The delights of the veggie burger are often unappreciated thanks to the temptation to compare it to ‘the real thing’. It’s as if, when ordering a veggie burger, we expect the chef to commit the culinary equivalent of printing fifty-dollar bills with a Xerox machine and office paper.
Fortunately for us, this is New York, and plenty of restaurants these days recognise the value of a quality veggie burger. But what does a good veggie burger taste like, look like? Shunning the obligation to taste like beef, the market is cut loose, endowed with a variety that few other culinary genres can match. It is to the ‘real’ burger what the novel is to the short story; unruly, untamed, and unbound from convention.
To cut the crap, a good veggie burger is always, without fail, damn tasty. In the spirit of this infinite variation, we have thrown out the prescriptive approach to veggie-burger evaluation, in order to stride forth and tell you which ones even the most ardent meat-eater will love.
The Top 5 Veggie Burgers in New York City
1. Building on Bond: Boerum Hill
The patty of our winner is house-made, a subtle blend of green lentils, sunflower seeds, and fresh vegetables; it’s delicately spiced, meaning it doesn’t overpower the other ingredients in play. It superbly sets off the buttery brioche bun and the sun-dried tomato spread that accompany it, showing that a top veggie burger is a symphony, and a good patty merely a guitar solo. Pair with a whopping portion of crispy fries.
2. Brooklyn Label: Greenpoint
This is one hefty piece of not meat, in a toasted sesame bun with a deftly dressed mixed greens salad. For all the hype the menu gives it (‘we’re famous for it!’), the patty seems unabashed at being thrust into the lead role in this blockbuster of a sandwich. This hearty combination of black beans, roasted poblano peppers and onions, smeared with guacamole, makes for a sandwich that is serious about cutting through hunger. Let’s see if those meat-eating buddies of yours can even lift it, never mind finish it!
3. Shake Shack: Madison Square Park, and locations around Manhattan
Though famous for its take on the ‘real’ hamburger, Danny Meyer’s throwback to the roadside burger joints of yesteryear also does a cracking sideline in the veggie burger. Whereas the first two in this list create composite patties, Shake Shack’s Shroom Burger keeps things simple and unadorned. First, take a Portobello mushroom, deep fry it, and stuff it with muenster and cheddar. Then, top it with lettuce and the ominously named, but in reality superb Shack Sauce. Finally, put it in a potato bun, pair it with their very own ShackMeister Ale, and you’ve got an afternoon in the park that is well worth the drawn-out, soul-sapping, ‘am-I-going-to-pass-out-before-I-eat-something?’ wait.
4. Candle Café: Upper East Side
When you’re actually trying to avoid the cholesterol-raising properties of a meat burger, enter the UES’ Candle Café, where the motto is ‘bettering the health of the individual and the planet,’ without skimping on taste. Made with seitan, this version comes with all the trimmings of the burgers of yore – creamy, tangy coleslaw, a seeded bun, and a well dimensioned pickle. Perhaps the golden fries that accompany the burger don’t really reconcile with the restaurant’s mission statement, but we really couldn’t care less.
5. The Organic Grill: East Village
Our final entry, the Organic Grill, actually offers two out-and-out veggie burgers. Our favourite is the ingeniously named Organic Grill Burger, with brown rice, carrots, mushrooms and sunflower seeds, served in an Ezekial bun with virtuous toppings like sprouts, tomato, and vegan mayo. Those with more of a sense of adventure should try the Roasted Mushroom Burger, combining portabella, cremini, and white button mushrooms with dill, tofu, and cashews, served with a mustard mayonnaise. Both of these bad boys roll with a pickle and a serving of superbly seasoned chunky homefries.