Let’s face it: beef is on its way out.
Hold for boos.
I mean it! Whether we want to admit it or not, beef consumption has been steadily decreasing since the turn of the 21st century. There is no sole explanation for this. Some consumers cite the environmental benefits of moving away from red meat, others the health concerns, some the moral reasons, and others just the taste.
In response to this beefless vacuum forming in America, consumption of plant-based alternatives has been soaring, growing 27% in the past year alone. Brands like Impossible and Beyond have paved the way with their lines of burger impersonators that have helped millions ease into the transition from red meat to plant-based eating.
Atlanta has been characteristically quick to hop on this skyrocketing movement, and there are now hundreds of spots around town where you can score a veggie burger.
Naturally, I wanted to eat and review them.
I’m by no means a vegetarian or a vegan (that would be nearly impossible working here), but I try to lean away from red meat when I can for the aforementioned reasons and because a plant-based burger done right can make for an incredible meal.
I researched the most popular veggie/vegan burgers in Atlanta and got to work.
I ate more veggie burgers in three days than I have in the past three years. I’m not sure the long-term effects this will have on my body but I don’t regret it for a second. I’m certainly better off than I would’ve been had I done this with beef burgers.
Now, let’s eat.
Impossible Burger, Gringo style: black bean spread, pico de gallo, avocado, jalapeños, diablo sauce
The patty itself is an Impossible Burger, arguably the face of the plant-based burger movement. I get a slightly weird feeling when I read the list of ingredients that go into this emulation of a burger: soy and potato proteins for nutrition, heme and yeast extract for the meaty flavor, coconut and sunflower oils for the fat, and methylcellulose and food starch to bind it all together. It’s hard to wrap my head around how artificial this process feels, but the result is undeniable: Impossible Burgers bear an uncanny resemblance to the texture of a beef burger. Once I began probing around (AKA playing with my burger), I was able to spot the slight differences, like how it didn’t secrete juice when I squeezed it, but it was ultimately a strong substitute. The toppings only made it harder to notice these slight deviations: the crunch of the jalapeños and pico and the creaminess of the avocado and black bean spread smacked me in the face with a variety of textural sensations.
This was another instance of the Impossible Burger being elevated by the Grindhouse add-ons. This burger packed a KICK. The diablo sauce and pico had nice spice, but nothing will grab your attention quite like sliced jalapeños. The mild avocado was a fitting foil for these elements and the black bean spread kept everything in balance. But when I once again conducted an independent study of the Impossible Burger itself (AKA ripping off a piece), it didn’t hold its own. It tasted more or less like a frozen Boca veggie burger, which isn’t bad but is certainly not beef-like.
One Night Stand: Impossible patty topped with vegan (soy protein) bacon, vegan cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and Slut Sauce on a vegan Hawiian bun
Slutty Vegan has completely changed the conversation about plant-based eating. Vegan food is…cool? This branding is slick and funny, and, while waiting for my order, I thoroughly enjoyed every second of taking in the lively staff, the bumping music, and the trendy merch. The burger itself got exceptionally soggy after a quick ten minute drive, mostly because it’s soaking in Slut Sauce and vegan cheese. In spite of this, it never fully fell apart. Between the sauce and the cheese plus the chewy strips of bacon, chunks of caramelized onion, and blanket of shredded lettuce, it was, frankly, a mess. A big, beautiful mess. You’re going to need some napkins for this one.
It was immediately clear that Slutty Vegan knows what they’re doing. I was stuck in limbo between a desire to take my time so I could savor each bite and a restless need to continue eating it. The latter won out and I devoured this monster in less than five minutes (an optimistic estimate, probably clocking in closer to 30 seconds). The burger, even though it was an Impossible patty, was way more flavorful than I expected. They definitely season and prepare them well. The bacon adds a mild smokiness and the veggies bring some freshness. As is often the case with a big greasy burger, the sauce took it to the next level.
Housemade Vegan Burger: A vegan patty (made of quinoa, black eyed peas, kale, roasted mushrooms, sweet potatoes and spices) topped with arugula, tomato chow chow (like a tomato relish), and vegan mayo (chickpea + sunflower oil).
It’s certainly on the flimsy side, but pretty standard for a patty made solely of grains and veggies. It was fairly soggy by the time I ate it, only about ten minutes after I picked it up. Still, it had plenty of structural integrity, albeit with a softer bottom bun.
This had an almost Indian flavor, likely due to the spice blend. There was lots of umami from the mushroom (and I don’t even like mushrooms!) and the arugula added a great peppery kick. The tomato chow chow brought a light sweetness to the party and the wheat bun was subtle and complemented the forward flavor of the burger.
Double OG: Beyond patties, pickles, tomatoes, red onion, romaine, plant-based cheddar cheese, and GAB sauce on a Hawaiian bun toasted with vegan butter.
This burger was something else. The texture was unbelievably meat-like. You know that intangible burger-ness? The thing that propels a burger into a category transcending that of any old sandwich. A mix of squishiness, crunchiness, and juiciness. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s the art of simplicity…maybe it’s just a damn good bite. This vegan burger had that.
This was the closest a vegan burger has ever come to tickling that burger itch. The Beyond patty is definitely less flavorful than a beef patty but, on the scale of plant-based burgers, it’s my favorite that I’ve had. The more I tasted it, the less I understood how it was vegan. The GAB sauce was the true MVP, essentially turning the burger into a way better Big Mac.
Impossible Boti Burger: Impossible Burger seasoned with cumin, ginger, mint, and cilantro served on two pav (buns) with green chutney, maggi ketchup, and desi slaw
This was served as two sliders, so the Impossible patty was thinner and crispier than the others in the list, providing a nice crunch. Throw the fresh desi slaw into the mix and you’ve got some bold contrast to the fluffy buns and the creamy chutney.
I loved how different this approach to the veggie burger was. Botiwalla’s spice blend made it uniquely Indian in flavor. The real stars here were the accoutrements. The chutney brought a minty sweetness, the slaw provided a refreshing lightness, and the maggi ketchup was ridiculously flavorful, marrying sweet and spicy (is there a better flavor combo?) to perfection. Be warned: the spice level here is on point but can definitely overwhelm you if you’re not expecting it. I would prescribe a mango lassi for that.
A few honorable mentions I wasn’t able to try this week but which have delicious plant-based burgers: