We all want to eat better in January and February, but kale smoothies lose their charm after about number 3. Our adjusted resolution for 2014: Keep living a normal existence, just make it healthier. That means still dropping in on our local dive bar for a double IPA, but instead of slamming a double-bacon cheeseburger with that, we’ll go meat-free. That’s easier here in the Bay Area, where it’s no biggie for even dives to sling veggie burgers made from scratch, not fished from a freezer. So as inspiration for eating better in real-life situations like barstools, we give you a trio of tasty veggie burgers from chilled-out taverns in San Francisco and Oakland (thanks to Chowhounds for the suggestions). Can we get some facon on that?
Oh and hey, scroll to the end of this story to join the discussion to talk about your own favorite veggie burgers (dive bar beauties or not), or if you’ve tried the ones we highlight here.
BENDER’S OCTOPUSSY’S GARDEN BURGER
Bender’s Bar & Grill: 806 South Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco
Sean Asmar mashed up 007 and the Beatles to name his surprisingly pristine veggie burger (above and top) at this sprawling Mission tavern, a favorite with bikers, rockers, cyclists, and tech geeks. The Octopussy’s patty is a mash-up too: grilled broccoli, sautéed onions, shredded carrots, black beans, Cajun seasoning, and instant oats (Asmar calls the oats the Floam that makes everything stick together). The lanky Asmar browns the burger on the flattop, optionally crowns it with white cheddar and chiles, then drops it on a bun smeared with vegan aioli. “Piss off a vegan” is his name for an optional bacon add-on, though what’s not optional is the side of deep-fried tater tots. They’re a Bender’s constant.
HOTEL UTAH’S HANDMADE VEGGIE BURGER
The Hotel Utah Saloon: 500 Fourth Street, San Francisco
Jack Correia cooked at Incanto under Chris Cosentino, and when Elizabeth Falkner had a restaurant next door, cooks and ingredients seeped back and forth as through a semipermeable medium. Still, the food at this South of Market tavern with a famous open mike night is anything but opulent. For his wonderfully textural, deep-fried veggie burger, Correia patties up a mix of jasmine rice, black and kidney beans, lentils, wild rice, tofu, and five separate vegetables, shredded and roasted off with garlic. Correia loves meat, but he developed the veggie burger when his little sister lived in San Francisco (she was vegan at the time). “I’d never really eaten a whole one until last year,” he says. “Wow, is it good.” A veggie-burger fan faction of Utah’s omnivore barflies agrees.
PORTAL’S QUINOA/TEMPEH MINI BURGER
Portal: 1611 Second Avenue, Oakland
Outside, Warren Rector’s corner tavern near Oakland’s Lake Merritt is painted up in graphic swoops and tendrils, like a particularly ambitious tattoo. The food at this beer bar with more than a dozen taps pouring mostly West Coast is ambitious, too. Rector wanted his oversized veggie sliders to veer from the usual bean patty. What he came up with are crisp-skinned pillows of crumbled tempeh and quinoa, with brown rice, nutritional yeast, garlic, and onion, bound with potato. Seasonings are scant. “We tried to keep it tasting like what it is,” Rector says. On a light, crisp-domed bun, with a little house barbecue sauce, how it tastes is good. It also seems at least reasonably good for you, which—looking out at the lake through Portal’s glassed-in deck on a warm January afternoon, facing an Allagash IPA—is good enough for us.
Now it’s your turn: Join the discussion to tell us about your favorites, scarfable on barstools or not.
Photos by Chris Rochelle / CHOW.com