Simply put, there is no better time in human history than now to be a vegetarian or vegan. No longer relegated to mere fringe-health-cult or dietary-restriction status, eating without meat is the way to go for millions worldwide. It’s also sometimes the best way to eat your burger, whether you eat meat or not. Santa Barbara has a number of restaurants offering burgers that buck the beef for beans, grains, nuts, and unexpected ingredients like blueberries. Here’s a look at some of our favorites.
Good Karma, Natural, and Zen Burgers, The Natural Café
A Santa Barbara staple for years, the Natural Café has been serving up consistently great vegetarian and vegan options to thousands of loyal customers. Their string of vegetarian burgers are a lunchtime fixture for many, and it’s easy to taste why. You can get the Good Karma burger, made of tempeh, or the Natural Burger, made of soy, but the Zen Burger is by far the most popular. With onions, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, bell pepper, and rolled oats among its wholesome ingredients, plus toppings made in-house, it packs in a lot of flavors, said Clay Adam, district manager, “and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”
Smurf Sliders, The Honey B
The Honey B’s Smurf Sliders are one of the most inventive burgers in town, vegan or otherwise. “Everything on the menu is unusual and unique,” said chef and owner Katie Belanger. True to her word, and the restaurant’s name, these burgers hit the sweet spot. These three walnut and black-bean sliders come topped with a blueberry barbeque sauce, plus lettuce, tomato, pickles, red onion, on mini rolls. Inspired by Kansas City–style barbeque (she grew up in Chicago), her burger is a twist on Midwestern comfort food, and the patties are cooked on a waffle iron. “They have a really great mouth feel, with nothing fluffy, and they’re basically pure protein,” she said.
Mushroom Burgers, Mesa Verde
Few restaurants in town know their way with restaurants like the evergreen cuisine of Mesa Verde. They use mushrooms for their burgers, applying the formidable fungus’s savory strengths to great effect. At lunch, diners can opt for a mushroom umami burger, with lettuce, heirloom tomato, caramelized onion, sprouts, and pickles; and at dinner, they can get the roasted mushroom and vegetables burger, with carrot, smoked onion, lettuce, tomato, cornichons, Dijon, and cashew aioli.
Vegetarian Burger, Benchmark Eatery
With great gourmet pub grub and upscale comfort food, it’s no surprise Benchmark offers a great veggie burger. Skewing toward the Southwestern, this grilled black bean patty comes with guacamole, chipotle mayo, pickled onion, lettuce, and tomato, on a brioche bun — a tasty pairing with a beer or cocktail.