4 Drool-Worthy Facts to Know About Umami Burger
Warning: Do Not Read This If Hungry
Born in L.A. to a Japanese concept, Umami Burger came home this spring with a much-hyped about opening in Tokyo. So what’s all the fuss about? Here are four facts to know about this gourmet burger joint that’s already garnered a loyal following in the city — Savvy Team now included.
Delicious fast-food imports from the US are nothing new on the Tokyo foodscape (Taco Bell, Shake Shack and Carl’s Jr have all opened recently to queues around the block) so when Umami Burger first landed in the fancy backstreets of Kita-aoyama, we couldn’t help but have a sense of diner déjà-vu.
But loyal fans — including 56,000 followers on Instagram — of the multi award-winning California-born restaurant group reckon that there are several factors that put Umami Burger a lettuce-head above the rest (sorry…). Here are four facts to know about UB that might turn you into an avid umami-ite.
1. Umami Burger was named one of the 17 most influential burgers in history by TIME Magazine
According to the TIME article, Umami Burger ranks alongside such hamburger heavyweights as the eponymous McDonald’s Burger, the Burger King Whopper and the $325,000 Lab-Grown Burger made from cow stem cells (yum!). The article calls it “the first “modernist cuisine” patty,” referring to the select “umami” ingredients that are central to the franchise’s concept — not only in the kitchen but also through the brand’s marketing.
“Umamigrams” or Instagram posts about Umami Burger are an organic promotional force to be reckoned with, and if you haven’t heard of the Impossible Burger yet then you probably don’t have an active social media account. Not that hype affects taste, of course, but where there’s smoke there’s usually fire (one that’s hopefully cooking us a delicious burger).
2. Umami Burger was created after a month-long kitchen experiment
The backstory goes like this: In 2009, Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman went to a market in L.A. buying every ingredient he could find that fitted the definition of “umami” — a term coined by chemist Kikunae Ikeda to describe the elusive “fifth taste” of MSG (monosodium glutamate or the stuff that’s added to food to enhance its flavor) — that he had been researching in current food blogs.
For a month, Fleischman experimented in his kitchen combining typical Japanese ingredients like miso sauce, seaweeds and fish sauce with more western foods like cheese and tomato. Eventually he found the sweet spot, producing the restaurant’s exclusive line of Umami Burger seasonings, including sauce, dust and “spray.”
Burgers here have been levelled up, as they say; instead of the standard tomato slice, tomatoes are marinated overnight in a soy-based sauce; cheese is wafer-thin, aged Parmesan and ketchup is lifted from a common table condiment with the simply genius addition of truffle oil.
3. Every Umami Burger branch is different from the next
Tokyo’s first Umami Burger is a sort of homecoming for the franchise, Japan being the origin and purveyor of “umami” within its own culinary culture. With that in mind, the restaurant has gone above and beyond to create the umami-est eating experience from the food and drinks to the staff to the overall atmosphere.
Featured on the menu are 15 different burger options, including the signature Umami (¥1,380) topped with shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomato and parmesan frico, the popular Manly (¥1,580), piled high with house beer-cheddar cheese, bacon lardons, onion strings and mustard, and the decadent Truffle (¥1480), with truffled aioli, house truffle cheese and truffle glaze — probably the burger that most exemplifies the restaurant’s gourmet approach. The two burgers exclusive to the Japan branch are the Samurai (¥1380), dressed in wasabi aioli and perilla with lotus root and Teriyaki sauce, and the U-nami (¥1280), a codfish patty with curry aioli, slaw mix and tartar sauce.
Add-ons like crushed avocado and caramelized kimchi are there to ramp up the flavor even further while health-conscious customers can swap the U-stamped Portuguese burger buns for a lettuce wrap.
It’s all served by affable staff in a designer bar and restaurant that’s hipster meets homely, and makes you feel like you’re on a sophisticated night out rather than just grabbing a burger. Speaking of…
4. The cocktails are equally delicious
While the burgers are front and center of the Umami Burger experience, the restaurant also has a fantastic selection of original cocktails (¥1200) to choose from.
Savvy tried the Maple Bacon Old-Fashioned, a sweet and salty twist on the classic that came with a real chunk of bacon, the Blackberry Swizzle, a fruity take on the whisky highball, and the bubbly highlight of the evening, Garden Party, which combines gin, rosemary and lavender syrup (just FYI there were two of us).
Cocktails, classy atmosphere and gastronomy combined, Umami Burger as a restaurant is as versatile as its menu. As we dined, we saw couples, groups of girlfriends and guys feeling bromantic, all there to enjoy the Umami experience. Bonus fact: it was Savvy’s first time in a long time to spend four hours drinking cocktails on a weeknight — definitely an award-winning achievement, we say!
Address: 3-15-5, Kitaaoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0061
Business Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m..