Mere hours prior to their grand opening, the kind people at Umami Restaurant Group graciously invited U.E. to sample the fare at their brand spanking new U-Mini in Westwood. Designed as a fast casual version of the ever popular and expanding Umami Burger franchise, U-Mini is viewed as the next notch on URG's belt and is actually located adjacent to another Umami-run fast casual joint, the uber-popular 800 Degrees, a.k.a. "the Chipotle of pizza." The Westwood U-Mini stands not simply as the first in what appears to be multiple locations, but also as a test kitchen for all Umami restaurants. New special burgers will be tested out here first before being finding their way on the other menus.
Since I hardly find it reasonable to justly review a restaurant on a first visit, let alone amidst the chaos that comes with pre-opening lunch, the following merely serves as my First Thoughts. Check back in a few weeks or a month or so for a full report on U-Mini.
|All placed orders are tracked on a flat screen.|
|Salted Caramel Shake.|
|Dads Burger porn view.|
|Mushroom Burger porn view.|
U-Mini has four burgers on the menu - all of them new to the URG. I tried the Dads Burger and the Mushroom Burger. The remaining two burgers are the ALT Burger (crushed avocado, butter lettuce, savory onions, slow-roasted tomato, house American cheese) and the Vintage Burger (bread and butter pickle slices, minced onion, butter lettuce, mustard, Umami ketchup and house cheddar cheese), an homage to McDonald's. Unlike these two burgers and the Dads Burger, the Mushroom Burger (shitake veggie patty, slow-roasted tomato, butter lettuce) has no meat at all and serves as the restaurant's vegetarian alternative. I wanted to give it a try because I don't think I've ever had a good fast casual veggie burger. U-Mini certainly makes a gallant effort to change that with the Mushroom Burger, but I still think they may end up just a tad short. Comprised almost completely of shitake mushrooms, the patty tastes too shitake mushroom-y. I think a blend heavier on the other vegetables in the patty may lead to a slightly more balanced patty in taste - and in texture. As for Dads Burger, I was very pleased with what will probably be U-Mini's signature dish. Topped with savory onions, bread and butter pickle slices and house cheddar, I challenge each and every one of you to find a higher quality burger in Los Angeles -- with housemade cheddar no less! -- for the $5.85 pricepoint. With a nice crust on the patty, a slight toast on the Umami-branded bun, well-cooked onions and the powerful (but not too powerful) cheddar taste, this is a quality fast-whatever burger.
IN CONCLUSION: Clearly Umami Restaurant Group's plan for U-Mini is to do for burgers what their 800 Degrees is doing across the street with pizza. They want U-Mini to serve the highest quality burgers, fries and shakes... for the (low) pricepoint. Based on first impressions alone, I found them to be generally successful at accomplishing this goal. UCLA students and local businesses are probably going to go gaga over this place. The true question remains though: will non-Westwooders flock there? It may not even matter as drunk college kids (myself previously included) can consume ungodly amounts of food. Yet, I think part of the astounding 800 Degrees success comes not just from locals, but from other Los Angelenos making the trek there - or, at the very least, ensuring every time they're in the area, stopping in. With one of the few Westside In 'n Outs just up the street, will people choose U-Mini instead? One sip of the Salted Caramel shake and one bite of the Dads Burger may make them do just that.
1131 Westwood Blvd, Westwood
Open 11 am - midnight daily