Courtesy of locations. The falafel burger at Alla Spina.
Look around the West Hollywood hot spot Gracias Madre (GraciasMadreWeHo.com) and you're likely to find the same dish on the tables of its celebrity diners and power-lunchers. Chef Chandra Gilbert's black bean burger is the eatery's signature, squashing the myth that meat-free patties are just sorry beef substitutes. "People used to associate veggie burgers with soy-based fake meats -- what I call a 'bun on a bun' or 'oats on bread,' " says Gilbert. Not anymore.
What sets the new wave of veggie patties apart is the absence of traditional, ostensibly healthy ingredients that often overwhelm the tongue with notes of...well, basically, cardboard. "I wanted to simulate the look of meat but also have a deep umami flavor," Gilbert says of her Mexican-influenced burger, a combination of ground beets, mushrooms, toasted pumpkin seeds, and caramelized onions -- guaranteed to tickle your fifth taste bud.
The Classic Burger at New York's all-vegan By Chloe (ByChefChloe.com) is made of tempeh, lentils, and walnuts, which, according to chef Chloe Coscarelli, gives it "a hearty taste you'd normally get from a meat-based burger" while eliminating the mush quotient you've probably experienced microwaving frozen patties at home. "Texture is huge when creating a tasty veggie burger," she says. "Ours are firm with a meaty consistency."
Meanwhile, lines are out the door for the quinoa-based patty at New York's newly opened Superiority Burger (SuperiorityBurger.com); patrons in Philly are pairing the falafel patty at Alla Spina (AllaSpinaPhilly.com) with the restaurant's extensive beer collection; and chef Jose Andres is wowing crowds in Washington, D.C., at the fast-casual Beefsteak (BeefsteakVeggies.com) with a tomato burger that fittingly features a giant slice of beefsteak between its buns.
But it's not just bold flavors propelling the craze -- some opt for these burgers for the same reasons herbivores did decades ago. "Of course there's the bonus that something doesn't die to make it," says Gilbert. "When you look at the carbon footprint, and the grain and vegetables it takes to raise cattle, pound for pound, veggie burgers offer more food with less environmental impact."