Ran Nussbächer, founder of the plant-based pita shop in Mount Vernon Square, said he wanted a veggie burger without processed or synthetic ingredients, but with “whole foods that you can actually see.” And see them you can: Chickpeas, black beans, lentils and chunks of mushrooms stand out in the patty, which also features cauliflower, beets and scallions.
One of the biggest knocks against veggie burgers, particularly ones with large mix-ins, is their inability to hold together. But Shouk fights that in at least two ways: by incorporating flaxseed as a binder and stuffing the burger into a pita, which means nothing's going to fall out the bottom when you take a bite. (You can also have the burger in a rice and lentil bowl.)
Nussbächer said almost every element of his vegan, Middle Eastern-inspired veggie burger is a play on what you'd find in a meat one. Instead of ketchup, there are roasted tomatoes. There's no mayo; it's tahini, instead. Forget the watery lettuce; this burger is adorned with arugula. Farewell to the traditional cucumber pickle, although you can buy one on the side. Here, you have pickled turnip.
And, yes, it's really quite good. Griddling the patty to order gives it a pleasantly crispy, almost caramelized crust that adds both texture and flavor. Unlike many veggie burgers, which often suffer from one-note flavor (so much cumin! so much cayenne!) and a homogeneous, mushy consistency, this one benefits from the fact that every bite is different with its panoply of beans and vegetables. The bitter, peppery arugula, sweet tomatoes and charred onions enliven the mix, too. If you're daring, add the harissa to your order for extra zing. Just be forewarned, a little goes a long way.
Shouk may have hit on a winning formula. The very first day the burgers were introduced last week, they sold out. Goodbye, hockey-puck patties, you won't be missed here.
$9.75 at Shouk, 655 K St. NW. 202-652-1464. shouk.com.