Umami Burger's original that started it all, made with a Parmesan crisp, shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onions and house ketchup, all stacked neatly and melded together at their Laguna Beach location. (Don Leach, Daily Pilot / February 18, 2014)

About five years ago, Adam Fleischman, an unsuccessful screenwriter and owner of a wine bar called BottleRock, decided to open a burger joint.

He sold his share in BottleRock and started concocting burgers in his home kitchen. His idea was to try to infuse the umami flavor into a hamburger sandwich. This involved mixing things such as soy sauce, miso, fish sauce, dried fish and cheeses in search of that elusive fifth taste, umami.

I will try to explain the unexplainable, that is to say, umami. For a very long time, only four basic tastes were recognized: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Of course, it is equally difficult to describe these basic tastes in any other words: Salty is …salty.

In Robert L. Wolke's book "What Einstein Told His Cook," he says, "Today, it is generally recognized that there is at least one other primary taste, known by its Japanese name, umami. It is associated with MSG and other compounds of glutamic acid. Umami is a savory kind of taste associated with protein-rich foods such as meat and cheese."

However, it is not palatable on its own and really acts as a flavor enhancer.

The first time it was isolated was in 1908 by a Japanese chemist named Ikeda. Umami is called aji-no moto in Japan, and it means "the essence of taste." It wasn't until 1985 that it was finally recognized as a fifth taste, with receptors in the tongue.

It lends a meaty or brothy flavor with a mouth-watering sensation. It is said that this taste is achieved by aging or fermentation and can be found in things like seaweed, fish sauce, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese and asparagus.

So back to the burger joint. I know that most people have a favorite burger place and will insist, sometimes vehemently, that theirs is the best. Well, I will now enter the fray and say Umami Burger has the very best burgers I've ever tasted.

Several weeks after Umami Burger opened its first little café on La Brea, just south of Wilshire, I got a call from my daughter, who lived a block away. She said, "Mom, we just had the most amazing burger. We have to go there when you are next in town."

Well, I visited, I ate and I was conquered. The burgers are coarsely ground in house throughout the day from a proprietary blend of hand-selected beef. They are served on wonderful, slightly sweet buns with house-made ketchup on the side. The restaurant offers six different styles to choose from, and substitutions are allowed. Trust me, you will not want to change anything once you've tasted one.

The original is topped with a Parmesan cheese crisp, shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onions and house ketchup. The manly burger has beer-cheddar cheese, bacon lardoons, smoked salt onion rings, house ketchup and mustard spread. Also available are ahi, turkey and vegetarian versions.

The fries are great too, and I love the smushed potatoes.

This is a small chain now but growing quickly in select areas. Try it. You'll like it!

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

Umami Burger

Where: 610 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach

When: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Prices:

Salads and starters: $4 to $13

Burgers: $10 to $15

Desserts: $5 to $9

Wine:

Bottles: $25 to $35

By the glass: $7 to $10

Information: (949) 342-1210 or umami.com/umi-burger