Heads up, omnivores: Veggie burgers aren't just beans on a bun. We found some of Seattle's best and meatiest.
For vegetarians, the bad veggie burger is a rite of passage. It’s the plant-eater’s hazing ritual: If you can make it through that sad conglomeration of beans and grains, you’ve proven yourself dedicated to a meat-free diet. You’re in.
At least, that’s what we want meat-eaters to think. But with “bleeding,” factory-made bulk-order patties like The Impossible Burger popping up at restaurants left and right, the cat’s officially out of the bag. Veggie burgers can be good. And there are enough of them — from big burger’s ubiquitous creations to these unique house-made patties — that I guess we can share.
Skillet Regrade is the newest of Skillet’s three locations in Seattle. It’s a ghost town until noon, when the tech employees of South Lake Union start filing in for too-salty fries and burgers priced squarely at minimum wage.
I rolled my eyes at Skillet’s bougie diner food and its requisite Mason jars. But The Veggie ($15; includes fries) was worth the venture into the center of Hell Mouth. Easily the most thoughtful flavor combo of my veggie burger circuit, The Veggie features piles of arugula, tangy pickled shallots and creamy garlic aioli. But the patty is the real star. Farro cooked to varying textures proves the grain is worthy of its frequent veggie-burger appearances, and Parmesan glues it all together with additional nuttiness. The toppings are a little overdone, and the buttery potato roll was a bit tough and crunchy. But I’m just grasping at (compostable) straws.
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2050 Sixth Ave., Seattle; 206-512-2002, skilletfood.com
Next Level Burger
Wade through a sea of toddlers and La Croix inside the Roosevelt Whole Foods to find Bend-born fast-food chain Next Level Burger. Table placards advertising grocery discounts for Amazon Prime members rather than the restaurant’s array of milkshakes were disappointing and a bit disconcerting. But they’ve got an all-vegan menu with more plant-based burgers than you’ll know what to do with.
I picked the All-American ($8.50), which features the chain’s “meaty” patty and a few strips of tempeh bacon. The patty is flavorful and does a pretty good job imitating beef (albeit of the dry, school-lunch variety). I could’ve done without the bacon, which is nice and smoky but much chewier than the real thing. The “cheddar style cheese” achieves a surprisingly good melt and lends some needed moistness. Unfortunately, its similarities to the dairy version stop there. To that end, skip adding toppings to your fries, or at least avoid the In-N-Out copycat with special sauce and cheddar. All said, Next Level will satisfy your burger cravings. And despite being the meatiest-tasting burger I tried by far, it’s also very nice to cows.
1026B N.E. 64th St., Seattle; 206-319-0026, nextlevelburger.com
Located in Fremont in what used to be an auto- and boat-repair shop, Uneeda Burger is admittedly much cooler than the inside of a Whole Foods. Apparently, Chef Scott Staples has a penchant for transformations. His Crispy Emmer Veggie Burger ($8.50) cleverly ditches healthy-sounding “farro” for “emmer,” the grain’s less-common name, and the crispy-crunchy patty is closer to fried chicken than to beef. But don’t skip Uneeda in your quest for a burger dupe. The Emmer is meatlike in its greasiness, and plenty of grilled portobello slices lend umami heartiness, even without cheese. Sure, the idea of shredded lettuce on a burger has always left me miffed — I prefer all burger components to eventually reach my mouth. And the patty should be bigger, to avoid creating a slippery mess and a pile of uneaten bread nubs. But if meat-eaters get to enjoy gloriously sloppy burgers, why shouldn’t vegetarians?
4302 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle; 206-547-2600, uneedaburger.com
Li’l Woody’s has three locations in Seattle. It’s comforting to know you can find queso and fries citywide. And unlike the rest of the places I visited, it exclusively serves burgers and burger-bar fare (other than some rogue cans of kombucha) — an admirable trait.
Unfortunately, even this reliable burger joint couldn’t perfect the black bean patty. The Veggie Veggie ($7.50) provides the unique taste of refried beans on a bun, scarcely improved by a one-dollar slice of half-melted cheese. Its saving grace (for me, perhaps, unusually significant) was a ketchup-pickle-onion combo that managed to mimic the flavor of a McDonald’s hamburger. Sweet, pungent nostalgia. Good news: you can get an Impossible Burger on any menu item for an extra $5. It’s worth it.
Locations in Capitol Hill, Ballard, South Lake Union and White Center; 206-457-4148 (Capitol Hill location), lilwoodys.com
If you just can’t get behind the idea of eating something that never had a chance to roam free: chase down vegan food truck Plum Burgers. But bring your friends! Chef Makini Howell’s brainchild on wheels serves a seasonal menu of burgers and burger-adjacents all intended to appeal to vegans and meat-eaters alike.
The Buffalo Portobello Burger ($12) is a panko-crusted, buffalo-sauce-slathered behemoth that has proudly rejected nearly everything that it means to be a burger. Greens and thick cucumber slices prevent it from feeling too rich (or too spicy — it’s got a kick, but you won’t be dying for a drink). Panko brings a barely-there crispiness. Occasionally the sauce overwhelms the dill aioli, and the burger also overwhelmed its wrapper; Don’t forget to grab a napkin. But if you really want to forget you’re eating plants, take Plum Burgers for a spin.
Various locations; 206-305-2657, plumbistro.com