A burger alternative craze is sweeping the nation, including Sacramento. Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, the two main producers of meatless burger patties, have received multi-billion dollar valuations.
But if you ask this Bee reporter, the hype around these scientifically engineered burgers needs to wilt.
In theory, I am the target audience for these companies. I like meat, but I don’t eat a ton of it. I’m a health freak and a poor chef, so salads are much more up my alley than steaks. Plus, research showing the negative impact meat has on the environment has made me want to reduce how much meat I buy.
Enter the meatless burger challenge. When my editor asked me to find the best Impossible/Beyond burger offerings in Sacramento, I thought it was an ideal opportunity to see if meatless meat is something I want to include in my diet.
Reader, it is not.
At their best, the patties I tasted were merely a vehicle for the rest of the burger fixings. At their worst, they were thin, gray discs with an aftertaste I’d rather not think about. They left me wondering what kind of chemicals I was consuming and questioning whether I will be able to look at a burger again any time soon.
The answer to the latter question remains open, but the first question outlines my biggest disappointment with the meatless patties: they aren’t actually made of vegetables. Instead, both types of patties have more than 20 ingredients. Impossible uses soy protein while Beyond uses pea protein, but both are comprised of a sea of other ingredients, too.
Highly processed foods are simply not your friend. When I discovered that what I was eating was more “Soylent Green is people” than environmental and health conscious innovation, I was not pleased – but I ranked the “best” meatless burgers you can get in Sacramento anyway.
Likely due at least in part to the shortage of Impossible Foods burgers, though, the restaurants offering the fake meat in the Sacramento area were all using the Beyond Meat option in their burgers.
The control group: Burgers and Brew ‘Garden Burger’
Here is the goofiest part of the meatless meat craze. Alternative burger options already exist! They are commonly made of black beans or mushrooms and an array of seasonings. Sometimes they are bound with an egg, but they don’t have to be. The burger I got at Burgers and Brew was of this breed, so it will serve as the basis by which the rest of the burgers will be judged.
Of the lineup of burgers I tried, this one was the only one I would order again on purpose. The patty was made with ingredients like rice and mushrooms, the woman who took my order told me. No, the patty did not “bleed” as the Impossible/Beyond burgers have advertised, but it wasn’t dry either. It was well-spiced and had a good texture. It was delicious.
The wheat bun was the best bread of the list, too. It was the right thickness and the nutty wheat flavor went well with the patty. The assortment of tomato slices, onion, lettuce and roasted red pepper mayo added up to a balanced burger that left me full and content. Sadly, it is an outlier.
The worst: Burger Patch ‘Patch Burger’
This burger was sad. It was the first burger I tried, and because it came from a restaurant specifically dedicated to serving “100% plant-based quick-serve burgers,” I had assumed this was a good place to start. The small stop-and-go shop was also decently crowded when I got there, so I felt safe.
But the burger I ate was exactly what meat lovers describe when they talk about the sad existence of vegetarians. The patty was gray, literally gray. I don’t know any beef that is gray. It was “juicy” if you consider the residue of whatever oil it was grilled with “juicy.” It had negligible flavor of any kind except for a slight and definitely strange aftertaste.
As a burger overall, this one got worse the more I thought about it. If you ate it fast and didn’t think about it, you would survive – a burger is a burger. But if you are a person who likes to enjoy their food, you will be sorely disappointed. Also, the cheese Burger Patch used can only be described as weird, which was particularly unfortunate because a good slice of cheese could have helped me ignore the sorry aftertaste.
Slightly less bad: Suzie Burger ‘Impossible Burger’
Suzie Burger has its vegan option listed as the Impossible Burger, but it’s actually a Beyond patty, according to the attendant who took my order. It still wasn’t good, though it was much less gray colored. The aftertaste on this burger was more pronounced, but there was also more grill flavor coming through which made up for it. It was also a relatively thin patty, and I never saw it “bleed.”
This burger beat the Burger Patch option because it was more satisfying and had a better meaty texture. The sauce and cheese were also an improvement. But if you tried to convince me that burger was beef, I wouldn’t believe you, and the aftertaste eventually became too much for me.
Only acceptable because it was a taco: Del Taco Beyond Avocado Taco
My trip to Del Taco was a particularly low point in the process because I had already lost hope that the meatless meals I was eating would be tasty, but I still had a few more days to go before the experiment was over. So when I rolled up to the drive through window at Del Taco, I was relieved to discover they offered a Beyond Taco with avocado – real, natural! – on top.
I should not have gotten my hopes up. What these tacos had going for them was there was less of the Beyond meat in them to eat because they were small. Because the non-meat wasn’t in patty form, it didn’t have to pretend like it crumbled the way actual beef when you bite into it. All the fake meat had to do was carry the sauce, and this it did.
As far as tacos go, the two Beyond Tacos I had were obviously subpar, but I’ve never gotten a fast food taco with the expectation that it would be good.
Neutral: Dad’s Kitchen
When I arrived at Dad’s Kitchen, I desperately wanted to order their Veggie Burger, which features a quinoa and black bean-based patty and other delicious toppings like muenster cheese. However, I had to stick to my mission and order the Dad’s version of the Beyond burger.
This burger actually had the best patty, besides our control group, of the list. I like a thin In-N-Out style patty, but for this challenge I discovered that a thin no-meat patty only highlights the fact that what you are eating is not beef. The slightly thicker Dad’s patty helped fool me into thinking this was normal burger. This patty also had the most burger-char flavor with the least aftertaste.
As a burger, though, this one was only marginally better than the previous options. It was supposed to be vegan, so there was no cheese (although vegan mozzarella could be added for an additional dollar). A good slice of cheese would have helped, but the toasted bun was a welcome touch.
Surprisingly the least lame: Carl’s Jr. Beyond Burger
Because this is a very scientific experiment, I have to warn that there may be a possibility for bias in my crowning of Carl’s Jr. as the best Beyond burger in Sacramento. It was the last burger on the list, so my excitement at being done with fake burgers forever may be coloring my memory of the meal.
I had low expectations when I got to Carl’s Jr., so I ended up being somewhat-pleasantly surprised with my dinner. The patty was mellow in that it had the least perceptible aftertaste. It wasn’t as well-flavored as the Dad’s patty, but it was a good enough substitute.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Carl’s Jr. burger was definitely the best choice. It was the most substantial meal, yet it still maintained a good balance between the patty and the burger fixings. It was not wholly unpleasant.
Still, none of these options are comparable to the Burgers and Brew burger. Even if the point of the Beyond/Impossible burgers is solely to imitate meat, you can’t discount bad flavor when delicious nonmeat options already exist.