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Burger Quest: We Found LA’s Best Burger

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We were on a quest, we three food pilgrims. Two of the three of us are LA residents who devour burgers by the dozen. I would be the interloper, the tie-breaker, the neutral third party who could split hairs. Turns out the decision was unanimous: Umami Burger serves the best burger in Los Angeles. Hands down. Best Burger in LA. Runner Up: Slater’s 50/50, a newcomer whose patties are made of half ground beef and half ground bacon.

What makes Umami Burger the best burger in a basket of excellent burger joints? They’re loaded with cocaine ingredients that pop with umami, the so-called “fifth taste” of savory goodness. You can’t customize these burgers. Each has been constructed to accentuate its umami load. Umami burgers include unusual toppings such as truffle glaze, shiitake mushrooms, and caramelized onions in port wine reduction. The basic Umami burger, though, had us at first bite

The Umami burger ticks all the right boxes: perfect bun-to-meat-to-toppings ratio; plenty of crsipy, crunchy texture; excellent quality ingredients, and a soft bun that doesn’t fall apart during the meal. To amp up the savoriness, founder Adam Fleischman created a burger whose every ingredient is concentrated with deliciousness and umami. He uses lots of umami-rich ingredients in his creations, including truffles, anchovies, tomatoes, soy, Parmesan, and shiitake mushrooms.

The root of his menu is the $11 Umami Burger, constructed of hand-ground beef, shiitakes, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, parmesan crisp, and homemade ketchup. The Manly Burger, another  $11 winner, is beef with beer-cheddar cheese, smoked-salt onion strings, and bacon.

Umami burgers are all served on a soft, lightly toasted Portuguese bun marked with the restaurant’s logo. The bun is soft and light to soak up the juices of the house-ground burgers, which are served medium-rare.

Fortunately for those of us outside of LA, the 14-unit Umami Burger is in the midst of a growth spurt. New Umami locations are popping up in SoCal plus Manhattan, with dozens more in the pipeline. The key for you and me: there’s now an Umami Burger inside LAX!

Want to try your hand at making the best burger ever? Fleischman offered this version of the recipe to

Umami Burgers
Yield4 Servings


Umami Seasonings: 
2 salted anchovies, cleaned
Worcestershire sauce
Truffle salt

Umami Ketchup:
1 32-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

Oven-Dried Tomatoes: 
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¾ teaspoon soy sauce powder
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, sliced

Caramelized Onions: 
2 pounds large onions
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ teaspoon table salt
2 star anise

Parmesan Crisps:
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano

To Assemble and Serve:
1 ½ pounds assorted cuts of well-marbled beef (short rib, flap, skirt, brisket or hanger)
Vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
4 soft buns (potato or Portuguese), halved



For the Umami Seasonings: 
Combine the anchovies with the remaining ingredients to taste. Blend in a mortar and pestle or, for larger quantities in a blender or food processor. Set aside.

For the Umami Ketchup:    
Purée the tomatoes with the juice from can in a blender until smooth. Cook the onion in oil in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the puréed tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar, vinegar, and salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until very thick, about 1 hour. Purée the ketchup in a blender until smooth. Chill, covered, overnight for flavors to develop.  Then add the umami seasonings to taste and chill the ketchup until needed.

For the Oven-Dried Tomatoes:
Preheat the oven to its lowest temperature setting. Stir the brown sugar, tomato paste, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce together; brush on the sliced tomatoes. Put the tomatoes on a line sheet pan; dry in the oven overnight.

For the Caramelized Onions:
Cut the onions in half from pole to pole; peel and slice across the grain to ¼-inch thickness. Heat the butter and oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat; when the foam subsides, stir in the salt and star anise. Add the onions and stir to coat; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to soften and release some moisture, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are deeply browned and slightly sticky, about 40 minutes longer.

For the Parmesan Crisps:
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Using the largest holes on a box grater, coarsely shred enough cheese to measure 1 cup. Line a large sheet pan with a nonstick liner, like Silpat. Arrange tablespoons of cheese 2 inches apart on the liner. Flatten each mound slightly with a spatula to form a 3-inch round. Bake in the middle of the oven until golden, about 10 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes on sheet on a rack; then carefully transfer each crisp with a metal spatula to a rack to cool completely.

To Assemble and Serve:
Grind the beef coarsely in a meat grinder or food processor. Put 6 ounces of meat into a 4-inch ring mold and gently tap down to form into a patty. Heat a cast iron skillet on high for 5 minutes. When it’s very hot, pour in a drop of vegetable oil to lubricate the pan. Season the patties liberally with salt and pepper. Add the patties to the skillet and sear on one side for 3 minutes; flip once and sear for 2 more minutes for medium rare.

In another skillet, add half of the butter and sauté the mushroom caps for until soft, about 2 minutes. Set aside. Remove the beef patties to rest. Wipe the mushroom skillet and toast the buns cut side down with the remaining butter.

Remove the buns when toasted and add spread about 2 tablespoons of the umami ketchup on both halves of the bun. Stack a beef patty with 1 tablespoon of the caramelized onions, a parmesan crisp, 2 mushroom caps and 2 slices of oven dried tomato. Serve immediately.



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