Ah, veggie burgers. For so long regarded as the bête noire of vegetarian cuisine, they’ve been slowly but surely breaking free of their Morningstar-Boca shackles, thanks to a number of restaurants that have started to treat them as real food, rather than as a token, half-assed attempt to appease killjoy vegetarians. As Lukas Volger, the author of Veggie Burgers Every Which Way, told us last year, it’s not just “hippie moms” who are jumping on the bandwagon; even the Times recently saw fit to comment at length on the phenomenon. What follows are the veggie burgers we consider to be exemplars of the form. Naturally, you may disagree — that’s what the comments section is for.
10. Veselka. Odd that a Ukrainian eatery would boast a veggie burger — no less one with avocado-wasabi mayo. But the bile-colored condiment really does dress up what seems to be a plain Gardenburger patty — legumey, with flecks of bell pepper here and there — and adds a little heat to an otherwise earthy dish. It’s a solid pick, and the lettuce and tomato that come with it are quite fresh. It’s even better with a slice of yellow American cheese. Priced at $10.75 with fries, $8 without — the burger might not be watershed, but it definitely ranks among the best — especially in the world of meat-heavy eateries. 144 Second Avenue, 212-228-9682
9. The V-Spot. Much as bacon tarts up many a meaty burger, its tempeh facsimile provides a smoky, crispy assist to the $8 veggie burger at this hotbed of Park Slope veganism. The patty, while good, isn’t remarkable — it’s slightly better than your run-of-the-mill beans-lentil-soy hybrid. But taken as a whole, the burger succeeds as a juicy, meaty meal, minus the actual meat. As an added bonus, the vegan soy cheese has the texture and flavor of real cheddar — no half-melted plastic to see here. 156 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-662-2275
8. Remedy Diner. A prime example of well-played diner food, Remedy’s burger is both delectable and, at $5.75, an excellent deal. The soy flour-based patty sports easily identifiable, ostensibly fresh bits of mushroom, spinach, onion, broccoli, and carrot, along with the occasional lentil. But what makes it stand out is the texture: It’s both dense and delicate, with a crispy, golden-brown exterior and moist, chewy innards. Served on an imposing sesame bun, it’s as satisfying as its meaty counterparts. 245 East Houston Street, 212-677-5110
7. Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop. The Platonic ideal for soy enthusiasts, Tiny’s patty is ever so slightly reminiscent of a Boca burger, but it’s got enough heft, flavor, and juicy tenderness to earn our love. Dubbed the Big Mack Daddy, it forgos pedigreed accoutrements in favor of tempeh bacon, French’s mustard, cheddar, lettuce, and tomato. The “special sauce” is faintly spicy and alluringly fatty, and permeates the soft brioche bun. At $6.50, its ample proportions make it an excellent choice for budget-minded herbivores. 129 Rivington Street, 212-982-1690
6. Shake Shack. More like a couple of portobellos with cheese than a faux burger, the $6.50 ‘Shroom burger is a rapturous, definitive refutation of the idea that meatless burgers need come burdened with virtue. This is a breaded, deep-fried, roll-in-the-gutter emissary from the seventh ring of dietary hell: Muenster and cheddar cheese ooze from its core like oil seeping from the earth, and the first ingredient in the Shack Sauce is cellulite. There’s lettuce and tomato slices, too, but don’t let them fool you: You have attained a level of shameless decadence surpassing even that of a Quarter Pounder With Cheese, and there is no turning back. Multiple locations; shakeshack.com
5. The Rabbithole. Simplicity is a virtue in the case of this Williamsburg bistro’s $8 black bean burger.The perfectly seasoned patty is accessorized with pickled onions, bell peppers, regular pickles, and plain cucumber slices, and lubricated with a creamy dressing. Overall, it’s an excellent way to achieve satiety, particularly if you order it with a slice of Swiss cheese — the distinct, assertive flavor keeps the patty from being over-the-top legumey. 352 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-782-0910
4. Choice Kitchen. Its patty falls apart pretty easily, but this $7.50 lentil-rice-barley burger’s masala motif makes its texture almost irrelevant. A healthy squidge of curry mayonnaise lends kick and warmth to the concoction, while sprouts, salad greens, and slices of avocado and radish provide a cool contrast to the Indian spices. 108 Jay Street, Brooklyn, 718-797-1695
3. Westville. Easily the most idiosyncratic of the group, Westville’s $12 burger comes on a Portuguese bun, loaded with sautéed mushrooms, and anointed with tartar sauce. The deep-fried patty is almost more of a corn fritter, and while that may not sound ideal, it works beautifully here — robust of flavor and tender of texture, it’s even better if you order it with shredded gouda. Added bonus: The side salad that comes with it boasts a pristine, diverse assortment of greens — no flaccid iceberg lettuce here. 173 Avenue A, 212-677-2933
2. Hillstone. This is what a veggie burger would look like if its mother had been impregnated by an 18-wheeler. It’s enormous, with over-the-top dimensions that put most of its meat-based analogues to shame. It’s priced accordingly: You’ll pay a $17 for the honor of attempting to eat the whole thing without disabling your lower intestine. Is it worth it? We say yes, for the simple reason that the thing matches quantity with quality. The patty, made in part from black beans, beets, prunes, and brown rice, is flawless, while the melted Swiss cheese and Worcestershire sauce that crown it serve to emphasize its savory attributes. It’s the one burger we tried that earned the observation commonly attributed to Jewish food: It’s great, but you’ll be hungry 72 hours later. 37 Park Avenue South, 212-689-1090
1. 5 Napkin Burger. Last year, we chose this as our favorite burger for the Voice‘s annual “Best Of” issue. And despite the fact that it has some serious competition this time around, its ranking stands for the simple fact that absolutely everything about this burger — patty, bun, vegetal accessories, condiments — works in perfect harmony. The bun: sturdy but pliant multigrain. Tomatoes, lettuce, bread and butter pickles: generous, fresh. Patty: Conjured from black beans, barley, brown rice, carrots, beets, jalapeños, and sesame seeds, it’s crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, and flavorful and satisfying as hell. 5N sauce: like a hybrid of Russian dressing and tartar sauce, and thus delicious. Meat eaters, your loss is our considerable gain. 630 Ninth Avenue, 212-757-2277
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