By Amanda Imasaka
The battle for best burger in Tokyo just got even more competitive. Umami Burger, coming straight out of California, hopped across the pond to open their first location in Japan on March 24.
Sitting pretty in Aoyama, just a hop, skip and jump from Omotesando Station, the eatery's name is a nod to the notion of umami, famously defined by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda as a fifth, 'savoury' taste to complement salty, sour, sweet and bitter.
We showed up fashionably late on a bright Wednesday morning hoping to avoid opening week crowds, and even then there was a group gathered at the door, snapping pictures and eyeing fellow diners lucky enough to have already received their food. The queue disperses quickly though, thanks to a spacious interior designed to seat up to 70 people.
One bite of your first Umami Burger and you'll instantly understand the hype. The bun is oh-so-springy, soft and a bit on the sweet side, but the patty is what really makes the joint stand out – it tastes just like meat should taste, but they've somehow managed to make it melt in your mouth too.
A friend who tagged along put it best: 'It’s like they took a steak and ground it up to make the patty.' No messing around blending in pork to reduce costs here. For our vegetarian friends, they have a falafel burger that looks dangerously delicious. Budget around ¥2,000-2,500 for a burger, side and drink.
However, what had us looking forward to the opening of Umami Burger for months was the opportunity to finally satisfy our truffle craving without having to pay an arm and a leg for the pleasure. Their Truffle Burger comes topped with truffle aioli, truffle-infused cheese and a truffle-glazed beef patty, which we of course paired with truffle cheese fries.
Because you can never have enough truffle, we then dipped said fries in truffle ketchup, and all the world’s problems melted away in a truffle euphoria. The ketchup enhanced the flavour of everything it coated, so we’d really like to see them sell it in takeaway bottles – just so we can go home and eat it with a spoon without attracting too many awkward stares.
The kids' menu, which doubles as a colouring page (crayons provided), is also worth mentioning, as there's nothing about it on Umami Burger’s site. ¥800-900 gets your young ’uns a choice of two adorable burger sliders, chicken tenders or grilled cheese.
It also comes with the option of sweet potato fries or regular fries, and milk, orange juice or grapefruit juice. The portion size was more than enough for a growing toddler, but we really would have liked a juice option other than citrus.
All in all, Umami Burger stands out favourably in comparison to fellow American burger transplants Shake Shack, Carl's Jr and The Counter, with the trifecta of truffle delights giving it that extra edge.