#entertainment | I tried 5 plant-based burgers in Salt Lake. Here’s what I found

People are swapping out meat for plant-based alternatives for many reasons: animal rights, religious practice, environmentalism and health concerns among them. Perhaps, some were just turned off from the idea of meat altogether after watching “Cowspiracy,” the “shocking yet humorous” documentary that investigates the sustainability crisis in the animal agriculture industry.

Regardless of the reason, plant-based products, specifically burgers, are on the rise, and restaurants and food companies are increasingly filling the demand for both meat eaters and vegetarians alike.

Recently, Burger King, Carl’s Jr. and White Castle have been among the fast-food giants that have introduced meat-alternative burgers to their menus — the Impossible Whopper, Beyond Famous Star and Impossible Sliders — in an attempt to serve more of the plant-based demographic.

Other fast food joints like Little Caesars (Impossible) and Del Taco (Beyond) are introducing dishes as well, while local eateries are accepting the challenge of creating their own plant-based entrees.

I wanted to know what all the hype was about, so I put five plant-based burgers in the Salt Lake area to the test.

Lil’ Lotus — “Cowspiracy” Beyond Burger

Location: 2223 S Highland Drive E5, Salt Lake City

Reviews: 4.7 stars (Google Reviews), 5 stars (TripAdvisor)

Price: $11.96 (fries included)

Ingredients: Can be found on the Beyond Meat website.

This quaint Sugarhouse location serves up a strictly vegan spread, including chili-cheese fries, mac ’n’ cheese and tacos on their menu, all within plant-based parameters. When I saw that they had a vegan “Cowspiracy” burger, I was intrigued at this seemingly house-made creation.

Turns out that the “Cowspiracy” burger is really a Beyond Meat patty topped with vegan cheese and build-your-own toppings (pickles, tomato, mustard, lettuce, ketchup).

The outside of this reddish patty was considerably non-meaty in appearance with a dry, non-textured crust, unlike the typical dark brown, lumpy, juicy look of ground beef. The inside, however, held together and had the resistance, density and umami of real meat, resulting in an overall satisfying, meat-like experience.

If I were given this burger and told it was meat, the taste wouldn’t have raised much suspicion; however, the flavors and texture weren’t as satisfying as a normal burger and certainly wouldn’t be pinned as anything special compared to other $12 meals.

Proper Burger Co. — House-made vegan burger

Location: 865 Main St., Salt Lake City

Reviews: 4.4 stars (Google Reviews), 4.0 stars (TripAdvisor)

Price: $8.12 (burger only)

Ingredients: “House made from a special blend of high-protein grains & seeds,” according to the menu.

I was impressed by the professional feel of this popular burger joint, which had a wide variety of meat and meatless options. They had a “pick your protein”-style menu with a house-made vegan burger and two strictly vegan topping options; however, I chose the “Proper Style” which included caramelized onion, American cheese, zucchini pickles, lettuce, tomato and Proper sauce.

I was excited to try their unique concoction because of the raving reviews of Proper Burger Co. and other burger alternatives online.

The burger was different than I expected, though.

I would describe the flavors as savory, earthy, nutty … not necessarily meat-like. Although being meat-like was not necessarily a requirement for this experiment, it just wasn’t a satisfying alternative to a burger in general.

The toppings and patty recipe were certainly unique and reminiscent of a falafel: crusty outside, mushy inside. What wasn’t like a falafel, however, was the noticeably moist interior of the patty which almost seemed to disappear as I ate the sandwich and it succumbed to the oils it was cooked in and the distinct flavors of the rest of the sandwich.

Rather than a burger, I would call it a vegan sandwich. Overall, the flavors were there — but not if you were looking for a hamburger.

Apollo Burger — Impossible Burger

Location: Utah locations

Reviews: 3.0 stars (Yelp), 4.0 stars (TripAdvisor)

Price: $7.60 (burger only)

Ingredients: Can be found on the Impossible Foods website.

Something I’ve noticed during my time in Utah is the ubiquity of Greek-owned diners, which I finally understood better after reading this marvelously-illustrated piece on kitchn.com.

Among these greco-style fast food spots is Apollo Burger, which serves via 11 Utah locations. It surprised me when I noticed they chose to include the Impossible Burger on their menu, since they didn’t really give off a “niche” burger kinda vibe. But who can blame them when the Impossible Burger is in such high demand nowadays?

Apollo kept it simple with lettuce, tomato, onion and their signature Apollo Sauce (which is sold in full-size bottles and quite delicious with fries). This was the third burger I’d tried in my quest, and it was the most visually impressive one so far in terms of being meat-like. The crumbly, dark brown texture and crust on the outside, unlike the Beyond Burger, resembled the familiar fast food ground beef burger, and the inside was very realistic-looking as well. The patty held up like meat, and the umami taste was there.

I did, however, pick up flavor that was almost trying too hard to taste like meat, which seemed distinctly Impossible. The sandwich overall was a classic fast food take on a hamburger, and besides the fact that the sandwich fell apart pretty easily, I actually enjoyed the burger and wouldn’t notice a difference if I never ate a real hamburger patty again.

Dave and Buster’s — Lightlife Burger

Utah location: 140 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City

Reviews: 3.8 stars (Google Reviews), 3.0 stars (Yelp)

Price: $15.21 (fries included)

Ingredients: Can be found on the Lightlife website.

This sports bar-style restaurant and arcade actually used to carry the Impossible Burger but swapped it out for its faux-meat competitor, Lightlife, when Impossible struggled to keep up with the demand from restaurants, according to CNN.

The sit-down style of Dave and Buster’s was a little unexpected and set high expectations for the meal. But when it came, I was pleased.

I immediately noticed the very thick patty and delicious smells coming from the sandwich. This was probably due to its garlic aioli, which made the sandwich more distinctly Dave and Buster’s, along with the lettuce, tomato and cheese.

Even though the toppings almost seemed to overwhelm the burger, it ended up being my favorite meat replacement of all five. This was hard to believe since the Lightlife patty has remained under the radar.

The patty was juicy and looked and tasted very real but was a bit more pink and uniform than the fast food-style Impossible burgers.

Upon tasting an isolated piece of the patty, I was immediately transported to the 4th of July. The savory, yet neutral flavor seemed the most enjoyable and realistic, unlike the particular flavor of the Impossible.

Dave and Buster’s is a good option for someone looking for a signature-style sandwich with high-quality ingredients and presentation — and likes the taste of garlic (the aioli is optional, though.)

Mark of the Beastro — House-made vegan burger with Lightlife base

Location: 666 State St., Salt Lake City

Reviews: 4.4 stars (Google Reviews), 4.0 stars (Yelp)

Price: $12 (fries included)

Ingredients: Lightlife burger, with ingredients added by Mark of the Beastro

The “666” that greets you at the entrance of Mark of the Beastro immediately indicates how devilish this diner is, not to mention its devilishly delicious-sounding online reviews that praised their chicken and waffles, other “seitanic” dishes and edgy, hip ambience and live music venue.

Over the phone, I was told their burger was made with an in-house recipe, which I later found out from the server was a mix of spices and other ingredients (including onions and soy sauce) mixed in with the Lightlife burger. Luckily I tried the Dave and Buster’s Lightlife burger beforehand to see how the two would stack up.

At a price point similar to Lil’ Lotus (both came with fries), the presentation was simple: lettuce, tomato, pickles and vegan cheese, which was, unfortunately, largely un-melted. With its side of seasoned fries (one perk of eating at the Beastro), I dug in to taste a very mushy hamburger — certainly unlike the Lightlife I had at Dave and Buster’s.

Overall, the texture was off, which I am certain had to do with the way it was prepared, and not the recipe. Perhaps the added ingredients had something to do with it, but a charred outside and practically uncooked inside says something about the possibility of a too-hot grill. If this was real ground beef I’d doubt they’d get away with serving the burger that undercooked, which, luckily, was plant-based — and totally safe.

The taste referenced meaty flavor but didn’t taste like meat. With a buttery, over-toasted bun and thick, wet patty, this could’ve been described as a greasy diner burger experience without the satisfaction of a classic diner patty.

Visually, though, the patty looked like real meat, much like Lightlife had before. Essentially, the burger was presented in a way that a vegan could enjoy a semi-decent sandwich that alluded to meat. Even though I didn’t get sick, the experience still would’ve been greatly improved from a better-cooked burger.

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