In which The Foodinsta is intrigued by a provocative posting she read on Thrillist about a new burger joint, which results in a lunch that is wacko even by LA standards.
Before I launch in here, I do want to say up front that the food at Umami Burger is really quite good. And the service, while totally batty, ends up being inexplicably charming.
Okay. Let’s back up. Met my friends Mary and Leslee for a girls lunch today at the newly—and I mean newly—opened Umami Burger on La Brea.
Once inside, it’s an attractive space with an attractive clientele. The tightly edited menu consists of 10 burgers, and a few sides including fries and a market salad. But, we’re told at 12:45 pm on a Tuesday afternoon, they’ve run out of buns.
Allow that to sink in. At a burger joint. Next we’re told they are out of salad, but have french fries or chili. We ask how long they’ve been open. Since Friday, our server tells us. Who is the chef? Oh, the first chef quit, then the second chef basically had a meltdown and it is unclear whether or not there is a third chef working today. We ask and are told, “I think so.” And when no food appears an hour after ordering, we begin to wonder.
But then our food does arrive and, surprise!, they’ve found buns! We ordered the port and stilton sliders ($8); an Umami burger with amazing homemade ketchup, grilled onions, fried parm, grilled shiitake mushroom, and tomato ($8); a SoCal burger with butter lettuce, “dried” tomato, house spread, house-made processed cheese (yum!), and caramelized onions, which came with soggy if colorful sweet potato chips ($7.50); and a couple sides of fries ($2.50). By the way – the beef patties on all of the above, really flavorful and just plain GOOD. I don’t know how they can make such a great burger and charge so little.
Back to the fries. We got a stack of eight thick-cut french fries on one of the plates along with a spoonful of that amazing house-made ketchup. But when we asked about the rest of our fries, we were informed they’d run out. Of fries.
Which we then sort of forgot about because there was a kerfuffle at the next table where one model-good-looking 30-ish hipster yelled at a 20ish hipster at a neighboring table “Get out of my FACE!” to which the provocateur yelled, “What are you going to do if I don’t?” Our server escorted the offending hipster and his well-heeled girlfriend out of the restaurant, smoothing over the dispute in the parking lot. What the … ? An attractive 40ish woman at a third table huffily got up to leave, passing by our table and pointing to the enormous painting above our table, snorting, “Yeah, Buddha.”
Oh, and they don’t accept Amex.
But regardless, their credit card machine wasn’t working so it was a good thing we had cash (why do I never have cash???). Yet even with all of the madness, our server remained unflappable and, I’m telling you, the burgers are great. So let me know if you brave a visit, and if chef #3 is still holding his—or her?—own. I’ll be heading back with the husband this weekend, if only to confirm that today’s lunch was or was not in fact a special Food Network episode of Punk’d.
Update 2/19/09: For a less frenetic, but every bit as tantalizing, experience, check out Pat Saperstein’s review on Eating L.A. Interestingly they have raised the prices since my Tuesday visit—but we’re talking .50 or $1 on a couple items. I still don’t get how they can produce such a superior burger at these recession friendly prices!