrived. No condiments, no salad, no fries, no rings. The bus boy who brought them said our fries were coming. We waited, and waited and waited. We started eating our burgers. They were quite good, nice char, interesting combo of flavors on both the "Manly" burger and the Umami burger, although I could have done without the extra slathering of grease on the bun (the meat was juicy and the bun was soft, why cover the outside of the bun in grease which only necessitates making a hash out of your single napkin -- and good luck getting another, we asked, I kid you not, 5 times for the ketchup and mustard we'd ordered initially and got nothing but various shades of attitude from various servers and busboys for our trouble. And we're not demanding, entitled a-holes, we're patient, polite and friendly, it kind of makes it all even more galling.)

10 minutes later, fries arrive. No rings, no salad. The couple next to us got an incorrect bill, the people at the next table had rapidly cooling fries with no burger. We asked again for ketchup (we were up to time 4 by now and our server told us we "had" ketchup motioning at the Chinese style soup spoon that came with the fries. When we said we'd like some for the burger as well as the mustard, he sighed and disappeared into the kitchen, seeming very put out.) New people cam in and when they ordered the soda selection had dwindled to ginger ale and iced green tea. It was around 1:45. How do you run out of all your sodas? It's not even like it's a perishable item that you want to order sparingly, which I would understand.

We inquired about our salad to the same busboy who'd brought our burgers and promised fries, the server was AWOL. The surly busboy asked which salad it was? We said it was the regular salad on the menu. We didn't have menus so we couldn't specify beyond "green." He sighed and disappeared. We were halfway through our burgers, wanting to enjoy them with our sides but also aware that they weren't getting any hotter. Finally rings arrived, and, you guessed it, still no salad or condiments. Five times was the charm on two more soup spoons full of mediocre, unsweetened tomato sauce-like ketchup and good Dijon mustard. We canceled the salad, got a sneer. When the bill came we were charged for the salad.

It's a really good burger, I'm not going to take that away from them (the onion rings were nice, but I can understand people who don't like the super fluffy batter and those who think the fries are too "baked potato-y" I prefer shoestring fries myself, but they were okay) but it's so obvious that whoever is in charge hasn't given nearly the thought or care to the basics of customer service that they did with the menu items. I would understand being able to get away with this if you were, say, the only dim sum place in all of North Dakota, but they're a hamburger place (and a pricey hamburger place at that) in Los Angeles, during a recession. We have options, LOTS of them! And now they've expanded when they obviously haven't even come close to mastering the basics at their original location.

Somehow for a quarter of the price and none of the attitude there are burger joints all over town that manage to get you a burger and fries with condiments all at the same time, relatively quickly, with a smile . Maybe they don't have Lardons or Shitake mushrooms or even Parmesan Frico, but ya know what, I think I can live without 'em.

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

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  1. And to think, some posters here complain about rude service at Father's Office. lol

    1. I wonder if Gia DeLaurentiis gets service like that?

      1. I've never really had horrible service there (like yours), but I've never really had great service. It's been sub-par to standard. Their burgers are IMO, the best in LA (and the best I've had). I don't complain about the price, because well, this is LA, and it's like $9 for an AMAZING burger. Alot of "gourmet" burgers are easily over $10, and FO is the only one that is almost on the same level. I don't care much for their sides except their onion rings, which I really like, but are fairly greasy. Oh, and you're better off w/o the ketchup - it's horrible IMO.

        Seriously though, where can you find a good burger for $2.25? Alot of fast food burgers are over that. The best burger value I've found here is Philly West's burger (about $5-$6).

        1 Reply
        1. re: mdpilam

          I mostly heartily agree with mdpilam. Sure, the layout at La Brea blows (the side room reminds me of the bad girl closet in "Carrie") and the service isn't great (although the last time I went it was fine), but that is a fantastic $9 burger. Second best burger I've ever had, right after Bartley's in Boston (and that place sets the gold standard for bad service/atmosphere/etc...even the napkins are annoyingly small.) I'm suspicious that Umami's burgers started out slightly larger, but even now I'm more than full after one. But the taste is just good pure meatiness. And at $9 is cheaper and better than anyplace comparable (ugh, the boring pressed patty i had at Library Alehouse in SM the other night still makes me angry.)

          Oooh, and the Cahuenga location's right behind Urban? I'm definitely going there after a jaunt to the Sunday Hwood Farmer's Market. Hello, Sunday afternoon nap!

        2. I went there when they first opened and they were always out of stuff.

          The final straw was when I went there and was served a burger that was barely cooked. When I asked about it, the waiter told me that was the way they made them. I didn't eat the burger and they didn't seem to have a problem that I only took one bite before asking for the check.

          Lately I've been going to Golden State. I like their burgers and the owners are very friendly.

          3 Replies
          1. re: bsquared2

            I remember the late great L.A. food critic Elmer Dills and one of his dining pet-peeves was when dishes that were hardly touched were taken away by the server----but without any question as to why it wasn't eaten! In cases of very bad service, Elmer always said to write or call the management and let them know of your displeasure (Elmer said that many unknowing restaurant owners would appreciate knowing when their employees are not providing good service to valued customers).

            1. re: HBfoodie

              They know and apparently don't care.

              1. re: latindancer

                I have to agree. Just from the volume of Chowhound complaints, there's no way Umami management isn't aware of their customers' opinion of the service.

                That's not to say Elmer's advice is wrong, though. I'm even more likely to make an issue of bad service when the food is as good as I think it is at Umami. If a place has both bad food AND bad service, I see no point in speaking up -- I just go away and never come back.

                But if a place has something going for it (like Umami's burgers and onion rings, imo), and if I don't complain about the things I don't like (the service and the fries), I validate the bad service, and I lose the right to complain when an otherwise good place closes after losing customers.

          2. Thanks for the report, PinotPlease. Well written and very descriptive. I know that I'll not be trying Umami any time soon.

            3 Replies
            1. re: maudies5

              You took the words right out of my mouth, maudies5. I second that thought! Thank you, PinotPlease. Umami has fallen to the bottom of my list of places to try.

              1. re: maudies5

                Thanks to all for the Unami report. I think I'll give this place a pass. My GF is not one to sit around for bad snooty service. The chinciness on the ketchup is just ridiculous. I hope someone sends this thread to the manager or owner of Unami. The good thing about being a customer is that I can take my hardearned money somewhere else and tell Unami to eff off.

              2. The service at the Cahuenga location is much much better. Maybe because it serves alcohol so you don't care if the service is bad because the burgers are good and the cocktails are strong.

                1. This has been my experience to a tee, tried it two times months apart before giving up. Maybe the other locations are better, but the original La Brea location is a joke and should be avoided at all costs. In fact the second attempt there we left before even being seated, since I could both see the situation you described unfolding at nearly every table, and meanwhile we were subjected to incredibly rude comments by the (apparent) manager while we were waiting in line. Not to mention that the space itself is horrible, too small, no walking or standing room, bad layout, horrible parking. Just bad bad bad all around.

                  1. I'm just shocked that you got your burger within 15 minutes. Took 45+ for mine, it was ridiculous. I actually liked the burger but actually being emotionally angered at a restaurant's service and having to fight with wait staff for items/updates isn't something I really like going through and is enough to scratch it off my list of places to visit again.

                    1. I have had good service at the LaBrea store and better service at the Hollywood Blvd location (I sat at the bar there). Agree the catsup is feh! Go for the Dijon. The burgers are good. The sweet potato fries are good. A root beer float was not bad.
                      As for where you can get cheaper burgers, well, McDonalds has a McDouble on their dollar menu--yes one dollar for two small patties with cheese, but it is served rapidly and it tastes like McDonalds, not a gourmet burger. So if it's cheap and quick you want, there you go.

                      1. I personally have had good service at all three Umami restaurants, and I really enjoy their burgers.

                        1. After one experience with the service at La Brea I swore off Umami, but when the Hollywood Blvd. branch opened it was within walking distance. Service is still spotty at best, but at least in Los Feliz I've never had to wait in line to be insulted ;p

                          The fries are still terrible but the onion rings make up for it, and I insist on aïoli instead of ketchup. And yes, the burger is REALLY worth it.

                          1. i am curious if you left a tip. honestly, when service is just that horrible, i wouldn't.

                            i wonder if people started tipping according to the service they received if that would send them the message. i know sometimes it's just easier to tip the 20% to avoid feeling bad, but when service is just nonexistent, the tip should be as well.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Jelly71

                              I left a very small tip at La Brea. Leaving no tip means you forgot ... leaving a small tip makes the point much better (assuming the offenses don't merit a verbal complaint to management.)

                            2. Does anyone know what days the Umami truck is parked in front of Fred Segal in Santa Monica? They're terrible about posting locations, let alone a schedule of where they'll be.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: a_and_w

                                they don't announce on twitter where they'll be?

                                1. re: Maxmillion

                                  Nope. A lot of trucks appear confused on the concept. They either don't update daily or use the feed to forward links rather than useful info like where they'll be.

                                  1. re: a_and_w

                                    Heaven forbid a restaurant should actually inform its customers where it's located ... ;p

                                    1. re: maxzook

                                      Works ok for the secret meat place in West LA.

                                      1. re: mc michael

                                        I have no idea what you're talking about.

                                        But I guess that's the idea.

                                        1. re: maxzook

                                          i'm guessing he's referring to the hallowed Teriyaki House on Pico. I don't remember the real name because their sign is from the previous business. VERY expensive, high grade meat.

                                2. SNARK WARNING.

                                  "Does hipster cred excuse terrible service? "

                                  I thought it REQUIRED it!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: silverlakebodhisattva

                                    De-snarking: That's a funny comment, but there are at least a few places like The Griddle that disprove it.

                                  2. I've been to the original location and the Loz Feliz one. I've never waited in line, maybe because i go at off-peak hours.
                                    I can't say i've had bad service either, but have experienced the outage of products.
                                    I fell in love with the porkbelly at the original location, then, they took it off the menu. But they were offering it a the LF one, i was happy and then utterly let down after ordering it, it was NOT even close to being the same and the server argued with me it was... lies. Something so good leaves an impression and i KNOW it was different toppings.

                                    At the LF location the burgers had too much duckfat in them making it almost necessary to use a fork to eat, they were not cooked enough, making it almost slimy. ew.

                                    I will go back to the original one, but not the LF even though i prefer the feel of that place.

                                    As for the fries, you can ask for skinny fries and bypass the baked potato ones.

                                    1. while hipster burger it may certainly be it is the dang tastiest burger I've managed to find in the L.A., rather any, area. does the scrum-diddilly-dumptionsness of the burger excuse poor service? depends on my mood. the hollywood location is definitely a more pleasant experience in terms of service but the sound of the second hand ticking away after ordering still grows quite loud. my solution: I only go in off hours. if i go to the La Brea location I bring a nice bottle of wine or a sixer of craft brew and happily wait.

                                      1. Well, I feel the need to put my 2 cents in. Personally, I do not think any restaurant's food is worth it when the service is absolutely terrible. Now, I had a totally different experience going to Umami Burger...

                                        I did go to the Umami on Hollywood Blvd in Los Feliz and not the La Brea location.

                                        I went for lunch. We were seated immediately and the restaurant was about 3/4ths full. Our waiter was pleasant. He explained the burgers and chimed in which 2 were his favorite and why (it actually sounded like he's eaten all the burgers)...

                                        I went with a friend who lives in the area but, since this was out of my way, I couldn't decide between 2 burgers, so I was tempted to order a few of the burgers, but ended up ordering the Hatch. My friend ordered the manly burger.

                                        My friend and I split an order of thin fries, sweet potato fries, and their onion rings.

                                        The food came out relatively quickly but they did forget to bring out the rings and sweet potato fries. They appear to work in teams and when the server that took our order came by a few minutes later to ask how we're doing, he immediately noticed that we were missing a few items, he went back and fetched them quickly.

                                        Now, onto the food. My friend really enjoyed the manly burger, and said the bacon lardons made the burger.

                                        I quickly devoured the hatch. My thoughts... it wasn't spicy at all. The burger was a lot smaller than I thought it would be and the bottom half of the bun disintegrated in burger juices/grease. It was a good burger but I don't feel the value was there. I was still hungry... so I ordered their signature Umami Burger. I did taste the umami and it felt more satisfying (or, maybe because it was the second burger). I also noticed the bottom half of the bun dissolving in the burger juices/grease.

                                        Onto the sides... the thin fries came out hot and crispy but were oversalted... like Dead Sea oversalted. The sweet potato fries were very good... they were crispy and just the right amount of sweetness. The onion rings were pretty good... light tempura style batter. I wasn't really a fan of their umami ketchup (sorry, I guess I'm a Heinz guy) and thought the garlic aioli was nothing special. I also think they're a bit too stingy with the condiments... but, since I didn't care for them, I didn't make a big deal.

                                        We got one dessert (the marshmallow-peanut butter muffin) for my friends girlfriend... and I was shocked at how small it was.... about the size of a commercial sized ding-dong.... only not as wide. I'm not sure if she liked it or not.

                                        He mentioned there was mexican coke and when I asked him if they had diet soda, he said "yes, we have diet coke" but it wasn't diet coke... it was diet someotherbrand cola, which tasted fine but wasn't diet coke. I found that mildly annoying.

                                        Overall, I had an above average upscale burger experience. I'd give it about a 7-8 out of 10. I've had better burgers in LA for more money and for less money.

                                        Going back to the poor service.. I agree with the original poster... poor service will ruin a dining experience.... for the prices they charge for their burgers.... they should offer above average service. Fortunately, I felt my service was above average.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: DrBruin

                                          Good to know - Thanks.

                                          This fellow Bruin is considering going to the Los Feliz location.

                                          1. re: J.L.

                                            I have been to Hollywood Blvd and Chanuega for lunch. Both times the service was good and the food was amazing.

                                        2. Don't know if it's just been isolated incidents, but after seeing the overwhelming negativity on this board for Umami, I have to chime in.
                                          My experiences there have been painless and pleasant. The "Manly" burger is so full of pure FLAVOR that I could care less about the crappy ketchup and pointless sides. Gimme two of those burgers and I will happily eat only that one meal on a given day. Best burger- flavorwise- I've had. Period. I've tried all the others that are board favs, but at Umami it's the MEAT that provides the flavor.

                                          10 Replies
                                          1. re: jdwdeville

                                            I don't recall seeing a lot of overwhelming negativity for Umami. Their burgers have been riding high on chowhound radar ever since it opened.

                                            Mr Taster

                                            1. re: Mr Taster

                                              I'm not so sure... I remember a wave of positive posts- but, scroll down to the related posts, most of them I find are pretty down on the place. I mean, in this post alone there are at least two people who've said they haven't been there and now will not go due to the OP's experience. not saying you're wrong, you're entitled to you opinion (I'm just giving mine away for free, after all) but here we have a post so negative it's actually turning away new diners.

                                              1. re: jdwdeville

                                                Umami is now being demonized in much the same way as FO's has been (and will be again). First put them up on a pedestal and then rip them down for daring to be up there! And for anyone to decide not to go to a restaurant that draws this much interest just because someone else doesn't like it makes me suspect of their houndly cred... ;-D>

                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                  To each his own I guess. Makes it that much easier for me to get a table when I go.

                                                  1. re: Servorg

                                                    I wouldn't avoid a place "just because someone else doesn't like it," because that's a very subjective matter. But descriptions of arrogant servers, slow and undependable service, and a controlling attitude about ordering options are something I find very useful. In this economy, one can't eat at every new spot in town, and a lot of positive reactions here are close to astroturfing. Genuine complaints get my attention, because they contain information you won't find on a restaurant's web site. I'm also aware that certain restaurants "draw this much interest" for reasons that I know are unrelated to the experience I will have there. "Houndly cred" is in the eye of the beholder.

                                                    1. re: Servorg

                                                      Have you ever actually been to the La Brea location? All the complaints (mine included) are about that location. I can't speak for the other locations. In any case, the La Brea Umami Burger is NOTHING like Father's Office in terms of why we've been complaining about it. Unlike F.O., the Umami La Brea location has NOTHING going for it. Horrible layout, horrible part of La Brea for a restaurant whose entire design is based around a large open window facing the street, bad tables and chairs, cramped, awful, slow, awful waiter service with attitude. F.O. on Montana is like a relaxing spa compared it.

                                                      1. re: QualityMart

                                                        FO's (especially SM) has been the subject of a lot of intense dislike (bordering on psychotic hate) on this board over the years for service related issues. Umami started out here (the original location) as somewhat of a board darling. Now it is getting treated to some of the same intense complaints that FO gets. I find it both amusing and normal board behavior. I haven't been to the U, as every time I go by it is a mad house, and I know myself too well to subject myself to that atmosphere.

                                                        1. re: Servorg

                                                          There is legitimate reason for some (not all) of the complaints directed at U.
                                                          I wouldn't, necessarily, attribute it to what you're describing as 'normal board behavior', eluding to a possible assumption, on your part, that some people just like to complain for no reason.
                                                          There are concerns and they're justifiable.

                                                          1. re: latindancer

                                                            Those who are dissatisfied with Umami or FO (or whatever restaurant has offended them) for whatever reason are much more likely to post their gripes than those who have had satisfactory visits are to post about it. It's the nature of the beast.

                                                            1. re: Servorg

                                                              I live a stone throw away from the La Brea location. When it first opened most reviews on this board were horrible, ranging from "I don't like my burger rare, why can't I have it well-done" to "they ran out of everything", "service is horrible" and "parking is impossible".
                                                              As a result, I avoided going for a good month.

                                                              My mistake. I love their burgers, I'm especially in love with the Port & Stilton one. I'm not a big eater, so I'm happy with their size.
                                                              While service can be sloppy (on par with Bloom Café), I've never encountered any attitude there, even if I walk in on my own and order just the lone burger without a drink or sides of anything.

                                                              Now, let's be realistic: it's obvious the space itself is minuscule, and even if you order takeout, if you come at 1 PM there's going to be a ridiculous long wait. Think about it as a burger shack, rather than a real sit-down restaurant, come before and after peak hours. Come to think of it, I had to wait longer for my food at nondescript burger shacks elsewhere in Mid-City.

                                                              Now I think the real tragedy regarding burgers in my neighborhood isn't so much that people complain about Umami, but that Indulge Café has closed.

                                              2. tried it a couple times Hollywood blvd location.
                                                Taste like the Nancy Silverton blend you can get for $4.00 a lb at the farmers market.
                                                IMHO I'd rather just buy that and make my own.
                                                Not impressed it was just a big eh.
                                                Service very casual, not horrible but not great.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: johnnyshungry

                                                  No spin. Original post is accurate for 90% of the time I have been there. No excuse for that service and I thnk I know the surly bus guy to whom you refer. He's an ass.

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

                                                2. Thank you for saving me time and money. Umami sounds like a place I would absolutely despise. I had been planning to give it a try, but now know everything I need to know about it without enduring the angst of an unpleasant experience. Thanks for being our canary in the coal mine.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: farmertomato

                                                    YMMV. I've done all right at 2 locations (La Brea and Los Feliz).

                                                    1. re: farmertomato

                                                      you will deny yourself a truly delectable and unique burger. don't do this to yourself! it's almost criminal!!! okay enough drama. take a bottle of wine to distrct you and simply ignore any bad service and/or embrace any good service. it is worth it

                                                      1. re: jayspun

                                                        The Los Feliz branch is walking distance for me; the last few times I stopped by there was a waiting list. So it's perfectly fine with me if people don't want to go there!

                                                        1. re: jayspun

                                                          "It's almost criminal!!!"

                                                          That's one way of looking at it.

                                                      2. After all the dissing, I found myself on La Brea today so i took the opportunity to go to that Umami where I had not been for some months. First thing I noticed was a funky outdoor patio. Second thing I noticed was way more servers than I had seen before (probably three times as many). Place was about two thirds full. I arrived at 1:25. I quickly ordered a lemonade and Manly Burger. The lemonade (not particularly special) arrived in about 15 seconds. The burger arrived at 1:35. Service was polite and attentive. The burger was more medium than medium rare (as stipulated on the menu) but it was DEEElicious. I will be back.

                                                        1. I tried Umami for the first time this weekend. There were two of us. We went to the location in Hollywood. Based on what I've read on the boards, I was expecting mediocre service. Every table was occupied from the moment we arrived around 7 on a Sunday, until we left close to 9. We waited about 20 minutes to be sat and the host took drink orders.

                                                          We were both very hungry, so the wait to put our orders in was painful, but realistically about ten minutes. Our server apologized profusely and took our order. I ordered the port and stilton and he ordered the Umami Burger. We also ordered fries and onion rings.

                                                          The Umami burger was perfect. The fries and onion rings are not something I'd order again. Not bad, but really nothing special. The port and stilton burger was good, but the flavor is very intense, so if you're not prepared or do not like strong flavors, it's not the burger for you.

                                                          Thankfully, the combination of being prepared for bad service because of Chowhound reviews, and the yummy burgers, I'd definitely go back. Some of my favorite places have spotty service, but as long as I know going in and the food makes up for it, I can be very forgiving.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: alliebear

                                                            We tried the LaBrea location for the first time. The service was lovely (both the hostess and the waitress). I had the Umami burger which was great but I wasn't crazy about the shitake mushrooms on it. My sig other had the hatch burger which was pretty excellent. As Alliebear said, the fries were nothing to write home about. They call them "thrice cooked" but they seemed almost raw. I would try the sweet potato fries next time, I was a little jealous of the tables that had them.

                                                            1. re: outshined

                                                              I've been to the Hollywood and La Brea location and got good to great service. Where you get bad service is FO in Culver City.

                                                          2. It has been a while since I've eaten at Umami, until two weeks ago. I went to one of their newer locations, Santa Monica during lunch. The hipster snubby service was absent and the burgers are still the best in L.A. I think they had some kins to work out and still may be a bit slammed during peak dining hours. In my opinion there are no kinks to work out with the burgers themselves and at the end of the day, as Mr. Hokey Pokey said, "that's what it's all about." That said, I do not endorse the namesake Umami burger. All of the other burgers pop in originality and intense flavor. The Umami burger is just a tad bit underwhelming. My favorite is the hatch burger. In an attempt to make my own at home (check out my blog to see the end product: http://jayspun.blogspot.com/2010/10/h...) I gained even more appreciation. It's a complex burger with layer after layer of umami and the bun rounds it out with it's subtle sweetness. The burger is always the right balance of salt and sweet and always delivered at the right temperature. I love you Umami Burger.


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

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: jayspun

                                                              I agree with your assessment, jayspun, wholeheartedly. I recently tried them for the first time, about 6 weeks ago, and had the Hatch burger at the SM location. Service was without any hipster attitude and, for a busy weekday lunch hour, the wait was reasonable. And the burger was delicious, incredibly flavorful and I would go again in a heartbeat. I can't wait to try the other burgers.

                                                              1. re: Phurstluv

                                                                The Hatch is my favorite, probably followed by the truffle burger. Be sure to ask for any off menu burgers - they usually have a couple.

                                                                  1. re: mdpilam

                                                                    also LUV the Hatch
                                                                    and the occasional appearing
                                                                    Seamami "special burger"