The Impossible Burger has quickly become the vegetarian standard on restaurant menus throughout the country — including at Burger King (Impossible Whopper) and White Castle (Impossible Sliders). The big name in plant-based burgers is taking over Washington as well, with such places as Ted’s Bulletin, Fare Well and the Farmers Restaurant Group trio replacing their housemade veggie burgers with Impossible patties, which are engineered to look, taste, and even bleed like a traditional beef patty. More inclusive plant-based offerings are encouraging, but these bleeding burgers clearly cater to diners with medium-rare cravings.
“There are vegetarians who don’t want anything that reminds them of meat, and other vegetarians who didn’t become vegetarians because they hated the taste or the texture of meat,” says Ran Nussbacher, founder of D.C.’s popular plant-based eatery, Shouk. “They just hated what had to happen to bring that dish to their plate. I think it’s great to have options for both.”
There are still some D.C. restaurants turning fresh medleys of vegetables, legumes and grains into exciting patties. Here are six veggie burgers that have survived the Impossible invasion: They still deliver when it comes to taste and texture, and they don’t have to mimic meat to do so.
The burger at this fast-casual Israeli street food spot is a plant-based masterpiece. No vegetable or legume dominates the hefty patty; instead, chickpeas, black beans, lentils, mushrooms, cauliflower, beets and scallions come together to create a perfectly balanced blend. Accompanied by fresh arugula, roasted tomato, pickled turnip, charred onion and creamy tahini, the Shouk Burger introduces bright flavors and rich textures in every bite. Unlike most veggie burgers loaded with toppings that inevitably ooze out of their buns, the soft pita swaddles the burger and all of its fixings, ensuring that you can savor every last bite. $10.95. 655 K St. NW; 395 Morse St. NE.
Any burger that comes with avocado is bound to be a crowd-pleaser, but the vegan burger from Busboys and Poets, Andy Shallal’s local restuarant-and-bookstore chain, proves to be more than just its accessories. Arugula, tomato, vegan chipotle mayo and a vegan brioche bun also play supporting roles, but the lentil-based patty is the star of the show. Its thickness suggests that it might fall apart, but it holds together nicely without losing any elements along the way. A side salad, fries or berries are included as the burger’s humble sidekick. $12. Various locations.
Although the patty itself is only gently seasoned, the pico de gallo served on top distinguishes the veggie burger at this cozy Woodley Park diner. The mild base unites black beans, lentils, spinach, peppers, barley and oats on a simple potato bun, and, in addition to the pico de gallo, the toppings include lettuce and a garlic mayo. Avocado and cheese are available as burger add-ons at additional costs, but the side of french fries can be freely substituted for their other sides. If you’re really in the mood for veggies, opt for an arugula salad. This bustling brunch spot doesn’t accept reservations, but takeout is available if you can’t brave the wait. $10.95. 2331 Calvert St. NW.
Though this Navy Yard spot is better known for its rotating selection of exclusive beers, Bluejacket’s falafel burger is arguably just as exciting as anything on tap. The crispy outer coating melts in your mouth, revealing a smooth blend of chickpeas and herbs — it tastes as if the oversized falafel was pan-fried in butter and flour. The patty is served on a toasted potato bun over lettuce and is topped with Mediterranean-inspired accents: a creamy dill yogurt sauce and bright shreds of pickled beets. The burger can be made vegan by swapping the yogurt for avocado, and it comes with a serving of french fries. $15. 300 Tingey St. SE.
Just as carnivores might prefer a straightforward burger, sometimes vegetarians aren’t looking for anything life-altering when they order a meatless one. This Logan Circle spot offers just that: a no-frills veggie burger. The casual neighborhood cafe concocts a satisfying patty from mixed beans, quinoa and various veggies, and it serves it on a lightly toasted brioche bun. Sure, the burger could be elevated by some fancy fixings or special sauces (you can add cheese, bacon, sprouts, caramelized onions or avocado for additional costs), but simple lettuce and tomato do the trick, especially during happy hour when this burger costs $6. The full meal comes with a side salad, potato chips or fries, and for an extra $1, you can upgrade to thick-cut sweet potato fries, which are the perfect accompaniment. $12.50. 1443 P St. NW.
Old Ebbitt’s veggie burger is sure to fall apart shortly after your first bite, but what it lacks in structural integrity, it more than makes up for in flavor. The forgivably unstable patty at this D.C. landmark is packed with a variety of plant-powered flavors and textures: peppery lentils, nutty barley, wilted spinach and sweet carrot bits. This ensemble is well-dressed, too, stacked with caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, Swiss cheese and the standard lettuce and tomato. Served on a toasted bun with a pickle and a side of fries, fruit or salad, this massive burger makes for a satisfying meal. $14.99. 675 15th St. NW.