Feature

Critics’ choice: Getting a grip on the best of the new burgers

Umami Burger in Los Angeles; Shake Shack in Washington, D.C.; The Commissary in Dallas

Umami Burger Los Angeles
This “insanely popular” small burger chain was a pioneer in employing so-called “modernist” techniques in preparing hamburgers, said Jonathan Gold in LA Weekly. The patty of its juicy signature burger is cooked at a low temperature for a long time and then—“ssst, ssst”—seared briefly before it’s served. Owner Adam Fleischman is clearly “in touch with his inner food geek,” and what he’s after, as the restaurant’s name makes clear, is umami—the savory “fifth” taste that scientists now agree is as elemental as sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Fleischman has been rewarded with the regular sight of waiting lines at all five locations of his Los Angeles–area chain. The burgers that have created the fuss are “compact beasts nestled into gently toasted buns,” often layered with roasted tomato, melted onion, grilled mushroom cap, and a “crunchy frieze of griddled cheese.” The meat has a crust that’s “crisp, sweet, well-browned,” but the pinkish-gray middle drips with juices. 12159 Ventura Blvd., and four other locations; umami​­burger.com

Shake Shack Washington, D.C.
Lines are also a principal feature of our city’s first Shake Shack, said Tom Sietsema in The Washington Post. Just like in New York—where several Shake Shacks have sprouted up since restaurateur Danny Meyer first branched into fast-food burgers seven years ago—“standing outside in 93-degree weather with about 30 other burger seekers” is very much part of the local experience. Meyer “has a well-deserved reputation for being a host with the most,” which in this bare-bones setting means the staff works to make your wait pleasant, and the joint’s eco-friendly touches extend to trash cans made of wheat board. As for the fare, there’s nothing special about the shakes or crinkle-cut fries, while the burgers, which start at $3.75, don’t really need to meet a particularly high standard: “I’m partial to burgers that taste as if they came off the griddle of a diner, and by that measure, Shake Shack’s sandwiches deliver. The nicely pink, sufficiently juicy patty tucked into the lightly crisped bun is (fairly) fast food that pays a compliment to the genre.” 1216 18th St. NW, (202) 683-9922

The Commissary Dallas
Chef John Tesar could have gone the fine-dining route, but what he has created in Dallas is even better: “a cheap gourmet burger joint in an easy-to-get-to location,” said Sarah Reiss in DMagazine.com. Located at One Arts Plaza, in an indoor-outdoor space that offers excellent views of downtown, the Commissary has been packed since its April debut, though “reasonably so.” Tesar gets 14 variations out of the burger by playing with “daring combinations of ingredients.” The lamb-based Tandoori Burger “sings with tandoori spices, pickled cucumbers, and tzatziki.” I don’t like to think too hard about the Tail End—“a patty of braised pig’s tail, ground pork, and ground beef topped with roasted pork belly, green tomato chutney, and jalapeño mayo”—but it sure tastes good. The ultimate, though, might be the Rib, “a falling-apart, braised short rib” burger topped with collard greens and horseradish mayo. I’d walk a mile in the Dallas heat to get one. 1722 Routh St., Ste. 102, (214) 643-6557

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