Umami Burger

meter-great-Umami Burger has a lot going for it, namely truffles. This restaurant also happens to make a mean burger and some of the best onion rings I’ve encountered west of Salt Lake City, but it’s the truffles that are the first, last, and pretty much only thing you’re going to remember. The thought of this will have you either drooling or gagging, depending of course on whether or not you like truffles.

Thanks to for letting me, ahem, 'borrow' this picture.

Thanks to for letting me, ahem, ‘borrow’ this picture.

” Oh how I longed for a humble bottle of Heinz 57 “

Umami Burger is a medium-sized restaurant chain primarily based in California, but there are a handful of locations scattered across the U.S. as well. The very first thing I noticed when I walked in to the Umami Burger in Palo Alto was – you guessed it – the smell of truffles. It seems that the majority of humans on the planet love the hell out of those musty underground tumors, but I am not one of those people. To me, truffles have a very chemical-y, unpleasant reek. There’s a funk to the things that just isn’t right, and they taste like other people’s bad breath smells. Most of the other patrons in the restaurant seemed to be on the opposite end of the truffle spectrum from me; they were all rather enjoying the odor, inhaling blissfully as though they were eating $100 bills with their nostrils.

To each their own, I suppose. I can’t hold the truffle thing against Umami Burger just because I don’t personally like them, but because so much of the experience at this place relies on those stinky little mushrooms, the subject can’t be avoided.

The artisan pickle plate (shown here half-eaten) was excellent.

The artisan pickle plate (shown here half-eaten) was excellent.

The capable and courteous restaurant staff quickly showed me and the rest of my lunch party (the usual suspects) us to a table. I counted eighteen items on the menu, consisting of burgers, salads, and sides. Of these, more than half featured truffles in some form. I opted for a Manly burger (yes, that’s actually what it’s called) and a side of truffle-less fries. For the table we got a house pickle plate and an order of tempura onion rings. The pickle plate showed up almost immediately, and it featured six different kinds of pickled vegetables. The green beans were by far my favorite, but the beets were pretty darned excellent as well. We were halfway through the plate before I remembered to take a picture of it… Oops.

The next time I develop a craving for onion rings, I'm coming back here.

The next time I develop a craving for onion rings, I’m coming back here.

A few minutes later, our order of onion rings showed up. Wow! Why oh why doesn’t everyone prepare their onion rings tempura style? These rings were absolutely superb with just the right balance between crunch and perfectly cooked onion. Most importantly, when taking a bite of a ring, molten hot onion did not slide out of the batter and slap me in the chin. The onion severed cleanly and easily; every bite was perfection.

Hey, my hamburger bun still has the label on it.

Hey, my hamburger bun still has the label on it.

My Manly burger and fries arrived shortly afterwards, and everything looked great – this place certainly does a good job on presentation. I am happy to report that both the burger and the fries were extremely delicious. The quality of the beef patty was outstanding, and it had a nice crispy grilled crust on it. Yum. I could still faintly taste truffles somewhere in my burger though, likely cross-contamination from all of the other truffle-heavy foods prepared in the kitchen.

Also available in truffle version. This should not surprise you.

Also available in truffle version. This should not surprise you.

The shoestring-style fries were also quite excellent. Partway through the meal, however, pungent truffle flavor suddenly appeared on the fries and forcibly drove all other tastes out of my mouth. What the… Where did that come from? I tried another fry and there was no truffle taste at all. Eh? It was then that I realized there were truffles in the ketchup. IN THE EFFING KETCHUP. Is nothing sacred in this place?? I had no choice but to endure my otherwise excellent burger and fries without any ketchup at all, which was something of a disappointment. Oh how I longed for a humble bottle of Heinz 57.

In spite of my mushroom-based grumblings, I truly enjoyed my experience at Umami Burger. I know that I am among the genetic minority of people who find that truffles smell like pig urine. Yes, yes, I’m sure I am missing out on something wonderful, but that’s beside the point. Getting back on track, I rate Umami Burger a very respectable 90 out of 100 grams of tuber melanosporum. If you’re looking for a good burger and some great onion rings a notch above standard burger joint fare, this is the place for you.

+ Well-executed burgers with a gourmet kick
+ Masterful tempura onion rings
 – Black truffles are in everything
– – Like seriously EVERYTHING
+ If you enjoy truffles that’s good though
 – But I don’t

P.S. I used the word “truffle” in this post 18 times. Make that 19.

Umami Burger
Multiple locations throughout the U.S.

Umami Burger on Urbanspoon

The Melt

meter-great+The people who work at The Melt have been spying on me. They must have been. It’s one thing for a restaurant to have exactly what I want to eat and just the right sides and drinks, but to have only those things? Yeah, coincidence my butt.

The other day I found myself wandering around Stanford Shopping Center, a well-to-do outdoorsy mall type place right in the middle of Palo Alto. It’s a nice place to shop and all, but it’s not really my cup of tea. If I was in the market for a size minus three cocktail dress or a Swarovski encrusted penguin, I’d probably think this mall was the bees knees. What I really wanted was lunch, though, and the standard mall fare I’d found so far just wasn’t cutting it. After what seemed like tens of minutes of searching, I finally located a directory with actual directions on it. (Mini rant: Why has every mall in America replaced their maps with advertisements? Ads do no good at all if I can’t find the stupid stores they go to.) As I scanned the the directory I spied The Melt. That sounded to me like either a heated yoga studio or a Modern English souvenir store, both very likely choices in a place like Palo Alto. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check it out.

With a name like The Melt, there'd better be cheese involved. Lots of it.

With a name like The Melt, there’d better be cheese involved. Lots of it.

I made my way to the other end of the mall, dodging Armani baby strollers by the dozen and doing a pretty good OJ-Simpson-in-an-airport impersonation in the process. As I made my way through yet another swarm of people in overpriced Pilates outfits, I caught a glimpse of The Melt. The restaurant sports a clean, utopian orange-and-white color scheme and a menu straight out of my dreams.

First thing on the menu: Grilled cheese. OMG

Second thing on the menu: Grilled cheese. …and then I fainted.

The interior decorating style is half In-N-Out Burger, half IKEA.

The interior decorating style is half In-N-Out Burger, half IKEA.

” That sounded to me like either a heated yoga studio or a Modern English souvenir store “

The entire menu, in fact, revolves around this single, exquisitely perfect food. There are different choices for bread, cheese, and various add-ins (like bacon!), and there are also soups and salads to be had. The beverage menu is equally brief, with the primary choices being iced tea, lemonade, and water. It’s perfect.

It took me exactly 12.7 seconds to notice the Mac Daddy, a grilled cheese WITH MACARONI AND CHEESE IN IT. Holy heck I love this place. One of those please with, oh yes, a side Caesar salad and an iced tea. Talk about a slam dunk. To top things off the cashier asked, “Would you like chips or a pickle?” PICKLE! Hot dang this place is on fire.

Macaroni and cheese IN a grilled cheese sandwich. *eye twitch*

Macaroni and cheese IN a grilled cheese sandwich. *eye twitch*

I filled up the environmentally friendly plastic-like cup with tea and settled down to enjoy my golden, crispy, macaroni-y lunch. The thing that surprised me was not the high quality of the food, but how well portioned everything was. My grilled cheese wasn’t a super duper über mega glutton-size sandwich – it was just a sandwich. The iced tea was a respectable (and refillable) 20 ounces, and the salad was …well, salad-sized. Outstanding. It was just enough to eat without making me split my pants, and yet it was still delicious and awesome. Somewhere along the way our society has managed to forget that more doesn’t always equal better; it’s nice to see that someone remembered. Add to that some snazzy online ordering tools and lightning quick service, and we’ve got ourselves a real winner here.

If I had to nitpick something, it would be what my lunch was served in. Instead of plates or plastic containers, The Melt opts for reusable wire mesh baskets lined with a single sheet of what looks like wax paper. I well and truly appreciate the environmentally friendly approach – really, I do – but eating salad off of a piece of paper just doesn’t work. By the end of my meal the paper had soaked through with dressing, leaving large soggy holes for the lettuce to fall through to the maybe-clean counter top directly below. Gross.

In spite of the eating receptacle issues, I rate The Melt a phenomenal 9.3 out of 10 metric tons of cheddar. If you’re a grilled cheese fanatic like I am, you owe it to yourself to grab a bite here.

The Melt
Multiple locations around the Bay Area (and many other places)
The Melt on Urbanspoon

I may never eat anywhere else again.

I may never eat anywhere else again.