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Umami Burger SOMA-Seriously? (Long Review) [San Francisco]

I've been wanting to try Umami Burger for a while, finally got my chance tonight. I was pretty disappointed. If I had no idea what it was I would've just thought, oh well, another place long on attempts at grandeur that falls short on execution.

The burger was honestly, just... ok. I tried the original (parmesan crisp, shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, house ketchup). I thought I was in for something special and I didn't want to gild the lily. Ordered it standard or medium rare which is how I like my burgers. From the first bite I was unimpressed. I didn't like the bun, it's too heavy, too much dough, and it was pretty soggy. The parmesan crisp that comes on the burger was good on it's own but didn't really add much overall to the burger. The mushrooms were sort've lost and I didn't really like the caramelized onions (to be fair I'm not really a fan of caramelized onions on burgers, I like the chopped grilled onions at In N' Out for what it's worth). Ok, so maybe it's not my kind've burger but even the patty falls short in my opinion. It's a solid patty no doubt. I like that it's a loose packed kind've patty, it was nice and juicy, I was fine with the done-ness and I liked the sort've crispy griddle crust but honestly for a place with "Umami" in the name the patty and burger overall was pretty lacking in it. I feel like it could've been improved by some salt. A burger place that doesn't allow substitutions is, to me, implying I will receive a well balanced and properly seasoned burger. It fell way short of that for me.

I also tried the tempura battered onion rings. These were pretty bad honestly. The onions are, as billed, thick cut... like big mouth-fulls of onion thick. The batter was fine but really nothing special and thoroughly overshadowed by the onion. I ate maybe 3 of the 7 huge rings served with house ketchup. I feel like some sort've sauce would've aided the overall experience, maybe an aioli, maybe a take on Japanese tempura sauce. Anyhow, pretty big miss.

So, to top it all off my bill was $18.66, I left a $4 tip so I paid $23 for a pretty mediocre meal (had water to drink). I would've had no problem with the bill if the burger was as good as it was expensive. It was my choice to leave a generous tip for an overall poor experience and rather lackluster service. I'm really not the type to offer feedback (I know it's probably best if I would), I'm more the type to just pay for my meal and not return. I'm even less of the type to leave a small tip to people who work hard jobs that often don't pay well. Anyhow, the slow service didn't bother me in the least but the fledgling excuse for a gourmet burger and onion rings certainly makes me question what people see in the place. I'm tempted to give it another try, maybe I'll try the manly burger next time? It sounds crazy heavy though.

What have been others' experience? Love it? Hate it? Just Ok? I'm really curious. It was pretty slow when I was there (about 5PM on a Sunday, not sure if that was good or bad.

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  1. As a guy who likes his burgers, I don't eat at umami.

    I've tried it about three times, once in so-cal, twice at the palo alto location near my house.

    I like more heft in my patty.
    I find the umami additions subtle - overly so
    the price is high
    the bun is too big for the burger

    On the cheap side, I like Five Guys, Jefferey's, In n Out (to a lesser extent).

    In the middle, I like the Creamery in Palo Alto, at Strich in San Jose, and Stein's in Mountain View.

    There are a lot of good expensive burgers. Places like Village Pub, Refuge (pastrami on top), Mayfield, Martin's West.

    I even like my home burgers better than umami, for all its extras. My mexican butcher actually grinds his chuck daily out of real meat, the fat content is such that a "medium" is super juicy and unusually flavorful - even over gas, and when I do charcoal or wood, so much the better.

    I am not a fan of the Counter. The burgers are only OK, the toppings can be fun, but the service is generally so slow it's not worth it.

    That's just greater palo alto. Umami is nowhere, man.

    1 Reply
    1. Trendy... and never seemed to deliver.

      This was after experiencing them in Los Angeles.

      1. I had them in LA when they first opened and loved them. But I'm a sucker LOL

        1 Reply
        1. re: ltsering

          But now, do you still eat them? Where else would you compare them to?

          1. I truly do not understand how the place has become such a success... is it somehow seen as cool to eat there?... If so, by whom??

            4 Replies
            1. re: Eudoxus

              Hipster foodies who don't realize the Emperor is naked.

              1. re: jpatrick72

                How can you be a foodie and not recognize it's pretty much shit?

                I don't think that's correct. Upon reflection, I would imagine it's regular people who think that they are serving something that is better than standard, so they go to be as cool as the hipster foodies. The hipster foodies meanwhile know about all of the burgers that are the same price, but better in their local areas. Kind of sad really =/

                1. re: Eudoxus

                  Because Hipsters don't always know what's good or what isn't good... only what people tell them is good.

                  1. re: jpatrick72

                    I thought hipsters did the exact opposite?

            2. Yep, ate there once and thought everything tasted too sweet and not enough beefy essence. I feel the same about Roam "Artisan" Burgers, too much focus everything but the meat, where the primary focus should be.

              1. Had Umami in Santa Monica once to see what the hype was all about and have had it thrice at the Palo Alto location since then. It was decent in LA but something seems to be missing in my more recent trips. Maybe it was a combo of the price and pretentiousness. Had a much better experience checking out the burger at the Oinkster in Eagle Rock.

                My cheap tier is In N Out and Habit Burger. Not a fan of Five Guys, although I have found that sometimes letting all the flavors cook a bit in the foil wrap (ie takeout) seems to lead to a better tasting Five Guys burger. The Counter's gimmick is the variety of toppings, the meat is unimpressive. Waiting for a chance to try Smashburger in SF (and for Kronnerburger to reopen in Oakland)

                Not sure if you have other SF-located burgers to compare with, but there seems to be quite a few hyped ones these days -- Marlowe, Mission Bowling Club, RickyBobby's, Bix, Wesburger, 4505. Don't understand the hype for Super Duper though -- tried the Metreon location and it was just ok.

                1 Reply
                1. re: KetchupOnFriedRice

                  I've tried RickyBobby and it was pretty good but I don't feel compelled to return, it was too heavy with the bacon mixed into the patty. I feel like the food in general at RickyBobby is a bit over the top. It's well executed though just stylistically a bit much for my taste.

                  I like Super Duper. I like to keep it simple there, Super Duper with cheese. It's a pretty good representation of the griddle style, old-school, diner type burger and relatively inexpensive too. I didn't really like it that much the first time I went either, give it another shot if you're so inclined.

                2. Seems like the general consensus is a thumbs down. Glad to know I'm not alone. Just goes to show you, Chowhounders aren't easily fooled.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: virtualguthrie

                    I'm not really a fan, but I suspect it's because I'm comparing it to other SF burgers, for which the bar is pretty high. Objectively, I think it's a decent burger. It's not a burger I ever recommend, but compared to Shake Shack or Fuddrucker's, it's pretty good.

                    But then I've not had it in a year or two, so.

                    1. re: dunstable

                      Funny how everybody has different tastes! Personally i'm not a fan of Super Duper, Marlowe, In 'N Out, or Five Guys (or Namu Gaji, Bartlett hall, Cavalier, Nopa, Zuni, Hopscotch) but i do like Shake Shack and thought the Umami burger I had was decent. The ones i've enjoyed most locally were at Waterbar, Wayfare tavern, Corner store, Trick Dog. But i may get tired of those after a while, we'll see. I still need to try Mission bowling and Garaje's burger.

                      1. re: barleywino

                        So true. I'd take a Shake Shack burger over Umami any day. Love Nopa and Mission Bowling Club. Like but don't love Marlowe and Zuni. Not a fan of Five Guys or Super Duper, would take In-N-Out over either.