A Look at Umami Burger’s First Orange County Location [ADVENTURE]
The Umami Burger chain is a hot burger concept that has been acknowledged by the likes of Carson Daly and GQ (burger of the year in 2010?), and this past Saturday, the respected burger chain opens its first of three planned locations in Orange County.
Lucky for us, this purveyor of gourmet burgers chose our home town of Costa Mesa at a hipster-haven shopping center called The Camp as its backyard. We were there for the soft opening, soaking in all the good eats the brand has to offer.
What is Umami?
According to their website, Umami is a Japanese way of saying ‘pleasant savoury taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products.” I’m glad they settled on Umami, a much easier name to relay on to our friends…and Twitter has 140-character limit we’d be drowning in.
In theory, Umami breaks down how humans experience food in the following fashion taste profiles: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Umami.
Philosophy aside, Umami locations share a fun menu of gourmet burgers, with each location maintaining one featured burger, and in the case of this new Costa Mesa location, is a Tandoori Burger. The branding on each burger is evident, with a “U” burned into the bun of every burger that comes out of the kitchen.
If you fancy some sweet art-filled walls, Umami in Costa Mesa doesn’t disappoint. The location features a communal table in the middle of the cozy floor plan, as well as elevated bar-stool table type seating throughout. Minimalism in the silhouette of the architecture is evident, but it’s the artwork on the walls that you’ll remember.
The throw-away “disposable china” made of compressed bamboo and banana leaves left me feeling like I was eating on a sustainable island far, far away. Or something like that:
There is a lot of goodness on the menu, and in the spirit of trying as much as we could, we settled on Smushed Potatoes ($4.50), Tempura Onion Rings ($3) and the Cheesey Potato Tots (off the menu, just ask).
The tempura onion rings were no joke, beer-battered in Colt 45 and a light flakey tempura crust that is outweighed by the hefty rings of onion they encase. Good bang for the buck, but beware your murmuring heart.
The winner in the appetizer gauntlet was definitely the Smushed Potatoes, offering up some hefty filler prior to the main course, and the roasted garlic aioli dipping sauce is a must.
The moment we’ve been waiting for, the chance to try those buns with a U-stamp. The chance to try these supposed meat patties that “dissolve in your mouth.” To find out why people are paying $10+ for a burger, when you can run a few miles in either direction and grab an In-N-Out burger, or play Frogger across the street to a much more affordable TK Burger. Well, here’s why:
Pictured above is the staple menu item, simply dubbed: Umami Burger. It features shiitake mushroom, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, a parmesan crisp and the brand’s own Umami ketchup. Upon biting into it, you realize what’s going on at Umami that isn’t necessarily going on at those “cheaper alternatives.” You’re biting into a complete product, tasting not the individual levels of the burger, but a well thought out and constructed compilation of flavors. In my initial bites, I didn’t even feel or taste the cheese crisp or the mushrooms, and that’s a testament to how seamless all the ingredients work together.
Once we polished off the Umami Burger, we ordered up several other recommended items from the helpful wait staff, including an Ahi Tuna Burger (hand-chopped ahi tuna, crushed avocado, pickled ginger, sprouts, wasabi tartar spread), Hatch Burger (roasted green chilies, house-made American cheese), Manly Burger (beer-cheddar cheese, smoked salt-onion strings, bacon lardons), Port & Stilton Burger (blue cheese, port-caramelized onions), Truffle Burger (house-made truffle cheese, truffle glaze), the Earth Burger (mushroom & edamame patty, white soy aioli, truffle ricotte, cipollini onions, lettuce, slow-roasted tomato) and an off the menu burger dubbed the Spicy Bird (house spread, chilies, onion strings, beer cheddar cheese on a chicken patty).
Favorites from the menu will vary depending on your tastes. The Port & Stilton Burger isn’t for everyone, the blue cheese is evident and if you’re sensitive to it, you’ll definitely want to stay away. But if you do enjoy blue cheese, the burger is a must. Two of the staff favorites include the Manly Burger, partly due to its salty bacon contribution, and the Hatch burger, a seemingly simple menu item with incredibly nuanced spice flavors.
The last burger to come out (pictured directly below) was the Spicy Bird, an off-menu item you have to ask for. The Spicy Bird was a surprise hit for our crew. Something about the juicy white meat patty coupled with the spicy runny-ness of the beer cheddar cheese made it a definite “guys” burger for the “guys” who are trying to avoid red meat.
Umami Burger — Costa Mesa, CA
Our sentiments about Umami kind of align with an Orange County resident Nancy Gu, who laughingly told the OC Register that she will be “fat and broke,” because she loves the burger so much. It’s a good range of burgers at a $10+ price point, so with an appetizer and drink, you’re not likely to escape the restaurant with a tab under $20.
But for the quality of burger, you’re going to have to make your own executive decision. If you’re in Orange County, you have a fair amount of awesome burger choices, but Umami competes with the best of ‘em. It’s on par with Slater’s 50/50, if not a little tastier and manageable, and almost up their with the Playground Burger from Downtown Santa Ana.
If you’re on a hunt for the “best burger” around, you’ll want to try Umami. Who knows, their selection might break into your personal Top 10 list.
2981 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 957 – UMAMI
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