Hold the Beef: Best Veggie Burgers Around the Country
Photo By: Deb Fletcher Photography, Inc.
Photo By: Rey Lopez ©Under a Bushel.com
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Photo By: Angela DeCenzo ©2014 Angela DeCenzo Photography. All Rights Reserved.
Hip to Be Veg
Once upon a time, veggie burgers were thought to be cruel and unusual punishment, the cardboard-flavored penance of an ethically sound vegetarian diet. Not anymore. With increased interest in produce and the meatless diet, even the most-ardent omnivores are digging into plant-based patties, and chefs are answering the call with hearty two-handed burgers that could rival even their beefiest brethren. Including fresh vegetables and ingredients from international cuisine, these veggie burgers are leading the meatless movement.
Photo courtesy of Jo's Coffee
Native Foods — Palm Springs, Calif. (and more)
Started in the desert oasis of Palm Springs, Native Foods has been a front-runner in the plant-based fast-casual scene since 1994.There are now seven locales across the Pacific Coast and Midwest. Everything's made fresh, including the from-scratch tempeh and seitan and the Native cheese. When it comes to veggie burgers, there’s a build-your-own section of the menu that allows guests to pick a patty (including portobello and seitan “sausage” or a mix of white bean, lentil and brown rice), a bun, and a selection of vegetables, sauce and gourmet toppings (think Native “bacon,” cashew cheese and avocado). Those who prefer tried-and-true combinations can opt for the Native Southwestern burger. The base is the signature umami patty, made from peppered seitan, soy-and-wheat-based replacement chicken, portobellos and tamari. It’s topped with guacamole, Santa Fe salsa and grilled jalapenos, and stuffed into a multigrain ciabatta roll.
Tap 42 — Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Monday nights are usually dead in restaurants. But the first day of the workweek often feels more like a Friday at this trendy South Florida pub, because Monday means $5 burger night that attracts patty lovers from across the region. Those in the know order the veggie burger (which normally goes for $13.50). Inspired by Middle Eastern street food, Tap 42’s patty is a cross between the American veggie burger and falafel for the ultimate mix, featuring ground chickpeas, garlic, onion herbs and spices. It’s formed into a patty and flash-fried until nice and crisp, then placed on a big, fluffy challah bun with roasted red pepper tzatziki, lettuce, tomato and onion. Guests can request additional toppings like smashed avocado, roasted onions and caramelized onions.
PM: Sushi, Bistro and Bar — Nashville
The Next Food Network Star and Top Chef contestant Arnold Myint is known for fusing his Southeast Asian heritage with his Southern upbringing. At this cafe, the Nashville native offers a vegetarian take on his infamous PM beef burger, “celebrating Asian nuances,” as he explains. A blend of housemade tofu, broccoli, edamame, carrots, onion and panko breadcrumbs is shaped into patty form. Each patty is flash-fried, then allowed to rest in the fridge to hold its form. When it’s ordered, the burger is thrown on the grill, producing a slight char and a hint of smoky barbecue flavor. Before it’s placed on a locally baked kaiser bun, each burger is glazed with sweet-chile barbecue sauce infused with spicy Thai chile and pungent garlic. Wasabi mayonnaise finishes it off.
By Chloe — New York City
In the not-too-distant past, New Yorkers queuing up for vegan cuisine would have been a punchline, rather than a reality. But By Chloe has changed that. Chef Chloe Coscarelli rose to fame winning Cupcake Wars with her vegan recipe. Now she’s bringing that same A-game to Greenwich Village with flavorful salads, sandwiches and veggie burgers that people line up out the door to try. The classic is made from a tempeh-lentil-chia-walnut patty with semitraditional toppings — pickles, onion, beet ketchup, special sauce. The Guac Burger, though, has quickly become of the city’s most-popular sandwiches in any category. A meatlike patty, made from black beans, quinoa and sweet potato, is topped with corn salsa, onion, guacamole, tortilla strips and chipotle aioli, all stacked on a whole-grain bun.
Photo courtesy of Mikey Pozarik
The Madison Blind — Madison, Wis.
Set above the downtown skyline, on the rooftop of the trendy Graduate Madison hotel, The Madison Blind offers unparalleled indoor and outdoor views of Lake Mendota and the Capitol building. It also features superb cocktails and high-end riffs on classic pub grub, including a veggie burger that puts most regular burgers to shame. Executive Chef Chris Cubberly makes his patty on the premises with a blend of quinoa, black beans, roasted red pepper and grilled corn, all bound together with potato, so it’s vegan and gluten-free. The already flavorful mix is seasoned with cumin, thyme and rosemary before cooking. Once it’s done, it’s topped with tomato and avocado slices and lime-jalapeno sauce, and served on a pretzel bun or a gluten-free roll.
Pincho Factory — Miami
Armed with family recipes and some serious grilling skills, Pincho Factory’s Chef Nedal Ahmad aimed to serve the kind of food that he would make for friends and family at home. The concept took off, expanding to six Florida outposts packed with people eager to eat the meaty, award-winning Pincho Burger. The only issue: Vegetarians couldn’t get in on the fun. To remedy that, the fast-casual joint recently added a veggie burger to its permanent menu. The 1/3-pound patty is made from black beans and sweet potato. Like its beefy sibling, the veggie burger is topped with lettuce, tomato, onions, potato sticks and the Pincho secret pink sauce, all on a brioche. For a real taste of Miami, sub out the bread and order the burger sandwiched between tostones (fried green plantains).
BeefSteak — Washington, D.C.
José Andrés is one of the best-known and most-beloved chefs on the planet, hailed for his high-end modern Spanish cuisine. He’s also an activist dedicated to reducing food waste and increasing access to healthy, nutritious fare. He’s made the latter easier at BeefSteak, his first fast-casual concept, where farm-fresh vegetables are the main ingredient. The food is healthy, affordable and bursting with flavor. Like everything he does, Andrés’ BEETsteak sandwich turns traditional notions (of veggie burgers, in this case) upside down. There’s no patty, per se. Marinated beet — what playful Andrés dubs #theotherredmeat — is the main layer, topped with pickled red onion, sprouts and romaine on an olive-oil brioche bun alongside a pile of veggie chips. As for the restaurant’s meaty name, it’s a joking nod to the juicy summer tomato.
Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez
Jo’s Coffee — Austin
Texas is a cattle state. Steakhouses are all over the place, barbecue means beef, and the burgers are legit. But that doesn’t mean that Texans compromise on vegetarian dishes. Jo’s Coffee in Austin makes one of the top veggie burgers in the Lone Star State. Available at the downtown location, this patty is made from a satisfying (and somewhat meaty) mix of black beans, red onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms, spinach, ground tempeh, garlic, cumin, cayenne, parsley and eggs. It’s served on a toasted sweet sourdough bun with shredded iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and sauteed onions. This is so full of flavor that no sauces are needed. Guests can opt for additional toppings if desired, including jalapenos, barbecue sauce or fried avocado.
Taproom on 19th — Philadelphia
This South Philly gastropub serves the creative kinds of bar food that sound like they could have been developed late at night — possibly under the influence. Dishes range from crab-topped cheese fries to Korean-spiced wings. There’s a whole lot of cheese and meat, but the bar also plays a mean plant-based game. The veggie-based Bozo Burger is hailed as one of the top choices in the city. It starts with a housemade patty of garbanzo beans, black quinoa, feta and cumin, all topped with sliced tomato and a housemade cilantro-yogurt sauce. Full of spice and hearty protein, it’s perfect for soaking up the bar’s ample selection of craft cocktails and brews.
Cafe Gratitude — Los Angeles
Two words: coconut bacon. This affirmation-focused Los Angeles eatery serves what the restaurant calls a “magical” double cheeseburger that is truly otherworldly. As the story goes, the staff wasn’t originally impressed with Chef Dreux Ellis’ burger, and when he found out, he went on a months-long mission to overhaul it. Guests are Ecstatic (another menu-item moniker) with the result. Two housemade black bean patties are topped with shredded romaine, tomato, pickles, red onion, spicy cashew thousand island dressing, chipotle ketchup and cashew macadamia cheddar, all placed on a gluten-free amaranth-millet bun. It’s slightly sweet, slightly smoky, very meaty and not at all dry. The addition of chipotle coconut bacon (for an extra $2) sets it over the top. It comes with a side of roasted garnet yams that are best plunged into spicy cashew aioli.
Symon’s Burger Joint — Austin
Star, author, restaurateur and James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef Michael Symon is known for his love of all things meat — as he shows off on Burgers, Brew and ’Que. At his quick-serve burger spot in Austin, Symon serves a veggie burger even a carnivore can appreciate. This one is made with a hearty mix of adzuki beans, millet, quinoa, green chile and cumin. Like each burger here, it’s topped with lettuce, tomato, pickled red onion and special Symon Sauce. Even better, it is free of all sorts of allergens, including corn, gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, nuts and yeast.
Mission Bowling Club — San Francisco
Bowling is a great way to spend a Saturday night — or any night, really. Eating while bowling, however, can leave much to be desired (think soggy hot dogs and/or nachos with plasticized cheese). Mission Bowling Club, though, gives bowlers a reason to work up an appetite. This San Francisco destination serves specialty cocktails, craft beer and wines, as well as upscale takes on traditional comfort fare and a fab vegan burger. The patty is essentially a panisse (garbanzo-flour patty), formed by whisking the flour with boiling water and vegetables (shiitake, edamame, kale and scallion) until thick. Once it’s cooled, it’s fried to order, topped with guacamole, fennel and a housemade sambal chile sauce, and then sandwiched between toasted vegan green-onion slices from Acme Bread.