I’ve piled through most of the house-made vegetarian and vegan burgers in the Tacoma area. I’ve mastered the farmhouse burger at Blazing Onion, the portobello burger at Social Bar and a mountain of Mama African burgers at Quickie Too.
The success of those with non-meat eaters is their universal focus on grains and beans and that they eschew the meat-like properties of the previous generation of meat-substitute burgers, such as the Boca burger.
Now there is a new generation of meatless burgers, and it is about as promising as I’ve seen in 20 years as a hired belly. That’s because these burgers actually taste similar to beef.
The Impossible Foods burger patty landed on its first Tacoma menu last month. The Beyond Meat burger patty has been on local menus a few months longer.
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Here’s the catch: On the surface, these burgers will appeal to some non-meat eaters, but the companies behind them hope to capture carnivores in search of ethical, environmentally friendly alternatives to beef. Local restaurant owners think meat eaters will bite, too.
Impossible and Beyond burgers contain plant-based ingredients but are designed to mimic the texture of meat. When cooked, they even have some pink inside, which looks alarmingly like a slightly bloody hamburger.
Pete Lamb, of Lakewood, began eating vegan for health reasons. He sees the utility in the new generation of meat substitute burgers.
“With a growing plant-based diet population and a decrease in our nation’s consumption of meat, you can clearly see that companies are trying to cater to a growing plant based marketplace,” Lamb said. “It’s a great opportunity to actually have a burger that isn’t just another bean or soy-based product.
“It’s a great way to eat healthier without all of the cholesterol, leave a lighter carbon footprint and have something that is more inviting for (eaters) that enjoy their meat products but want to try something more healthy.”
Risa Peters, a meat eater from University Place, attended a summer party where the Beyond burger was served.
“Had they not told me it was vegan, and to go to Whole Foods to get it, I would have thought it was a regular burger,” Peters said. “He grilled it, and seriously, they didn't tell all of their guests, some thought they were eating meat.”
That delicious fat bath that permeates the palate from a beef burger is missing, of course, but the texture and beefy flavor are approximated in a way I’ve never tasted before.
My experience as an omnivore with a serious penchant for cheeseburgers allows me to offer some advice to meat eaters thinking of trying one of these burgers.
Employ the classic burger accessories to make the experience more enjoyable and burger-like. Bacon added a smoky companion that intensified the beefy flavor and replicated some of the missing fat. If it’s a reduction in cholesterol that diners are after, substitute smoky barbecue sauce. Cheese, the finest of all burger accompaniments, is one more way to add a small level of decadence.
Ready to try them? Here’s who has them, what they say about them, and tasting notes.
My take? In a smack down between the Beyond or Impossible burger, go with the Beyond. Better texture, better beefy flavor, better juiciness.
Soy-and-wheat product made with leghemoglobin, or “heme” for short, an iron-containing molecule naturally occurring in plants (and animals).
Where: 649 Division Ave., Tacoma; 253-572-4700; rheinhaustacoma.com.
The skinny: General manager Alicia Boss Buffone said the reaction to the Impossible burger has been incredible at the German-themed beer hall in the Stadium neighborhood that’s probably far better known for its house-made sausage.
“We have been selling about 100 per week. There are a lot of people asking for the Impossible burger, vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike. It seems to be a burger for everyone,” she said.
Offered as: Vegetarian-friendly burger with a house made bun, a thick layer of melted Emmental cheese, tomato, onions, pickle chips and cabbage suspended in a delightful sweet-and-tangy burger sauce. Plenty of cool crisp with a beefy thump of flavor and hamburger-like texture. Tasty, but a bit dry and overcooked with no pink. Ask for your faux burger “medium rare.” At $15, it’s comparably priced to the house burger with beef. Burgers served with fries.
Vegan: Also offered with vegan bun and cheese. Cooked separately from meat items.
Pea-based protein that is soy-and-gluten free.
Where: 716 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-3200; hobnobtacoma.com.
The skinny: General manager Alexa Schuett calls the Beyond burger “a huge hit” at the neighborhood diner she manages.
“We have non-veggie meat eaters trying it almost equally to vegheads, since we are also marketing it as just a significantly healthier version of a regular burger,” she said.
The burger sold so well, the restaurant ditched its Boca and turkey burgers as a result.
Offered as: Patty substitute on any burger for a $3 upcharge.
The Hob Nob house burger with a toasted bun, lettuce, tomato, onion and assertive burger sauce pushed the beefy note along with thick smoky bacon that also lent fat, along with cheddar cheese, to the lean-tasting patty that was juicy and pink in the center ($11.99, plus the sub upcharge).
Avocado proved another hearty companion to the meatless patty that is distinctive for its salty, robust flavor. The Mexi burger was stacked with pepperjack, sliced avocado on a toasted bun with chipotle-spiked ranch that pushed the smoky tones the burger needs ($12.49, plus upcharge). Burgers served with a side.
Vegan: Bun is not vegan, no vegan cheese, but cooked on a meat-free portion of the same grill that cooks regular meat. Order as a wrap with a tortilla or lettuce to turn it vegan.
Where: 124 N. Tacoma Ave, Tacoma; 253-507-4060; shakeshakeshake.me.
The skinny: The Beyond burger is the first time co-owner Steve Naccarato has been enthusiastic about a meat substitute for his Stadium neighborhood fast-casual, burger restaurant.
“I think the outer texture was the most impressive component. It actually seared and crusted up a bit like a hamburger patty, so it had that component that we find very important in a good burger,” he said. “It sizzles. Not quite like a hamburger, but it does sizzle. It pretty much acts just like meat.”
The only downside he sees is how expensive it is. It costs three times what his beef does, which is why many restaurants such as his offer it with an up-charge.
Offered as: Patty substitute on any burger for $2.50.
Look to the hickory burger to inject that smoky flavor without adding bacon ($4.59, plus the upcharge). House-made barbecue sauce added tang and a light spice to the juicy patty coated in gooey American cheese. A smear of mayo upped the flavor and fat. A well-toasted bun added sturdiness alongside cool crunch from pickle chips, onions and leaf lettuce.
A classic deluxe with American cheese came with another great flavor trick: super-puckery house-made burger sauce ($4.99, plus the upcharge). Served with lettuce, onions and pickles. Burgers served a la carte.
Vegan: Cooked on the same grill as meat for now, but dedicated vegan grill on the way.
Where: 4901 Point Fosdick Dr. NW, Gig Harbor; 253-432-4061, lunchboxlaboratory.com/gigharbor.
The skinny: General manager Steve Williams of the gourmet burger restaurant in Gig Harbor said diner response has been stronger than he expected to the Beyond burger. The restaurant created one version just for vegans, but the patty can be substituted on any burger.
“I believe that good options for vegans exists, but the quality is far and few between,” said Williams. “I think this product can be for both meat eaters and for vegans. I am not a vegan but I actually love the taste of the Beyond Meat patty. I am sure there are a lot of people out there that are going to be steak-and-potato fans for life, but if they ever get their hands on a burger with a Beyond Meat they will be in for a damn good meal.”
Offered as: A straight substitution for any patty with no upcharge or as a vegan offering on the specials menu.
The “experiment” specials menu (it changes often) listed the burger with all vegan ingredients: vegan Chao cheese and grilled onions, plus smoked pepper sauce ($14.99). It was tasty, but vegan cheese has a texture that takes some adjusting.
I preferred the restaurant’s homage to a Dick’s classic burger built with smoky bacon, lots of gooey American cheese, an enhanced burger sauce with a high level of tang and grilled onions and a pink-in-the-center juicy patty at the center ($13.89). Burgers served with a side.
Vegan: Cooked separately from the meat grill, with vegan cheese and vegan ingredients.