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

Gott’s Roadside

meter-greatGott’s Roadside is an excellent place. For my own tastes, it’s damn near the perfect eatery. Gott’s serves burgers, shakes, salads, breakfast, and quite a number of other American-style classics. They upscale things a bit by also offering a selection of wines, and their beer list ain’t bad either. There isn’t any one thing I can put my finger on that this restaurant does better than its peers, but maybe the thing that sets Gott’s apart is its consistency. All I know is that the next time I’m in the mood for a burger, I’m coming straight back here.

” My continued fry pilfering did not go unnoticed “

After an exhausting weekend of really and truly intending to do a better job of eating healthy, my wife and I decided one little burger couldn’t hurt… right? And maybe a shake. With fries of course. Mmmm, fries. We almost tried to talk ourselves out of it, but it wasn’t long before our rumbling stomachs made us get in the car and drive to the new Gott’s Roadside that just opened near Stanford. The road to hell, it turns out, is paved with comfort food.

Great location, right on the corner of El Camino and Embarcadero.

Great location, right on the corner of El Camino and Embarcadero.

Because I think I am smarter than my GPS unit, I decided to take El Camino from the South Bay all the way up to Palo Alto. Twelve years and several months later, we arrived at our destination. The right side of my face was getting a little sunburned from being subjected to the Spousal Glare of Death coming from the passenger seat, so I exited the car quickly and made sure to be as politely expedient as possible. We went inside, placed our orders at the cash register, and sat at a booth to await our grub.

Where is everybody?

Where is everybody?

The first thing that struck me about the restaurant is how empty it was during lunchtime on a Sunday afternoon. It may well be that Town & Country Village – the shopping center where Gott’s is located – is more of a weekday kind of spot, and I certainly hope that’s all it is. On the weekends, every parking lot in Palo Alto is jam-packed with Audis and Teslas, and every business is filled to bursting, largely with snooty people in expensive yoga pants… but apparently not today. Then again, Gott’s did just open, and things might just be taking a little while to ramp up.

If you don't like po' boys, you aren't human. Sorry.

If you don’t like po’ boys, you aren’t human. Sorry.

Suddenly our pager buzzed, interrupting my scornful musings of the upper middle class, and I hurried off to grab our food. Shawn’s crispy chicken po’ boy looked delicious, and so did her side order of fries. I had decided not to order any fries for myself because I didn’t really want any, but I figured stealing a couple of hers would probably be okay. They weren’t anything special, but sometimes regular old fries are just what you want. Having just another couple fries shouldn’t be a problem, I thought, and snagged a few more. Then a few more. Unfortunately, my continued fry pilfering did not go unnoticed. In a calm and pleasant voice, Shawn said, “I thought you didn’t want any fries.” At least I think that’s what she said, because the words I heard inside my head were “If you touch my food again, I will nail your skin to the Stanford tree mascot.” Regardless of what the exact statement was, I felt it was best to focus my appetite elsewhere.

Perfectly crispy but otherwise uninspiring fries. Then again, what else do you really need?

Perfectly crispy but otherwise uninspiring fries. Then again, what else do you really need?

To my delight, I suddenly remembered that I had ordered a patty melt. Hooray! This diner classic is one of my favorites and one I am always looking for. It’s a tricky dish to get right, and all too often the bread turns into a soggy mess where it touches the hamburger patty… but not at Gott’s. The toasty rye bread was crisp and un-collapsed, the whole grain mustard was fantastic, and the grilled onions were flat-out amazing. And the cheese! I give Gott’s a huge thumbs-up for choosing Gruyere as the “melt” part of the patty melt. It was the highlight of the meal for me.

A patty melt! Surprisingly hard to find, but Gott's has them.

A patty melt! Surprisingly hard to find, but Gott’s has them.

We finished up our meal pleasantly satisfied but not overly full, and we agreed that Gott’s Roadside rocks. They somehow seem to have exactly what you want on the menu, and they do a great job of not screwing it up in the kitchen. The quality of the ingredients and preparation receive high marks, as do the speedy service, reasonable bill, and clean dining area. Gott’s may not knock you on your ass in sheer awe, but if you want a great, hiccup-free experience and some tasty grub then this is the place for you. I rate Gott’s an extremely solid 13 out of 14 stolen french fries, more than good enough to justify many repeat visits. Just don’t take El Camino to get there.

Gott’s Roadside
Multiple locations around the Bay Area

Gott's Roadside on Urbanspoon

There's a little something here for everybody.

There’s a little something here for everybody.

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.