Umai Savory Hot Dogs
Sacramento, CA 95825
There’s perhaps nothing more American than hot dogs. And, in our enterprising nation, there is, perhaps, nothing more American than experimenting with the tried and true to come up with something even better.
So it’s surprising that we haven’t seen more variations on hot dogs. Sausages—like those at LowBrau—have gained ground, but hot dogs remain ho-hum holders of ketchup and mustard.
It took an immigrant family from Vietnam to buck tradition and offer wildly international flavor combos with Umai Savory Hot Dogs. The Tran family began with a food cart in San Jose more than 20 years ago. Now they’re headquartered in Roseville and Umai stores have opened in Natomas, Roseville and the Arden area recently, with more expected this year.
But prepare to be overwhelmed: Umai offers more than 20 standard choices, plus a slew of options for customizing.
We started with the Honolulu Bang Bang ($5), a Polish sausage piled with pineapple, red onion, bacon bits and a teriyaki hoisin sauce. The hot dog snapped with freshness under its load of salty-sweet condiments. The crispy bacon added a welcome crunch.
Another Asian-themed version is Thai Thunder ($5), with a turkey hot dog, sweet chili sauce, sriracha-pickled vegetables, peanut sauce and chili flakes. It delivered just enough spice. All those sauces may seem like overkill, but they balance well, even though they drip everywhere.
Which bring us to a major issue with Umai. They have terrible napkins. Actually, they’re just brown paper towels on a wall dispenser. This is a place that cries out for wet wipes.
Equally messy, but tasty, is the Houston Honcho ($5), with bean chili, barbecue sauce, bacon and cheddar on an all-beef dog. It’s not that unusual, but a good choice for the less adventurous.
All of Umai’s hot dogs are custom-made for the restaurant with no fillers or additives and they’re gluten free. They also offer four vegetarian sausages, including Italian and smoked apple versions. Plus, there are gluten-free buns. Umai is seriously inclusive. You can add or delete any of the sauces and toppings, or sub one hot dog type for another, as you like.
If you’re eating hot dogs, you need carbs alongside. Diners can choose one of 10 French fry toppings such as nori, truffle or kimchi. We sampled the furikake fries ($3), which perked up with the salty seaweed sprinkled on top. The shoestring fries can get cold quickly, though.
Other side dishes include tori (chicken) wings and poku (pork) riblets. A five-piece hoisin barbecue poku ($6) had plenty of sticky, umami-rich sauce and meaty bites, but required reams of those useless napkins.
You can also get noodles, a thicker and flatter cut that’s also customized for Umai to match their thicker sauces. The spicy Thai peanut ($5) noodles weren’t too sweet, but the sauce seemed scanty, leaving the noodles somewhat dry.
All of Umai’s sauces come from family recipes that are made in the restaurants. You can ask for a sauce switch on any dog or noodle, or add them as desired.
There’s even a nod to burger eaters, with four choices. The Merican ($7) turned out to be pretty good for an under-$10 burger, with a flavorful brioche bun. The quarter-pound of meat gets an umami glaze, American cheese and the usual ’Merican toppings, plus a house sauce.
Oh, and there are lots and lots of macro- and microbrews displayed on a wall-mounted shelf. Or, try a Ramune cream soda ($3) in vanilla or butterscotch. Unless you want sugar shock, though, don’t add one of the optional fruit syrups.
Desserts skew super-sweet, too, with a fried banana dog and waffles on a stick among them. The Sugoi waffles run $2 each with a sauce, but taste more like underdone pancakes.
Umai (“yummy” in Japanese) is all about choice, whether it’s one of the multitude dreamed up for you or the flavor marriage of your own invention. They’ve got the hot dog quality dialed in, while other menu items can be hit or miss.