Young and Hungry

Should a Veggie Burger Imitate a Hamburger or Be Its Own Sandwich?


Even though we're reaching the end of outdoor grilling season, we are in no way done with burgers. (Well, they are, but that's a different story.)

In fact, with the explosion of burger places on Connecticut Ave., NW  in Dupont, the cow invasion has even led to a bona fide nickname: Red Meat Row, coined by Amanda McClements of Metrocurean. And while there's been obvious attention paid to red meat, non-meat burgers have been left out of the discussion.

I rarely eat veggie burgers. If I want a burger, I want tender, fat-laden meat and nothing can accurately mimic that taste and texture. However, I haven't ruled out all non-meat burgers. In honor of Red Meat Alley, or in defiance of it, I'm interested to taste these burger joints' veggie alternatives. See if I can get my bloody-fill with chickpeas, not ground sirloin.

Following the burger places listed on McClements' Red Meat Row graphic, I checked out the online menus of BGR: The Burger Joint (which has just been named in the Washington Post's Fall 2010 Dining Guide by Tom Sietsema), Five Guys, and the yet-to-be-opened GO Burger and Shake Shack.

  • BGR's veggie burger is an inventive mix of brown rice, black beans, oats, and molasses.
  • Five Guys doesn't offer a veggie burger.
  • GO Burger relies on a chickpea and herb patty and is pretty pricey at $11.
  • Shake Shack fries a portobello mushroom and fills it with muenster and cheddar cheeses, a relative bargain at $6.75.

But what makes a good veggie burger?

There's two camps: make a veggie burger taste like meat or make it its own. I'm in the latter camp: I don't think the patty should attempt to imitate meat's unparalleled taste.

No one calls a crab cake a "crab burger" because it's not trying to impersonate red meat. Maybe veggie burgers should take the hint. I'll be watching.

Photo by TheCulinaryGeek via Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution License

  • David

    I'm in the latter camp too, a veggie burger should be its own sandwich. And the best one I've had is at Punk's Backyard Grill in Annapolis. You should stroll out of the District and try it. It's worth it.

  • Stefanie Gans

    thanks for the tip david. any idea what's inside punk's veg burger?

  • David

    Black beans and brown rice for sure. I'm not sure about the rest but I think they have a list of the ingredients for all of their food on their website.

  • Sean

    Down in Richmond, VA veggie burgers are pretty popular. The good ones to me always seem to be the veggie burgers that are their own sandwiches. I love a good black bean burger as long as I tell myself before I bite into it that it is not a burger.

  • Mr. Sparkle

    "Even though we’re reaching the end of outdoor grilling season..."

    Not me, I grill outdoors all year round.

  • Michael

    Omnivores can desire a veggie burger to be its own thing, and you have every right to do so. However, lifelong vegetarians have a right to have a "burger" that they can put ketchup, mustard and pickles on. Or sauteed mushrooms, onions and Swiss. Or any other combination of toppings.

    Making a veggie burger its own thing requires it to not be a proper venue for the variety of toppings that I want to enjoy with a burger. It prevents it from being a clean slate for other flavors.

    The veggie burger at BGR is disgusting and NO ONE should want to eat it. Same with the "black bean burger" at The Diner, which I'm surprised has survived the many menu changes since that place introduced it. (Or did it, I stopped looking.)

    I LOVE how Johnny Rockets allows you to sub a "meaty" extra large Boca burger patty for ANY and EVERY of their burger styles. Vegetarians can enjoy the same variety of burgers as omnivores.

    I guess what I'm saying is that a burger is rarely "its own thing!" It can be blackened, patty-melted, McD's style, smothered in a variety of toppings, etc. Why should we restrict the veggie version to be just one thing when there is a variety of things it could be?

  • dan riley

    I'm not a fan of the genre, but my GF loves the vegan burger at Open City - it's not a meat knock off. It's mostly lentils I think, with barley, leeks, carrot and possibly spinach or parsley. I've only had it during Lent.

  • Maids

    I love Bus Boys and Poets Veggie burgers. I think it's the tandori flavor and the chickpeas. My favorite way to make veggie burgers at home is to use Gimme Lean's ground soy sausage style. I mix the ground no-meat with caramelized onions, barbecue sauce, and spicy mustard. Always hits the spot.
    I absolutely hate burger king's veggie burger, and I really am not a fan of garden burgers or any of those frozen patties.

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  • BS

    you DC veggies need to brace yourself for the shack burger from shake shack, which is an a-freaking-mazing accomplishment. The portabello mushrooms (two of em!) are breaded and fried, with tons of gooey cheese stuffed in between. Now that is one veggie burger that is not trying to mimmic anyone's meat -- it is a grade-A sandwich in its own right.

  • eli

    DC9 & Luna Grill make the best veggie burgers around