Umami is the delicious fifth taste that a Japanese doctor in the early 1900s ascertained from glutamates that give food its savory flavor. It’s that thing that makes you yell, “UMAI!” with the first bite.
It’s fast food but with wait service instead of ordering at a counter. The first thing I noticed was how friendly the staff is. Fleischman seems influenced not only by Japanese flavors but by Japanese customer service. My server was thoroughly knowledgeable about the concept of the Umami Burger chain and everything on the menu.
I started with a market salad and fried pickles. The salad is good, but it isn’t anything special. It didn’t wow me. Perhaps next time I’ll try the Umami Caesar. But the pickles! The fried pickles are tremendous. Being from the American South, I’m used to sliced pickles, but Umami Burger’s are breaded chunks that come with jalapeno ranch dressing.
The menu has five kinds of burgers, and I decided that I should go with the Classic to see where it all began. The patty is topped with a slice of roasted tomato, shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, and grated Parmesan cheese that’s been baked into a flat crispy wafer.
The burger definitely releases umami in spectacular fashion. There’s something about the combination of the Parmesan blending with the beef that releases a flavor that you won’t find at any other fast food chain. Watch this Eater video of John Herndon, Umami Burger’s corporate chef, breaking down the ingredients that make these burgers umami-rific.
The two gentlemen seated next to me were also experiencing Umami Burger for the first time. One of them looked at the menu and said, “I just want a regular cheeseburger.” His friend responded, “This isn’t that kind of place. The burgers are different here. It’s not like Five Guys.”
Umami Burger is located at 432 Sixth Avenue in the West Village. Hours are Sunday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. until midnight.