No longer are veggie burgers just the lesser version of a juicy beef patty, relegated to sidekick status and largely ignored. Veggie burgers have become glorious foodstuffs in their own right. They’re indulgent, but also responsible. They’re nostalgic, but also progressive. They’re ensconced in Americana and yet a symbol of changing times. Also, they’re crazy delicious. Here’s where to find L.A.’s best.
We will forever resent (but also respect) In-N-Out’s commitment to never changing and thus never satiating our unquenchable thirst for vegetarian burger options. So the next best (and honestly probably better) thing: Burgerlords’ instant-classic vegan burger. It ranks among the greatest with thousand island, vegan American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and an exquisitely toasted bun.
Downtown, Fairfax, West L.A., and Santa Monica
The Veggie Burger Double Up isn’t so much a veggie burger as it is gooey mass of house-made American cheese mashed between two buns. Somewhere in there, there’s also a couple of patties made from yucca, mushrooms, cashews, and kale.
Larchmont, Arts District, Venice
Yes, the name of this burger is “I Am Magical,” and yes, you’ll have to say “I Am Magical” when you order, and yes, your server will place the burger in front of you and pronounce “You Are Magical,” and yes, it will make you very uncomfortable. But with a pair of black bean patties, chipotle ketchup, cashew macadamia cheddar, and a gluten-free bun, it will all be worth it.
The thin-pattied Gardenburger® may no longer be the “best” veggie burger out there, but it still deserves our deepest respect. When Astro founder Cosmos Kapantzos went vegetarian in the ’80s, he was one of the first to add a veggie burger to his menu, becoming a sort of lowkey fast food revolutionary in the process. He was the voice calling out in the wilderness, “Make way for the meatless burgers of the future,” and you owe it to him and to yourself and to the general concept of veggie burgers to eat one. And yes, you should absolutely get it Greek Tycoon style, on rye with feta, tomato, and grilled onions.
Sometimes you get high, and then you crave a Big Mac, and then you remember you’re a vegan, and then you get sad, and then you remember Doomie’s Home Cookin’, and then you get happy. Their off-menu vegan Big Mac is all the double decker decadence you could possibly want, sans animal products.
Rich with beets and miso, Golden State’s veggie patty gets topped with arugula, pickled red onions, and avocado and then served up on the most briochey brioche bun imaginable. This burger does everything right.
Not long ago some scientists used the power of science to genetically engineer a yeast that produces leghemoglobin (which is a lot like myoglobin, the heme protein that makes meat red). They then added that leghemoglobin stuff to a vegan burger patty and created (insert 20th Century Fox fanfare here) the Impossible Burger—the veggie burger that bleeds. Eating it is sort of a right of passage for veggie burger aficionados, and you can do just that at Crossroads. You may feel weird eating what could pass for a regular-ass drive-thru hamburger in a restaurant with white cloth napkins, but it’s one of those things you’ve gotta do once.
In addition to their Indian steam table buffet offerings, the original Samosa House serves a killer dabeli, a street food-style snack that involves a potato patty flavored with a house masala and topped with tamarind chutney, tomatoes, onions, peanuts, and sesame seeds on a hamburger bun.
If you haven’t bitten into a burger at the Original Tommy’s and spurted chili all down your shirt, you haven’t lived. For anyone not into the whole meat thing, though, you can replicate the experience at LocoL. Pete Wells be damned, those veggie cheeseburgs (topped with some veggie chili) hold their own.
Zinc Cafe has been serving up veggie burgers for 25 years at its OC locations, but when owner John Secretan opened in the arts district a few years back, he upgraded the toppings to be more Carls Jr.-y. The Mushroom Dijon Burger still has that patty made from brown rice, walnuts, and mushrooms, but it’s now topped with an indulgent blob of Gruyère, braised onions, and sautéed mushrooms.
Hollywood, West Hollywood, Glendale, Century City
When Stone Age humans invented hamburger buns and then were like, “Man, what disk-shaped, umami-heavy, texturally-substantial, grillable item could we put between these?” you know what Mother Nature was thinking. She was like, “Hey, that thing you’re looking for is called the portobello mushroom, which grows perfectly-formed patties on little stalks for this very purpose.” But humans, always missing the point, decided to grind up bovine muscle tissue and squoosh it into thin cylinders instead. Shake Shack, however, has embraced nature’s hamburger in the form of the ‘Shroom Burger. It’s got a breaded and deep fried portobello mushroom that’s also stuffed with melty cheese.
West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Brentwood
The Big Macro is something of an icon. It’s got a patty made from brown rice, oats, shiitake mushrooms, tofu, and assorted vegetables, and it’s topped with the usual burger veggies, plus sprouts and a swipe of vegan mozzarella.
Venice, West Hollywood
If you think about it, falafel is really the original veggie patty, which is why we’ll be forever grateful to Fala Bar for serving it in burger form. The Mediterranean Burger (with a sweet potato falafel patty, Israeli salad, hummus, cabbage, and tahini) is thematically appropriate, but the BBQ sauce-topped Southwest burger gives it a run for its money.
RELATED: The 50 Best Burgers in L.A.
Thomas Harlander is a staff writer at Los Angeles magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram. He recently wrote: This L.A. Suburb Is the Birthplace of the Greatest of All Avocados