Restaurant Adventures

Is This the Best Burger in America?

We don’t usually name a Burger of the Year. But the Umami Burger from L.A. ain’t no ordinary burger. Alan Richman breaks down the secrets of its addictive taste.

It’s half beef and half beyond belief.

I arrived in Los Angeles not much taken with umami, at least not the way true believers are. Too much mysticism, not enough science. Nor did I care much for the L.A. burger culture, not like the locals. Too many toppings, not enough meat.

Then I tasted the Umami Burger, Adam Fleischman’s cross-cultural merger of Japanese ingenuity and American know-how. And I thought to myself, This is a man among burger men, worthy of our adulation even if he’s always wearing a T-shirt with an Umami Burger logo. (These days, even the greats can’t resist self-promotion.)

Fleischman, the founder of the modest but ever expanding four-shop Umami Burger chain, has rethought every element of the hamburger experience. The bun. The meat. The ketchup. The toppings. Even valet parking. Yes, at the original Umami Burger joint on La Brea, 900 square feet of utter simplicity across the road from a Goodwill store, every burger comes with parking, the ultimate in West Coast customer service.

Related: The 5 Best Burgers in NYC

Elsewhere in L.A., the burger world is in disarray. So desperate is the situation, so uncertain are the natives, that at least one establishment specializing in burgers is flying in chopped meat from the LaFrieda purveyors in Manhattan. The old L.A. order—In-N-Out Burger, Fatburger, Bob’s Big Boy, Tommy’s—is in retreat.

Fleischman’s savory umami master sauce puts to shame other “secret sauces,” which tend to be orange goo. His organic housemade version of MSG might well carry the DNA for umami (assuming you believe umami exists). His umami-loaded ketchup tastes like a purer, fresher, tinglier clone of Heinz. He defines his discoveries as fulfilling a craving for “that which cannot be explained.”

His face belongs on the Mount Rushmore of the burger world.

Who is this man? I sat down with him, and he brushed aside his life in a dozen words: Born in New York. Liberal-arts grad. Owned wine bars. Sold them. That’s it. (His wife and kids didn’t come up until later. She likes her burgers well-done, which doesn’t please him. His son calls his father’s masterpiece the “mommy burger,” which does.) It is as though he lived an inconsequential existence until being reborn as a burger man, fated to do little else, although now he’s thinking about an umami pizza chain.

See Also: Burger King’s “Secret Weapon”

Umami, heralded by Japanese scientists as the fifth taste (after the basics of sweet, sour, bitter, salty), is voodoo science to me. Others are convinced of its authenticity, based on the alleged discovery of a taste bud for glutamate, the building block of the umami concept.

Fleischman is credible because he has focused on flavor, not chemistry. He studied umami tastes, most of them having to do with aging or fermentation, and made certain they were sprinkled on, poured into, and piled atop his burgers. I tasted his patty the American way, plain, with nothing on it, and it was pure and wonderful. I tasted it the Asian way, served with toppings, rubs, and sauces, and a different sort of brilliance emerged. It was deeper, more sensuous, both head-spinning and mind-expanding.

He’s also created a Peking-duck burger with hoisin sauce, a crabmeat burger with lemon-miso dressing, and a Stink Burger incorporating anchovies, onions marinated in fish sauce, and ripe Taleggio cheese. It’s clear that he has looked into the heart of the burger and seen what others have not.

Photo Credit: Amanda Marsalis


What does Umami mean?

Back to Nature

I am a huge supporter of organic snacks.  They usually offer a boatload of whole grains that not only taste great but feel great to eat too.  They’re also organic and not only good for your body but buying these little nibblers support and strengthens the organic community as well.  The more we can do this, the lower prices will be (demand and supply).

I tried these particular crackers for the first time today.  I needed something to support my lovely garlic tuna pieces for a mid-day snack at work.  These wheat crackers are not only tasty but are stable enough to support a lot of weight.  They are toasty and nutty and buttery like a Ritz cracker.

*Eats another… then another….*


Dark Horse Bar: A Foodie Review

Lately a few buddies of mine have been meeting at the “world famous” Dark Horse, a whimsical bar in Boulder, Colorado.  The term “whimsical” may not be the right term.   The decor is (if you will)  funhouse meets Chucky — There are so many things to look at in the place its almost impossible for this A.D.D. girl to hold a conversation without getting distracted, which is alright by me!

They have odds and ends from all sorts of places and eras — including full size wagons, large replicas of various whateverments and animals that would make any taxadermist proud.  Its a wonder how they fit all of it in there!  Amongst one of their many bars they also have an entire wall filled with moving gears that have the potential to confuse any patron.

On a more practical note, the Dark Horse offers multiple bars, a food counter (when your order is ready the kitchen staff will announce it over a loud speaker… can be fun… or annoying), an upstairs and patio, pool, arcade games… the madness never stops.

From what I’ve tried, the food there is pretty typical of bar food.  Burgers, fries, deep-fried sides…  delicious in every sense.  One of the oddest things on the menu is a burger that features provolone, bacon and peanut butter.  Yes, peanut butter.  They call it the “Jiffy Burger” and I had to try it.

The Jiffy Burger, in all its ooey gooey glory, was surprisingly tasty — very filling and very satisfying.  So satisfying in fact, that I don’t know if I will order it again.  But it’s definitely worth trying!