What makes a burger a burger? Is it the patty? The toppings? The fact that it’s a food item stuffed in a bun? This entire checklist comes into play when you’re talking about finding a good veggie burger (probably meat burgers, too, but I don’t eat those).
First off, the patty. There are several types of humans interested in veggie burgers: there are vegetarians/vegans, those who want to decrease their carbon footprint and then those with health issues like high cholesterol. Within those categories there are also people who want a meatless patty to look and taste just like meat, and then people who really, really (really) don’t.
Restaurants tend to serve either a frozen branded meat substitute as the base of their veggie burger, or play roulette by making a patty in house. The inherent danger in housemade veggie burgers is that they can either turn out to be fantastically delicious or a plate of bland, damp paper-towel pulp. Finding the correct wet to dry to spice ratio is imperative.
Whether a restaurant goes handcrafted or heat-and-eat, the patty is a canvas upon which colorful toppings can be placed. And the bun, well, it’s generally pretty boring. But if it’s a fancy bun, that just adds to the overall effect.
The following veggie burgers capitalize on all of these aspects to varying degrees to create some of the most creative and satisfying meatless burgers in the city.
Krueger’s Tavern is part of the rapidly expanding Thunderdome empire, which also owns Maplewood, Bakersfield, Currito and The Eagle. And Krueger’s has legit the best veggie burger — possibly ever. The housemade patty is a blend of beets, breadcrumbs and other binding ingredients, all mushed together into a sort of disc, then dropped in a fryer. Deep frying anything is a good idea, especially vegetables, and this is no exception — a friend recently noted that the end result is falafel-like in texture. The burger is crispy on the outside and super flavorful on the inside, with a nice reddish hue. Topped with melty provolone cheese, pesto mayo, mixed greens and housemade pickles on a challah bun, it’s got substance, tang and crunch. 1211 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, kruegerstavern.com.
Zip’s has been around for more than 90 years, and the café’s claim to fame — besides the little toy train that runs along the ceiling — is having some of the best burgers in town: fresh, flame-broiled Avril-Bleh beef patties on a Klosterman honey-egg bun. If you have a friend/spouse/significant other/enemy that enjoys burgers and wants to eat them in your company, you will most likely end up at Zip’s at some point in your life. If you do, order their Gardenburger (just like the ones you get in the grocery freezer) with cheese. It comes topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayo, etc., and it’s very comforting and classic. If you’re feeling wild or really hungry, you can double up and get a two-story Gardenburger. Zip’s onion rings are also freakishly good — crunchy, kind of sweet and the onion doesn’t fall out of the breading when you bite into them — so order those, too. 1036 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout, zipscafe.com.
Gordo’s Pub & Grill
At Gordo’s, you can sub in a black bean patty on any of their themed specialty burgers. The black bean burger itself is fine — like a standard BBB with a chunk of corn in it — but the gourmet topping combos are where things get exciting. The black beans don’t play well with every option — avoid the BPJ, with fried banana, chunky peanut butter cream cheese and jam — but they do go exceptionally well with the Mexican burger (avocado, jalapeño, lettuce, tomato and housemade cilantro mayo) or IPA burger, with MadTree’s Psychopathy IPA fondue and sautéed mushrooms. Most burger styles come with bonus meat, so remember to ask for no smoked bacon, Applewood bacon, Canadian bacon, etc. This Xavier pub also has a bunch of sports on TV and a great beer list, if you’re looking for a meatless bro down. 4328 Montgomery Road, Norwood, gordospub.com.
In a similar vein as Gordo’s, Arthur’s veggie burgers get uber decadent during Burger Madness, Sunday through Tuesday. During Madness nights, you pay a $9.49 flat rate for a burger and then pile on basically unlimited toppings for no additional charge (unless you opt for something “gourmet,” like boursin cheese or a fried egg). Arthur’s black bean veggie patty is housemade with corn, cheese, breadcrumbs and seasoning, and it’s pretty good on its own — it’s not crumbly or wet — but during Burger Madness, it’s exceptionally exciting. Cover that black bean base with a buffet of goodies, from chipotle barbecue sauce and sautéed green peppers to pineapple salsa and blue cheese. Note: You do have to limit your cheese selections to six, so calm down on the dairy. Pour a side of Arthur’s pink salsa on top (is it ranch + salsa? Mayo + salsa?), and you’re in flavortown. 3516 Edwards Road, Hyde Park, arthurscincinnati.com.
OK. This is a chain, but BurgerFi is great because it offers not one but two types of veggie burgers: a quinoa blend patty and a Beyond Burger. Decisions, decisions! BurgerFi is the first national chain to serve Beyond Burgers — a soy-free, gluten-free super beefy looking veggie patty that people are stoked about because it looks just like ground cow. The Beyond option comes topped with American cheese, ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion — it’s as close to a good ol’ American burger as a vegetarian can get. The VegeFi burger, a deliciously crispy quinoa thing, comes topped with white cheddar, lettuce, tomato and BurgeFi sauce (like Arthur’s salsa, this is also pink) on a multigrain bun or “green style” (aka when your burger is wrapped in an iceburg lettuce leaf instead of a bun). Also worth noting that you can get a Cry+Fry side, which is a pile of onion rings and French fries. 161 Freedom Way, Downtown, burgerfi.com.
Tela Bar & Kitchen
Wyoming’s Phish-themed Tela Bar & Kitchen is another restaurant with a freaky fake meat burger — called the Impossible Burger — which is very, very exciting for vegetarians and other non-meat-eaters who miss that beef texture. The Impossible Burger features an Impossible Foods patty, lettuce, roasted tomato, shaved red onion, housemade pickles and sundried tomato ketchup on a Sixteen Bricks Cubano bun. The burger, created in Silicon Valley, is a more sustainable plant-based burger option that has the same flavor, mouthfeel, aroma, color and sizzle of ground beef. It even “bleeds.” You can find these burgers at some other local pubs, including Bru Burger, Unwind and Flipdaddy’s. If you ain’t bout that synthetic beef, they also have a SoCal-style quinoa burger with alfalfa sprouts, roasted red pepper hummus and roasted tomato. 1212 Springfield Pike, Wyoming, telabarandkitchen.com.
Mount Adams Bar & Grill
This former George Remus speakeasy is now a cozy little pub nestled on Hatch Street in Mount Adams. Fun fact: It was the first bar in Ohio to obtain a liquor license after the repeal of Prohibition. With some kitschy flair and autographed photos of celebrities and actors from the nearby Playhouse in the Park, it’s got a neighborhood vibe, which plays well with the casual eats. The food here is easy and solid and the menu boasts multiple veggie options (like a veggie sandwich with tofu and Thousand Island dressing), including a housemade veggie burger. The burger itself is a “combination of oats, tofu, wheatgerm, sesame seeds and a variety of seasonings” and tastes kind of like a Gardenburger. It comes served with lettuce, tomato, pickle, red onion, mustard and Monterey Jack cheese, and you should definitely order a side of housemade ranch dressing to dip or spread on top. It’s technically listed under the “sandwich” category, so the burger will come on bread unless you specify. You can get it on plain or toasted white, 15-grain wheat or Jewish rye bread or on a grilled bun. 938 Hatch St., Mount Adams, mtadamsbarandgrill.com.