I had to put the bottom line in the title, in case you don’t read this whole review. I just got back from one of the absolute worst restaurant experiences, on every level, and my fingers, that usually type really slowly, are flying over the keyboard, so anxious to be able to prevent even one of my readers from wasting their money at Umami Burger. (Not to mention their calories, blood pressure, and precious time.)


I took copious notes, on their fine paper tablecloth, so I can portray to you word for word what my pal Caryn and I thought. It was both of our first time there, and we were all excited because several (obviously tasteless) folks had recommended it. I don’t even know if any of them have actually had the horrendous food, or if they just think it’s the hip thing to say. BTW–I don’t get the supposed hip factor at Umami, either. There were no “beautiful people” in attendance the day we were there–just basic hungry folk.

So, the main branch is on LaBrea and 9th Street, in plain digs, which really never matters to me in a burger joint. I was surprised that it was table service; I had thought it was an order-at-the-counter sitch. So, the surroundings were lacking, but we didn’t mind at all.

We excitedly ordered two of the nine burgers, and asked for nothing special except for medium, rather than the medium rare they do automatically. Caryn likes hers rare, as a rule, but said that these medium rares were too pink for even her taste! I think that was because they were just so mushy. I felt like I was choking as they went down my throat. And my teeth were caked with gunk after, until I got home and immediately brushed them. I’ve never had to do that since high school, when a less-than-attractive blind date my mother fixed me up with tried to shove his tongue down my throat.

So, anyway, the SoCal Burger was truly the worst burger I’ve ever had in my entire life, and that includes all school cafeterias, where they were known as “hockey pucks.” I’d actually prefer to eat a real hockey puck over another Umami burger! You know when you’re really hungry, which we both were, you think everything tastes great? Well, I finally found the exception to that rule. (I took mine home to Clarence, and since he’s a dog, he didn’t mind it.)

The Triple Pork Burger was a little better in the actual meat taste, but had the same mushy consistency and bad cheese and sauces, so it was pretty disgusting, as well. The skinny fries were okay, but I suspect they were the coated ones that inexpensive eateries often order frozen from an outside company. If they were not those, I’d be really surprised. I actually really like those fries because the coating makes them extra-crunchy, but I know that my potato purist pals won’t eat them.

The worst by far were the onion rings. They were swimming in oil! My lip is curling just writing about them. I’ve had greasy onion rings before, but I swear, never this bad! They made me think that the BP oil spill had made it’s way to Los Angeles! The establishment should serve a side of talcum powder with them, to soak up just a bit of the grease. Ugh. They were truly inedible.

When we told our waitress about them, she straight-facedly explained, “They’re fried.” Like we never had fried food before! She had several other bon mots, like when I requested that our just-ordered fries be crispier than those at a neighboring table, and she said, “We can’t determine the temperature of the fries.” True story! No light bulb over her head, to say the least. (I don’t expect servers to be Rhodes scholars, but give me a break here.)

The funny thing is that I had been admiring the water glasses, pre-meal. They’re semi-flexible plastic, with an indentation for the thumb, which I thought was pretty clever. After trying to eat an onion ring, Caryn said, “Now I know why they have that finger grip–if you eat the food here, your hands will be too greasy to grasp the glass!” I hear ya, babe!

Speaking of water, when they refilled mine, it was tepid, with no ice. This wouldn’t have bothered me much in any other situation, but each little thing just added to our exasperation with the experience.

Oh, the best was that they have “Umami Ketchup” listed on the menu (for which you have to pay an extra $.50.) When I asked our waitress what it was like, she told me that she couldn’t give me the secret recipe, for which I was not asking. But once I tasted it, I knew why they wanted to keep it a secret!!! It tasted like poison! Seriously. Cough syrup tastes better than that.

Another area of amusement is that someone had warned me that the burgers were small, especially for the price. While I was eating them, I was grateful that they’re so tiny because who wants more of that awfulness???

Why did we even continue to eat this bad food, you might ask? Caryn asked to leave after the first bite and go someplace else, but a) I really didn’t want to make a fuss, b) I was so starving I could have blown-down just about anything at that point, except the onion rings, which we couldn’t do under any circumstances, and c) I was really time-constrained that day, and just wanted to get it over with.

But, as dreadful as the fare was, the piece de resistance came at the end. Caryn proffered her credit card, and when the bill came back for her to sign, it carried someone else’s credit card! When we pointed it out to our blank waitress and another non-smiling guy, they told us…we were wrong!!! Like Caryn doesn’t know her own name! We had to convince them of their mistake, (a mistake, btw, which in and of itself wouldn’t have mattered much, but after the whole horrible experience, this was the last straw,) and they had to go searching for her card! How utterly clumsy of them. (And with no apology, to boot.)

While Caryn was signing the bill, the waitress came over and said, exactly, “Did you get the right card figured out?” I just laughed by accident because, as I told her, we’re not the ones who needed to figure it out!!! She didn’t even get that remark! So, rather than try to explain it to someone who would just not get it, we left, chuckling as I told her she could just read it all in the review.

As I was speaking to an actually lovely girl employee in the parking lot, a big man came flying out, shook my hand, and told me he was the manager. I assumed he was about to apologize for all the problems. But no–he had come out to challenge my reviewing credentials! I was too shocked to explain that it doesn’t matter whether or not I’m a restaurant critic (though, as we all know, I am!,) and that no patron should have gone through what we just had. When I saw that wasn’t the case, I told him politely that I’m not going to debate this with him, and got in the car. His clever retort? “I’m not going to debate this with you.” Gee, I wonder where he heard that before? (It’s the exact words I had just said to him, in case you’re the waitress who didn’t understand anything.)

He actually scared Caryn. He was so belligerent, she thought he was going to hit me! As the manager, if that’s what he really is, he should have apologized for any inconvenience, especially arising from the credit card debacle, and perhaps offer us at least a little take-out sweet from the counter, that we wouldn’t have accepted at that point anyway. But that’s what restaurant managers are supposed to do–placate the customers, not challenge them.

To sum up, I think Caryn put it best: “There was not one redeeming factor to the Umami Burger experience.” Amen to that.

No info here because no one should ever go there!




  1. Well, guess where I won’t be going anytime soon — or ever. I’ll just share a little experience that happened to me a few months ago. A friend and I went to Mama’s (Mother’s? Now I can’t remember) on Motor and National for a bite. We thought the place was nice and the food was good. I even said I wouldn’t mind coming back. Then the bill came. The menu said wine was $3.00 a glass and my friend and I each had one. When the bill arrived, they charged us $3.50 each for the wine. When I asked the waitress, she said, “Oh, they changed the price but it’s not on the menu yet.” When I said, “You can’t charge a price that’s higher than what’s on the menu. You should at least put a sticker on the menu, or you should have let us know.” So she asked if I’d like to speak to the owner. I said yes. He came over and basically said the same thing, and “It’s only fifty cents.” “Yes,” I said, “but it’s MY fifty cents, and the amount isn’t the point.” He took off the dollar but was none too nice about it and did nothing to encourage us to return. Which we won’t.

  2. Well, I do agree with you about the service and the general attitude of some of the waiters and the supposedly “hipster” atmosphere and clientele. We went to the one on Hollywood Blvd. I took my 2 kids there. I was starving. I had just turned on the timer on my iphone, so I would know when 1 hour on the parking meter was up. The minutes ticked by. A hipster couple with frizzy big hair and thick plastic hipster spectacles, came in after us and were sitting enjoying their water. The timer said 7 minutes. I was getting mad. At 15 minutes my daughter said to me> “I think we’re invisible”. I was at that stage of my hunger when I blurt things out stupidly and do things that embarrass my children. At 16 minutes, after a waiter took the order of that hipster couple, I yelled out, “Excuse ME” rather loudly to the aforementioned waiter. He swung around and came over to me as all the startled hipsters looked over in what might pass as a slight appearance of aloof interest. “Do you have any idea what the average wait time is in this restaurant for getting service from a waiter.” “No” he shook his head”. “Well, do you think it’s 16 Minutes- we’ve been waiting that long and no-one has even looked at us”? My voice was rising.” I’m sorry, this isn’t my table, let me find your waiter”. So our waiter, a tousled haired would-be actor looking guy, came over and apologized for the oversight. Trust me, I am not easy to ignore, I talk loud, laugh loudly and stare at everybody I see. So it wasn’t for lack of noticing me. Perhaps we were not hipster enough!! I don’t know.

    As for the food, I hate to pop your bubble but you must work for “the Counter” or be the agent of some hamburger competitor, Because honestly I don’t think there is another burger out there that competes with the Umami burger. Now I know I was starving, but I had been there before and loved the food and wanted to try it again. The fries perhaps are not on the level of the parmesan fries at the Counter, but as far as pure hamburger enjoyment, to me that burger is pure decadent delight. It is a fusing of american hamburger technology and Japanese cuisine flavors. I and everyone who I know who has gone there, find it incredibly satisfying and enjoyable. Does it get a little mushy by the end, MMMMMMM Yes. Are the Onion RIngs Greasy—— THEY ARE DEEP FRIED IN HOT GREASE!!!!!! Yes they are deliciously greasy, ANd we all licked the grease and the Umami ketchup off of our fingers, and then wanted more.

    Back to the service. The waiter paid an embarrassing amount of unnecessary attention to us for the rest of the meal. And at the end offered us some tiny little morsel called a monkey desert that was like slices of a tasty upscale chocolate twinkie. OK thanks for the effort. Now my kids want to try the Ice cream sandwiches. Really???? You aren’t going to offer to comp all the deserts??????????. Any restaurant worth it’s salt in the customer service department, First would have had the manager at my table to apologize, and Secondly would have at the very least offered to comp the desert of our choices, not just given us a little offering of a mini desert of their choice. That is just downright degrading. At a really good restaurant, they would have comped the meal.

    So the old saying of my Restaurant owner friend. “You come back to a restaurant the 2nd time for the food, and the third time for the service”, leaves me wondering if I will go back to that particular one, even though I actually love the burger. But I am a hard head, so I will probably go back and suffer the abuse just to have the burger again, until I can’t take it anymore.

  3. I went there for the first time last night, was it good? Yes it was, was the service good? Not too bad; a little slow, did I get my money’s worth? No. Would I go back? No more than once a year with someone who has to have burger that is different from that of others.
    I could taste the MSG! But then again that is what Umami tastes like. I hear they make their own MSG; okay I get that but that does not make it any better. I ordered four out of nine choices and had a quarter of each, although portions are smaller than others one serving is packed with so much fat it is like eating three times as much somewhere else. The house pickles they have are better than their burgers and are not as hard on one’s health.
    I believe whoever has created this Umami experience has done a great job at re-branding what is already there by putting meat into buns with a U on them.
    What I ate was basically pulled and re-packed Osso boco and meatloaf on a bun loaded with homemade MSG.
    Pretty slick but if you want to live long don’t go there too often…

  4. I think your experience was no reflective of all of the umami experience. I LOVE umami. I ate there today. I’ve been to 3 of their locations and have not had these kinds of problems. First off, you should have started with the umami burger, that’s the first stepping stone just to say you ate it, then move to the only burger that matters, the truffle burger. Everything else is good but those two are the best. Yes their onion rings are greasy but it’s because they use tempura which doesn’t absorb grease the same way that normal fried American foods do. As for their ketchup, your taste buds have to be seriously broken not to like it. It’s fresh made, or used to be now it’s in bottles and mass produced, so it’s a bit different. Yes it’s expensive but it’s the best $50 meal I will ever have.

  5. Everyone has their own opinion when it comes to there taste buds. Obviously yours are shot because umami is one of the tastiest burgers I’ve ever had . Yea some of their service sucks, but as far as their burgers go, they are mouth watering and delicious. I’m assuming your more of the McDonald’s unreal burger lover. You may not like rich fine tasting foods. And that’s ok. But as far as their quality in their burger, they are right on with the taste. It all matters on what tastes you like. The reason their restaurant has a nice set up is because their burgers are better than the average burger. So I guess for you, you should really just stick to the cheap stuff because that’s obviously your preference.

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