There are plenty of reasons to opt for a veggie burger when you’re out at a restaurant. If you’re avoiding meat for dietary or ethical reasons, it’s kind of a no-brainer; if you’re looking for a change of pace or shying away from mediocre red meat, the texture and feel of a veggie burger can also be appealing. For some, the veggie burger exists to fill a dietary void, an approximation of a hamburger made with ingredients that aren’t remotely close to beef. For others, the goal isn’t to find the closest thing to meat that isn’t meat; it’s to locate something that satisfies on its own terms.
New York’s Mile End is known for its dedication to meats: the menus at their Brooklyn and Manhattan locations feature a tantalizing array of smoked meat, whitefish, and brisket. But chef Josh Sobel also understands the appeal of a well-made veggie burger. “For me, I don’t think a veggie burger needs to taste like meat, but it should have the texture of a burger, a little crunch on the outside, soft and granular on the inside. You need texture, otherwise its all just mush,” he said. “I don’t think a veggie burger should taste like meat. If someone wants a vegetarian based burger whether thats for ethical or health reasons, it seems almost insulting to give them something that would mimic the taste of meat. vegetables and grains are delicious and should be able to stand out on their own.”
Mile End now offers a veggie burger–a falafel burger, specifically–on their menu. “We went through a few modifications on the patty to get some good crunch and texture to it,” Sobel recalled. “It definitely hits all the right note as far as balance goes, there’s salt, sour, richness, a little heat and acidity, and a good outer crunch for texture. I think veggie burgers are having a moment, a lot of chefs are trying to live a healthier lifestyle and finding that vegetarian food is not all that great, so we are starting to apply our knowledge of cooking and skillsets to make better food for ourselves, which translate to better food for our guests who want the same.”
In a 2014 interview, Del Posto pastry chef Brooks Headley spoke about his own process of constructing a veggie burger, as a way to experiment during restaurant downtime. “[W]hen the meat cooks started to request veggie burgers, I knew I was onto something. The meat guys are the meat guys. They don’t eat any fucking vegetable, period. It kind of developed that way.” The veggie burgers offered at Headley’s pop-up venture Superiority Burger occupy a rarefied, sublime space, with a combination of flavors that evokes a sublime hamburger but maps its own territory. It’s a meal that dedicated vegans and evangelical omnivores alike can delight in.
Each of the ten restaurants here offers a veggie burger worth savoring. Some opt for a richer approach; others base their approach in the texture of the raw ingredients making up the patty. Whatever the approach, these are burgers that offer plenty of rewards to the diner ordering them.