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Umami: Japan Meets Lawrenceville

By Alexa Breedveld

Umami Pgh/ Facebook

‘Umami’ is a word we stole from Japan meaning ‘savory’ – but umami is really a balance between all the other tastes; it’s not sweet, or sour, or salty, it’s just….. awesome.

The long-awaited Japanese outpost on Butler takes its name from this uniquely satisfying flavor. And the restaurant Umami delivers fresh updates of traditional Japanese fare.
The restaurant is a third-floor walk-up, so be ready to work up an appetite. Upon entrance, the red lanterns and dark grain wood planking make for a low-maintenance and cozy vibe.

Umami Pgh/ Facebook

Bacon Wrapped Quail Eggs
Umami Pgh/ Facebook

Everything is priced under $16, so ordering family style or flying solo is easy and reasonable. The entrees and appetizers include sashimi, nigiri, temaki (hand rolls), onigiri (rice balls), one special maki roll, ramen, skewers, platters, and dumplings to boot.

We started with bacon-wrapped quail eggs. The eggs had absorbed the excess fat from the bacon, creating both the richest egg and the least-greasy bacon I’ve ever had. This is kind of a big deal for an appetizer because I eat of LOT of eggs and bacon. There was a slight disappointment in the shumai (which the menu thankfully identifies as an “open-faced dumpling” for all us ignorant WASPS). The meat filling did not have enough texture or flavor to stand alone. But the sauce served with the shumai was an ideal balance of spice and vinegar, and it added just enough punch to convince me to eat most of the platter.

The ramen was the highlight of our meal – I know it’s only been one day, but I think this ramen and I are going to get married. I really do. The miso ramen comes with mushrooms that somehow have a smokey taste, and the broth is so flavorful you could drink it by the gallon. Just saying, we are in love.

Miso Ramen Umami Pgh/ Facebook

Miso Ramen
Umami Pgh/ Facebook

Umami has made an effort to purchase local alcohols, including Wigle Whiskey and rotating local taps. There are also several Japanese and Chinese beers, and an impressive selection of sake to pick from at varying prices. But the cocktails left something to be desired – the “Japanese Cocktail” just tasted like cognac on the rocks. No thanks. But hey, you can’t win ‘em all.

Overall, Umami is a great place to satisfy your craving for all things Japanese. With promises of soon-to-come happy hours and a late night menu, Umami will have Sober You fantasizing about what Drunk You is going to be eating and drinking in the near future.

But seriously, don’t come between me and miso ramen. Respect our relationship and find your own food.

Umami is located at 202 38th St – take the side door behind Round Corner Cantina.

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Our Guest Food Critic, Alexa Breedveld, lives in Pittsburgh and is obsessed with dogs and Instagram.

About Julianna Bagwell (104 Articles)
Julianna Bagwell is the Managing Editor for LOCALpittsburgh as well as a freelance writer for various publications including Thrillist.com. At her core, she is an extreme foodie and dog enthusiast.