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

St. John’s Bar & Grill

meter-great-St. John’s Bar & Grill is one of those places you’d never go into unless a trusted friend told you to do so. It’s equal parts dive, sports bar, burger joint, and 1980s time capsule. St. John’s has a lengthy menu full of greasy spoon delicacies, an awesome collection of flatscreen TVs, and some of the worst decor in the entire Silicon Valley. In other words, it’s pretty much the most perfect happy hour venue you could ever hope to find.

It's even uglier in person.

It’s even uglier in person.

” I beheld the full glory of the bacon & cheese fries “

If you live within twenty miles of Sunnyvale and have even a vague interest in sports, you are required by law to be at St. John’s anytime there’s a televised sporting event… which is pretty much every night. If the televised sporting event in question happens to be a championship game of some sort, it’s an absolute guarantee that the place will be PACKED. St. John’s is normally closed on Sundays, but because 87.2%* of all football games are broadcast on Sundays, the restaurant is open seven days a week during football season. The folks running St. John’s certainly know what side their bread is buttered on.

*All statistics are made up and therefore wildly inaccurate.

The bacon in this picture alone speaks for how good the burger is.

The bacon in this picture alone speaks for how good the burger is.

So what about the food? To be perfectly honest, I have only sampled a small portion of St. John’s menu, but that portion has been excellent. The burgers are very, very good. They are just exactly greasy enough to be decadent without being gross, and they are served in plastic baskets with red and white wax paper, just as they should be. The restaurant’s website claims that they are the “Best Burgers in Silicon Valley”, a statement I disagree with both philosophically and grammatically. St. John’s also claims to make the “Best French Fries in the Universe!”, an absurd declaration further reduced in effectiveness due to unnecessary quotation marks.

With that said, I can respect any restaurant with the cojones to make either of the above statements, accurate or otherwise. The fact still remains that grub at St. John’s is exceptionally tasty, so ignore my grammar nitpicks and order yourself a cheesesteak already.

Thanks to for letting me use this picture. I didn't exactly ask for permission first, however, so they may still have me killed.

Thanks to for letting me use this picture. I didn’t exactly ask for permission first, however, so Winston may still have me killed.

Oh, I didn’t mention the cheesesteaks? Well, allow me to do so now. I wouldn’t say that St. John’s cheesesteaks are truly Philadelphically accurate (an adjective I made up just now), but my California-raised palate thinks they taste just fine and dandy. There’s lots of cheese, lots of nicely grilled steak, and a good, fresh bun. No complaints here.

Probably the ideal football season bar food.

Probably the ideal football season bar food.

On my most recent visit, I had the opportunity to feast on an order of aptly-named bacon & cheese fries. I waited patiently in the odd, cramped walkway that doubles as the food pickup area and did my best not to get in the way. I failed. After narrowly dodging a pair of chicken sandwiches and a basket of fried zucchini, I finally managed to grab my order of fries and escape with a minimal amount of elbowing people in the face. It wasn’t until I was seated that I beheld the full glory of the bacon & cheese fries; they are a thing of true beauty. They taste pretty much exactly how they look: Like a baked potato that is halfway through turning itself into a pile of french fries. The bacon was crisp, the cheese was plentiful, and the sour cream was a genius garnish on this kingly mountain of cholesterol. Two huge thumbs up for this one.

To wrap this review up, I have to admit to myself that I’d be darned happy to visit St. John’s Bar & Grill any day of the week. The burgers are very good indeed, but not quite in that elusive “crazy awesome” range that restaurants like this aspire to achieve. The cheese steaks and fries are solid though, and that alone is worth 187 out of 200 square yards of horrid wood paneling. St. John’s is an easy recommendation, especially if you’re looking for a half-decent place to catch the next big game on TV.

St. John’s Bar & Grill
510 Lawrence Expressway
Suite 110
Sunnyvale, CA 94085
(408) 738-8515

St. John's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

I told you it was dive-y.

I told you it was dive-y.

Standard Restaurant Review Disclaimer
The ambiguous and illogical rating system used in this review is not intended to be pinpoint accurate. It’s only there to give you a general idea of how much I like or dislike an establishment, and it also gives me an excuse to write silly things. If my rating system angers and distracts you, there’s a good chance you have control issues. I would also like to point out that I am not a highly qualified restaurant reviewer person, nor do I particularly care what that job is called. If you were under the impression that perhaps I was one of those people, consider your hopes dashed. Lastly, wow! You read the entire disclaimer. You get a gold star on your chart today.