Burger to go
It looks like a venus flytrap. But I chew into this giant green-veined thing anyway. Crunch! Rip. Shred.
Talking about this-here cabbage burger. Filled with walnuts and sunflower seeds (that’s the “meat” patty), with cashew hummus and lettuce and tomato and onion on top. And, yes, cabbage leaves instead of a bread bun. You also have to chew through tiny bean sprouts, but, bottom line is, the walnut-and-seed patty with the hummus spread make for a nice flavored interior. This “Raw Burger” cost me $7.95. But the thing that makes it delicious is the kombucha on tap ($4), with gingerade flavoring. Kombucha and this seed patty have the same healthy sparkle to them.
Sunflower seeds, walnuts, cashews, and hummus
Health is the byword here. I found Plant Power, this new place that opened up six weeks ago, on the corner of Voltaire and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. But this is no temple to nuts and twigs. It’s a brand-new idea: a fast-food joint for vegans.
Uh, healthy? This place has all the food names you’d see at places like, say, the Jack in the Box across the road. Burgers, buffalo wings, chicken tenders, Baja fish tacos, carne asada, chimichurri steak sandwiches. Then you notice one thing. It’s not steak sandwich, it’s “steak” sandwich. It’s not fish taco, it’s “fish” taco. It’s a “chicken” sandwich, with “cheese,” “mayo,” “bacon.”
Why everything in quotes? Because the entire menu is vegan pretending to be carnivore. Of course, no animals were killed for these dishes, and no product here was produced by animals. Heck, even the plastic box that holds your burger here is “plastic,” made from plant starch. You can probably eat that, too.
“Bottom line?” says Erik, the cashier who’s waiting for my order when I come in. “Nothing is made from animal protein. But you get the same benefits.”
This is happening around sunset. I’d come in, past an outside corner patio to a new, kinda generic space with varnished wood benches and tables, aluminum chairs, industrial ceiling, and a rack of plants high on the wall. Electronic music’s playing. The first thing you see when you come in are those screens telling you where to order.
Me, I don’t do well with screens telling me what to do, so I head for the actual counter and start staring up at the wall menu. Trying to find the “meatiest” thing. “We’d like to offer you some new choices,” says a blurb. “Burgers, fries, wraps, tacos, salads, shakes, smoothies, and other tasty treats without the use of animal products [— this is the] Future of Fast Food.”
But you have to wonder if they can pull it off. I almost go for the “straight” burger, the Classic, with lettuce, tomato, onions, ketchup, and mustard. The only unreal elements are the “mayo,” Cheddar “cheese,” and the “meat” patty itself. Costs $6.95. And the thing about the burger is you have to choose what your patty’s gonna be made of, either tempeh (from soy), black beans, or “beefy” (for $1 extra). And for another $1.50 you can get a gluten-free bun.
Baja “fish” taco ($7.95) looks pretty interesting, too. I kinda want to see how fishy the battered “fish” tastes. And I wonder about “chicken” tenders ($4.50 small, $6.50 large), which you can get with BBQ, ranch, chipotle, or “honey” mustard.
I guess the main difference with a straight fast-food outlet is price. Most of the items here cost seven, eight, nine bucks. We’re talking Burger Lounge more than Mickey D’s or Alberto’s. But it’s all interesting stuff. Like the California burrito, with “carne” asada, french fries, cashew cheese, guacamole, and salsa ($7.95), or a chimichurri “steak” sandwich with marinated “steak” strips, chimichurri sauce, spring mix, onion, and tomato ($7.95). A kale “chicken” salad goes for $8.95, and so does a “Deluxe Trio” that involves a chopped salad with an almond scramble, which sounds mysterious.
There is cheaper stuff in the “small meals” section: “chicken” tenders are $4.50 for a small ($6.50 large), fries are $2.50, chili “cheese” fries go for $3.95, and sweet-potato medallions are $3.50. Buffalo wings are $4.95 and $6.95.
Natch, have to get something to take back to the House Carnivore, the beautiful Carla. My cabbage-patty Raw Burger won’t cut it with this lady, for sure. So I ask Miguel.
Chef Miguel Durazo
“I’d go for the Rambler,” he says. I see it. “Crispy onion rings, cheddar ‘cheese,’ BBQ, chipotle ‘aioli,’ lettuce, tomato.” Costs $7.95.
So I do. I ask for it with the “beefy” patty. That’s a buck extra.
But I have to ask Miguel: why go to all this trouble to copy the worst fast foods and deliver vegan clones?
“Because people are used to them,” he says. “We want to make it easy for everybody to start eating right. Because the world has got to change, and soon. You talk about fast food, burgers? Cow emissions create more CO2 through methane than all the world’s car emissions do. The methane that cattle produce warms the world 20 times faster than auto emissions.”
Wow. (If it’s true.)
Carla, turns out, loves the Rambler.
Aargh! Forgot to take the Rambler burger’s portrait before it was (almost) too late.
This burger’s in a real bun. “It’s a little sweet but it’s also got peppery heat to it,” she says. “And who knew that patty wasn’t real?”
So, that’s one small step… If Carla can accept the end of meat, maybe there’s hope for the world.
And it’s also nice to be able to say, like in the movie credits: “No animal was harmed in the making of this burger.”
2204 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, San Diego
Hours: 11 am–9 p.m. daily
Prices: The Classic burger, with faux mayo, cheese, “meat” patty, $6.95; the Rambler (soy or black-bean burger with onion rings, BBQ, “aioli”), $7.95; Baja “fish” taco, $7.95; “chicken” tenders, $4.50 (small), $6.50 (large); California burrito, with “carne” asada, french fries, cashew cheese, guacamole, salsa, $7.95; chimichurri “steak” sandwich, $7.95; kale “chicken” salad, $8.95; “chicken” tenders, $4.50 (small), $6.50 (large); fries, $2.50; chili “cheese” fries, $3.95; sweet-potato medallions, $3.50; buffalo wings, $4.95 (small), $6.95 (large)
Buses: 35, 923
Nearest bus stops: Voltaire at Sunset Cliffs Boulevard (923); Voltaire at Cable (35)