Finding a good veggie burger is tough. No, it’s not impossible — gone are the days when the vegetarian options were limited to Boca and black bean burgers. However, the veggie burger has always been more of a polite gesture than a serious attempt at anything, and finding one that checks even a majority of the boxes — texture, flavor, appearance — is something of a Herculean task.
Then came Impossible Burger, science’s answer to the herbivore’s dilemma: a patty that supposedly tastes, and bleeds, like real meat. Impossible Burger’s secret ingredient is “heme,” the molecule that gives blood its crimson color and meat patties their distinctive flavor and aroma. Rounding out the ingredients list are three types of vegetable protein — wheat, soy and the kicker, potato — coconut oil, and other natural flavors.
Impossible Burger has, in the span of a few short years, taken the United States by storm. There are thousands of locations that serve the meatless patty, with dozens in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area alone. Still, Impossible Burger’s flagship product is something of a novelty item, and a highly unscientific poll of Hoyas I conducted revealed that few of us have experience with the patty.
So, how does Impossible Burger stack up? To find out, I visited Fare Well, one of D.C.’s most popular spots for vegan fare. The plant-based eatery, located a few blocks northeast of Union Station, is a top contender for the restaurant with D.C.’s best veggie burger — the Washington City Paper, Eater, and Zagat concur.
It seems important to preface the rest of this article by saying that, as a lifelong vegetarian, I’ve never had a real burger, so the yardstick against which I’m measuring Impossible Burger is simply my best guess at what a beef patty tastes like. Still, the quest for an authentically good veggie burger — one that can hold its own against its real meat counterpart — is a noble one, so I’ve decided to offer up my talents, however limited they might be.
The restaurant itself is everything you’d expect of an urban, hip “vegan diner” — chic and bright with industrial design inspirations and lots of baby blue. The TV next to the bar was turned to Cartoon Network, with “Chowder” playing in the background — and, no, the irony was not lost on me. There are three burgers on the menu at Fare Well, all featuring the Impossible Burger: the simply-named “Burger,” a loosely Cal-Mex- themed offering titled “The Mexicali Burger” and an Italian-inspired option called “The Little Italy Burger.” Each is served with the diner’s choice of soup, fries, or a salad and costs $16. When I visited, the soup of the day was a hearty broccoli, cheddar and potato soup — all in all, a fine item, though by no means anything extraordinary.
I ended up opting for the Mexicali burger, which was served on a freshly made, lightly toasted bun with spicy cashew cheese sauce, garlic aioli, pickled jalapenos, lettuce and a few thick tomato slices. The bun, which the waitress informed me was from a local bakery, was the unsung hero of the ensemble — hearty and flavorful, but just light enough to not detract from the burger’s contents. I’m still having daydreams. The “cheese” sauce and jalapenos offered a healthy amount of spice — I’ll admit that I found myself sweating a little, although it was a hot day — but, again, nothing extreme.
And the famous Impossible Burger itself? Frankly, all right. It felt unlike the other veggie patties I’ve tried, which often have an unpleasant chewiness. Here, the texture was spot on, if a little, well, meaty. The flavor of the patty itself was not unpleasant, though nothing to write home about.
The burger was, in a word, satisfactory. It was an enjoyable meal, but when compared to other veggie burger options in the district, it was nothing exceptional. Israeli fast-casual chain Shouk’s eponymous Shouk Burger and Good Stuff Eatery’s gratuitously cheesy ’Shroom Burger are just as formidable, and the latter is a little less than half the price.
Perhaps the reason why I was not as impressed with Impossible Burger as other reviewers relates to the fact that I’ve never eaten a meat patty. Indeed, the patty might be an excellent replica — but it was a replica of an item that I’ve never had any outsized fondness for, or that I particularly missed. Until lab-grown meat arrives, Impossible Burger may well be the closest option that would-be carnivores have to a real beef patty. Still, I’m of the opinion that the best vegetarian foods aren’t “closest options” or “replicas”: they’re delectable dishes in their own right and excel because they embrace their limitations, rather than try to outwit them.
Prashant Desai is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Meatless menus appears in print every other Friday.