Burger Lounge's grass-fed beef burger (left), and new plant-based burger (right)
“This certainly doesn’t look like beef,” said the boy, before he took a bite. After a few chews, he added, “But it kind of tastes like it.”
406 University Avenue, San Diego
We were trying out Burger Lounge’s new Flora and Fauna menu, an updated approach to the local burger chain’s vegan offerings. The menu debuted last month, exclusively at Burger Lounge’s Hillcrest location, built largely around plant-based protein burger patties made by Sweet Earth Foods. That’s the Nestle-owned brand competing with the likes of Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods, which have grown exponentially in recent years behind vegan burger patties engineered to look and taste beef, down to its bloody appearance and sizzle on the grill.
I suppose, since Burger King serves Impossible Whoppers, and Carl’s Jr. offers Beyond Famous Star, Burger Lounge had to go another direction to differentiate itself. Its 13-year-old brand was built on serving grass-fed beef, after all, sort of poking a finger in the eye of virtually every fast-food chain in existence.
Burger Lounge in Hillcrest debuted the chain's Flora and Fauna menu in September.
The Sweet Earth patties are pea-based protein, like Beyond’s burgers. Coconut oil and wheat gluten figure prominently. They look and taste like meat, that much is true. But do they taste like beef?
Not when you compare the vegan patty and grass-fed burgers side by side. I ordered both the regular Lounge Burger (with lettuce, tomato, onion, and thousand island dressing, $7.95), and the similar but veganized Flora lounge Burger ($8.95). The vague meatiness of the vegan patty held up on its own, but the moment Burger Lounge’s grass-fed beef hit my palate, the jig was up. True beefiness was missing from the Sweet Earth patty, big time.
Which isn’t to say that it’s bad. Paired with a non-dairy vegan milkshake ($6.95), I got a decent little lunch out of the thing. But paying 16-plus dollars for it reinforced the idea I was eating a science experiment as much as a meal. Were I dedicated to a plant-based diet, I’d probably order it again out of convenience, and drink the milkshake quickly — it melted fast.
Cross section of the Sweet Earth plant-based burger patty, with a Burger Lounge nondairy vanilla shake
As an omnivore, I was just paying an extra couple bucks to be let down. And let the kids down. They’d been telling me for weeks how eager they were to try vegan burgers like Beyond or Impossible, which they’ve somehow heard about over the din of online school and videogames. I even gave them the option of real beef or the fake stuff, and they clamored for vegan!
But they left their kid-size vegan burgers unfinished. “Next time, get me beef,” said the boy. “That other stuff didn’t taste as good.”