Ever since Umami Burger’s beginnings in Los Angeles in 2009, it has spawned a burger empire. The restaurant just opened a Palo Alto location last Friday.
“We really like Palo Alto, and we’re a fan of the big businesses [in the area],” says Umami owner Adam Fleischman, a self-taught chef as well as food and wine entrepreneur. “Palo Alto is a big place in Silicon Valley. We like the neighborhood feel and the tech industry around it.”
Fleischman says the neighborhood fits the fast, casual dining concept of Umami, while allowing it to go beyond a classic “All-American burger” restaurant such as In-N-Out. “The concept of Umami is to marry the flavors of ‘umami,’ which are the savory flavors of glutamates,” Fleischman says. “It’s a type of amino acid that provides that savory taste.” Some signature classic Umami burgers include the “Truffle Burger,” with beef, truffle cheese and truffle glaze. Another classic is the “Manly Burger,” which contains a heaping amount of fried onions, beer-cheddar cheese and thick-cut bacon.
Instead of using standard burger toppings such as pickles, Fleischman says the focus is on enhancing the flavors, such as adding savory umami to unique sauces, rubs and cheeses. “The idea of umami is important, because there are really only five tastes; the other tastes focus on sweet,” Fleischman says. “In Japan, there’s lots of umami brands. We really want to take up that niche and popularize it.”
Each Umami Burger is designed with a different theme for each location, inspired by the surrounding community and its history. As a nod to the student population at Stanford, the new Palo Alto site is designed to resemble a library, with hanging lamps, rows of bookshelves and a skylight that brings in natural light. The restaurant seats up to 50 people.
The specialty burger is called the “All Nighter,” a beef patty smothered with a savory red-eye gravy and topped with maple-glazed pork belly. The restaurant serves artisanal beer and wine from around the world and desserts from San Francisco and Its-It. The meat and produce are obtained locally, and the meat is ground in-house throughout the day for freshness. Meatless options are also available, with burgers such as the “Earth Burger,” with a mushroom and edamame patty, truffled ricotta, cipollini onions, butter lettuce, roasted tomato and white-soy aioli.
Since the original La Brea spot got going in 2009, 14 Umami restaurants have opened in Southern California and the Bay Area. “The tech world is about forward thinking, and it’s perfect with Umami,” Fleischman says. “Umami is about forward-thinking burgers, not a nostalgia burger.”
452 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650.321.8626