The veggie burgers of yore were compressed pucks of frozen vegetables thawing sadly on kitchen counters before getting the grill treatment. The requisite fixings of tomato, lettuce and ketchup were never quite enough to camouflage the tastelessness of these wannabe meats. But today the veggie burger is in the midst of a glorious renaissance. Far from being rubbery faux-meat renditions, these patties highlight fresh vegetables and grains and in some cases taste exactly like beef. This new breed is imaginative and filling, satiating the hankerings of even the most robust carnivores while appealing to the growing group of consumers who are cutting back on beef for ethical and environmental reasons.
Consider the Impossible Burger, the juicy bleeds-like-it’s-beef creation from Silicon Valley start-up Impossible Foods. Although the menu at Momofuku Nishi, David Chang’s Korean-Italian mash-up in New York, includes delicious brisket ramen and pork belly–fried egg sandwiches, it’s this meaty, plant-based burger nestled inside a potato bun that draws lunchtime crowds. An affinity for the meatless is also on full display at Amazing Kale Burger in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, where the signature dish pairs the ubiquitous green with the likes of cremini mushrooms, zucchini and black beans. Likewise, when Chris Kronner opened KronnerBurger in Oakland, the umami-rich mushroom Earth Burger with yuba bacon fast became a favorite. Herewith, a guide to the best restaurants and brands putting out veggie patties to be proud of.
At these joints, springing for a meat-free burger is always the right move.
SUPERIORITY BURGER (NEW YORK)
Brooks Headley’s recipe for the delightfully messy, Muenster-draped namesake at his tiny vegetarian hot spot in Manhattan’s East Village is hush-hush. One mouthful in, though, it’s clear quinoa is part of the textural allure.
BY CHLOE. (NEW YORK AND LOS ANGELES)
Vegan chef and TV personality Chloe Coscarelli is a partner at this upbeat, booming chainlet where the coveted burgers include a smoky portobello-seitan version with bourbon barbecue sauce and grilled pineapple.
THE HAY MERCHANT (HOUSTON)
Just as attractive as the Cajun meat pies at this craft-beer hangout is the vegetarian incarnation of Chris Shepherd’s Cease and Desist Burger: a black-bean-and-olive patty topped with house-made pickles and American cheese on a freshly baked bun.
WHITE OWL SOCIAL CLUB (PORTLAND, OREGON)
This convivial bar with a patio and a fire pit is also home to an imaginative beet-wakame-hazelnut burger spruced up with misonaise and carrot ribbons. Pea shoots stand in as a crunchy alternative to iceberg.
NETFLIX AND GRILL
For a chill night at home, seek out one of these flavorful heat-and-serve veggie burger options at the supermarket.
The resemblance to ground beef is uncanny, but this mighty beet-juice-extract-bleeding patty (burger pictured above), which can be found in a growing number of Whole Foods meat sections, is spawned solely from plant-based proteins.
HILARY’S WORLD’S BEST VEGGIE BURGER
Despite its lofty, eyebrow-raising name, this organic burger satisfies. The mellow mix of quinoa and underrated millet is bolstered by sweet potato, coconut oil and leafy greens.
HOT DANG SOUTHWEST GRAIN BURGER “EL GUAPO”
Wild rice and brown rice, united with barley, oats and pumpkin seeds, give this burger a comforting, nutty backbone. Melded with cotija cheese, black beans and green chili peppers, it also telegraphs Mexico—especially when slathered with guacamole.
SUNSHINE BURGER GARDEN HERB
The first bite of this organic patty—brown rice, raw sunflower seeds, carrots, spices and sea salt—feels nourishing. Top with quality BBQ sauce and a smattering of fried onions, and it could pass for homemade.