Corporate hospitality professionals Craig Mangini and Kate Santos became business partners after working together in Mexican chain Guzman y Gomez. Sensing a gap in the Perth market for American diner-style burgers, they opened Upperhand Burgers in Swanbourne.
“I spent a year travelling around the States looking at places,” says Mangini. “Something that really stood out to me was the way burgers are produced. A lot of people use patties and that’s cool, but your local diner uses a ‘smash’ technique. It gives an incredible difference in texture from one side of the patty to the other.”
The beef burgers are brisket-heavy, the fried chicken is crisp and the there’s a choice of potato bun or a vegan gluten-free alternative. From there, though, things get interesting with alternative proteins and Taiwanese flavours playing a big part in Upperhand’s offering.
“The other thing that stood out in southern Central America was seeing businesses that mash cuisines together, like Texan BBQ joints selling Korean BBQ chicken,” says Mangini. “I loved the juxtaposition and the way those two things worked together. Taiwanese cuisine is light and fresh, and I wanted to pair it with a staple American take on burgers.”
Equally unexpected: vegan and vegetarian options make up around half of Upperhand's menu. The strong presence of tofu, tempeh and jackfruit speaks to a level of thought and effort that goes well beyond tokenism. All menu items can be made gluten-free with a change of bun.
“Kate’s moved between veganism and vegetarianism all her life and she had a huge influence in nailing it all down,” says Mangini. “We want everyone to be happy. What we’ve brought to the table gives people the opportunity to make a healthy choice today and back it up with a cheeseburger tomorrow.”
Paying homage to In-N-Out’s not-so-secret menu, beef and chicken can be made “beast” (cooked in mustard with caramelised onion, extra sauce and extra cheese) or “loco” style (with chopped chilli, sriracha, guacamole and caramelised onion). Loaded fries come in Peking duck and nacho-bacon varieties. Green beans come dry-fried in house-made XO sauce and topped with pork mince or fried tofu.
Liquid refreshment at Upperhand is primarily in the form of bubble tea and is already proving a hit with customers.
“Milkshakes and burgers have never worked for me,” says Mangini. “Bubble tea naturally forms part of the Taiwanese offering, and kids are using it like milkshake bars back in the ’50s. I want this to be a place where Mum and Dad can come with kids, or kids can come after school to eat duck fries, drink bubble tea and have a great time.”
23 Claremont Crescent, Swanbourne 0427 964 498
Tue to Sun 11am–9pm