Gone are the days when a vegetarian had to settle for a pale, lifeless veggie-based disk masquerading as a burger between two buns. Plant-based burgers are now in such high demand that many restaurants are making their own—patties full of grains and mushrooms and plenty of umami that are so good, even the most ardent meat eaters would find them a satisfying meal. (Though let’s think of them as additions to, rather than replacements for, the perfectly composed beefy burgers at the likes of Bateau or Loretta’s Northwesterner.)
Ready to go meat-free? Consider the meatless burgers at these spots as our gateway drugs.
The Carlile Room
Perhaps the best place for dinner with a mixed party of vegetarians and omnivores, Tom Douglas’ hip, ’70s-themed lounge knocks it out of the park when it comes to vegetable dishes. For big groups, order family style and double down on the seasonal produce from the plants section of the menu. And don’t miss the cocktails from the black, leather-bound Book of Booze.
Our Pick: This place was one of the first Seattle restaurants to carry the Impossible Burger, a damn-close-to-beef patty built in a lab with a list of ingredients that includes wheat and potato protein, and a magical ingredient called heme, which is supposedly responsible for its proximity to meat. The Carlile’s is done with the standard fixings and served with twice-fried French fries ($19). Downtown, 820 Pine St.; 206.946.9720.
Next Level Burger
Though the “v” word is never used, all of the burgers and sides at this Oregon chain—down to the surprisingly delicious shakes—are vegan (they’re described as “plant-based”). The quick-service shop inside the Roosevelt Whole Foods Market boasts a menu of nearly a dozen burgers, including the Animal ($15): double sausage-style patties with tempeh bacon, crinkle-cut fries, house-made, plant-based cheddar cheese, sautéed onions, barbecue and special sauces. Packing about 1,300 calories, this one proves that vegan doesn’t always mean healthy.
Our Pick: Of the many burgers, we most enjoy the SoCal ($8.50), which features a flavorful quinoa-and-chia-seed patty and thick-cut tempeh bacon, both made in house, plus avocado and special sauce on a sprouted wheat bun (and a more moderate 460 calories). Roosevelt, 1026B NE 64th St.; 206.319.0026.
Zippy’s Giant Burgers
The Georgetown location of this beloved White Center institution has the same vintage diner feel—sparkly vinyl booths, old-school burger paraphernalia covering the walls—even though it’s only been around since 2015. The burgers are giant indeed, and bettered by both the secret sauce and cornmeal-dusted buns they come with. Don’t skip the tots, available plain ($2.50) or smothered in cheese, bacon, tomato, jalapeño and chipotle ranch dressing ($5).
Our Pick: The cumin-accented black bean burger ($5.50) is made in house and deep-fried, giving it a crisp exterior that prevents the usual veggie burger smoosh out the sides of the bun. It’s best with cheese and—sorry, vegetarians—bacon (an additional $1.50). Georgetown, 5633 Airport Way S; 206.466.5954; White Center, 9614 14th Ave. SW; 206.763.1347.
Update: Zippy's Georgetown location has closed.
Anyone who has experienced the dairy-free Mac & Yease (made with nutritional yeast instead of cheese) at Capitol Hill’s popular, preeminent vegan bistro knows the sort of delicious sorcery chef Makini Howell is capable of. Her menu of burgers (actually more like sandwiches) may not be made with your traditional grain-and-veg patties, but that’s precisely what makes them so enjoyable—Howell makes sure you won’t miss the meat in her comfort food.
Our Pick: Tofu is the unlikely star of our favorite burger, seasoned with Jamaican jerk spices and served on a bun with yam, pickled cabbage, caramelized onions and tomato, with fries on the side ($17). Capitol Hill, 1429 12th Ave.; 206.838.5333.
Note: The veggie burgers from counter-service Belltown spot 'Table made this list in print, but the restaurant closed after just five months in business.