Kid Hit Menu Items: Talking about Umami has instant built-in appeal, since kids love the name. It contains familiar sounds, obviously, and lends itself to silly “uma-daddy” jokes for some of us who have very little dignity left in the sophisticated humor department. (Not to say that we had much to begin with.) We used to order the classic signature Umami Burger for our guy, but he’s evolved into a hamburger only, NO cheese type, so a SoCal burger without cheese it is. This past weekend when we went to Umami Los Feliz to celebrate a fifth birthday at the fifth taste, baby bro got a grilled cheese sandwich. In addition to this simple but kinda weird sammie, which is cheddar on an inverted bun (i.e. slick brioche outside is on the inside so the exterior more closely resembles sliced bread), there’s an off-menu super basic kids’ burger. Sides of skinny fries ($3.50) with the homemade ketchup will vanish before you know it, complaints about the micro-chain’s French fry inconsistency problem be darned. Desserts duty is handed off to Cake Monkey and MILK. Maybe someday Umami will branch out into the field of umami desserts, since they’re getting into just about everything else. I’d bet an Umami with a kids’ party room would do a booming business.
Adult Perks: While the menu doesn’t vary much between each Umami location, the beverage program changes. Umami Los Feliz has a beer and wine license and a separate bar area (very useful come peak hours), where soju cocktails are mixed up to get around that hard liquor restriction. Studio City has a full bar with a larger cocktail program. Perhaps wisest to go with a choice of bottled or craft beer on tap, though. At this point, the number of Umami’s burger combinations should shut down enough complainers who want The Counter’s total customization system.
Pros: Before 7 p.m. or so when things get crazy busy, Los Feliz Umami is great for families since there’s lots of space in what used to be Cobras and Matadors, and hopefully you can snag one of the a table with a banquette instead of just light wooden café chairs. In fact, it’s so roomy that this was where we went for our first dinner out as a foursome. For other times, the Umami + Bar Covell proximity is a winning combo. Our kid loves going to the Hollywood Space 15 Twenty location with his grandpa to sit on the couches. Deluxe!
Cons: The original La Brea location is small and busy. But since Umami Burgers have popped up like mushrooms around town, with even more brand expansion to come (read more in an interview I did with owner Adam Fleischman, who’s also a father of two), Umami followers have lots of options. No need to squeeze into La Brea or snag a table on the new(ish) enclosed patio there if say, you’re closer to the Valley and the cushier Studio City location is more convenient anyway. Gripes about Umami service are common, but our recent experience was totally pleasant other than automatically tacking on gratuity for a party of six when the 6th member is a 2-year-old. I call B.S. on that.
Changing Station: No
High Chairs: Yes
Parking and Access: Depends on location. Los Feliz it’s street parking or valet since the much beloved Covell and Mother Dough across the street and some other nearby places create fierce competition for spaces. La Brea is tough, although you can valet or drop your car at the car wash across the street and eat, which is usually my dad’s plan.
Other Tidbits: We apparently live in an increasingly Umami world. And yet the rough-hewn wood cladding on the walls remind me of Hampton’s on Highland back in the day, which was deeply a product of the 60s/70s. Also the first place I ever saw blue cheese on a burger. The Umami Burger itself seems to have changed a bit from when the Parmesean fricco was smaller, instead of the two big discs and the very uniform patty they now serve. The burger still has the savory/sweet contrast (too sweet for a lot of folks, apparently), but the menu is more broadly rounded out. It’s a tough call between the Umami and the Port & Stilton burger with its caramelized onions and stinky cheese funk, but I soon might be defecting to the SoCal burger; a burger just doesn’t feel right without some cool crisp crunch from a lettuce leaf or two. I do, however, resist Umami’s truffle fever hype. There’s always refuge in the edamame and mushroom-based Earth burger.
Note: I didn’t realize how hard it is to take decent flash-free pics around burgers and hungry kids until I attempted these. Sorry!
4655 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz
Hours: Los Feliz Noon – 11 p.m., daily. Check each location for specifics.