As vegetarians, when we go to a new restaurant, we often scan the menu quickly while silently praying that there’s something we can eat. And often, the veggie burger is there at the bottom of the menu to save the day.
Veggie burgers come in many forms and flavors. Burgers fashioned from assorted vegetables, black beans, soy or all of the above are some of the most common, but some types go beyond the typical. This week, columnists Shreya Aiyar and Regina Napolitano try two burgers that aren’t afraid to mix things up offered at Westwood establishments U-Mini and Veggie Grill.
I’ve eaten a lot of veggie burgers in my life. From the gourmet veggie burger I was delighted to find in rural Hopland, Calif. to the many slightly greasy ones I’ve eaten at hole-in-the-wall burger places, I’ve sampled at least 30 different kinds of veggie burgers.
Even when considering my wealth of veggie burger experience, I would easily rank U-Mini’s veggie burger in the top five.
U-Mini is a smaller, more casual version of Umami Burger, an upscale restaurant chain that serves unconventional burgers with ingredients like truffle glaze and caramelized onions. U-Mini is free of many of the frills of Umami Burger, but has a clean, modern and friendly appearance. The employees, like the surroundings, were amiable and nice.
U-Mini’s prices are a little high, but one of the advantages of being a vegetarian is that the veggie burger, at $7, is much cheaper than any of U-Mini’s other burgers. And the veggie burger was worth every dollar.
This is not your average veggie burger. The chickpea-based patty was crispy around the edges and a great complement to the herb and goat cheese spread slathered on top of it, the crisp butter lettuce leaf, the amazingly flavorful roasted tomato and the toasted, slightly sweet bun.
When it arrived, I ate it so fast that I practically inhaled it. And the burger was even better after adding Umami’s special, slightly spicy ketchup. If you’re tired of constantly defrosting Boca burgers, venture to U-Mini for something deliciously different.
With vegetarianism and veganism growing more popular, restaurants specializing in exclusively meatless dishes are springing up in every city and town to cater to a new demographic.
It was in this spirit that I decided to visit Veggie Grill on Lindbrook Drive, located a little distance away from the hustle and bustle of inner Westwood Village, and compare its fare to that of U-Mini’s.
Walking into the restaurant, I was greeted by a friendly employee who recommended the Papa’s Portobello burger, which was stuffed with grilled portobello mushroom that replaced a traditional patty, lettuce and caramelized onions, and was garnished with basil, garlic pomodoro and chipotle ranch. I could choose whether to have the burger on a wheat bun or on top of steamed kale – I opted for the traditional bun – and the entree also came with a choice of either red cabbage coleslaw or vegan chili.
The first bite was a pleasant shock – I should have been prepared for the heavy mushroom taste, but I didn’t expect the flavor to be so full-bodied and deliciously smoky. As someone resigned to the cardboard-like flavor of frozen burgers, the portobello mushroom patty was a wonderful change from the usual medley of mystery vegetables that make up a traditional veggie patty. The caramelized onions added a delicate sweetness to the entree, and the chipotle ranch enhanced the mushroom flavor tremendously.
The only downside of the entree was that I could barely walk after. I wasn’t very hungry when I entered the restaurant, so eating such a large meal proved difficult. The meal was a little too heavy for my liking.
Like U-Mini’s vegetarian offerings, Veggie Grill’s Papa’s Portobello burger added a twist to the traditional veggie burger and pulled it off.