Chain Restaurant Veggie Burgers Ranked From Worst To Best

Before vegetarians were introduced to meat-mimicking veggie burgers, there weren't a lot of choices when it came to enjoying a nice, juicy burger. The veggie burger of old consisted mostly of beans, soy concentrate, oats, or (God forbid) wheat gluten. Fast forward to the rise of the meat-ish Impossible and Beyond plant-based burgers, which have allowed vegetarian inclusivity in both sit-down restaurants and fast food joints.

While an assortment of stop-and-stay-awhile establishments have taken some liberty with their veggie burgers, fast food leaders like Burger King and Carl's Jr. primarily set out to replicate the restaurants' trademark burgers in both taste and composition (Wendy's and McDonald's have yet to jump on the train: McPlantprotein, anyone?).

Burger preferences are extremely subjective, and burgers of the plant variety are probably even more so. Whether you prefer your veggie burger with imitation meat or made with whole vegetable ingredients, we'll try to unpack the ins and outs of choosing a chain-restaurant veggie burger by ranking them from worst to best.

12. Burger King's Impossible Whopper

The Whopper is now available in Impossible form, having launched its meatless version across the U.S. in August of 2019. It's safe to say that most people are usually in two camps when it comes to Burger King's flame-broiled burger: "yes, please," or, "wow that tastes burnt." The Impossible Whopper does taste remarkably like the regular Whopper, due to the overpowering taste of the flaming process. That alone tends to eliminate a whole group of folks whose sole purpose is to find a plant-based burger that doesn't taste like it's been sitting on the backyard Weber for hours at top temperatures.

To this point, vegetarians and vegans need to be warned that to achieve that taste, Burger King's Impossible burgers will be cooked on the same grill as the regular Whoppers, resulting in what many view as cross-contamination.

In order to stick to a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, one would have to eat the oven-baked accommodation of the Whopper (Burger King will do this upon request), which, frankly, is a hard pass. The patty becomes dry, and the intended purpose becomes moot. And do we really know it's an oven? As one Reddit user says, "Microwaved Whopper. No thanks."

If the logistics involved in the Burger King cooking process and brand were different, we might rank the Impossible Whopper differently.

11. Smashburger Black Bean Burger

With "every bite a better burger" as its motto, Smashburger gets big points for offering fresh, never frozen patties, and that includes its veggie black bean burger, which deserves mention merely for the number of ways it's prepared.

If old-school black bean burgers are your jam, Smashburger has a wider selection than nearly any chain restaurant we've seen. With a menu category devoted strictly to its meatless black bean creations, burgers range from the Classic Smash Black Bean Burger, to the Truffle Mushroom Swiss Black Bean Burger, and several variations in between. This kind of effort really is appreciated, but take away the variety of available ingredients (vegetarians and vegans beware, bacon is featured all over the place) and it all boils down to the patty. It's not juicy, but we haven't found a black bean burger that is; probably due to the filler that is used to efficiently hold the thing together. But the Smashburger black bean patty does have a good consistency. It passes for a burger in a pinch.

While Smashburger hasn't joined the Impossible or Beyond clubs, it is unveiling its own version of a plant-based burger by partnering with Jack & Annie's and the brand's trademark jackfruit-based meatless fare. Yep, you heard right. Jackfruit. That toddler-sized fruit found mostly in Asian markets, and heretofore used mostly as vegan barbecue. For the time being, however, these plant-based burgers are only available in limited markets. We haven't tried one, but people who have tried it say you'll like this patty if you're a Boca burger fan.

10. TGI Fridays Beyond Meat Cheeseburger

The Beyond burger officially made its way onto the TGI Fridays' menu in 2018. The main difference between the Beyond Burger and the Impossible is texture. Made mostly of legumes (pea protein), the Beyond burger is sturdy rather than crumbly. If you like a burger with some heft, you might lean toward the Beyond burger as opposed to the Impossible, which looks and feels somewhat grainy.

For a hamburger lover looking to cut out meat, this burger tastes pretty darn good. The patty on this one is very thick. While it allows for guilt-free burger vibes, it may be off-putting to people who prefer an even ratio of bun-patty-condiments. Fridays does a capable job with the cooking process, and the Beyond Meat Cheeseburger comes classically made with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onions, pickles, and Friday's special sauce. As with Fridays' other burgers, you may customize as you like.

9. Bad Daddy's non-burger burgers

As its name suggests, Bad Daddy's definitely puts its hat in the ring as the patriarch of burger joints. Between the chain's burgers and non-burgers (chicken, veggie, salmon), there's virtually every iteration of ingredients between buns that you could ask for (if the Bacon Cheeseburger on Steroids is any indication). But what of its veggie burger? Bad Daddy's has two options available. The first is the Cantina Black Bean Burger, served with Monterey Jack cheese, green chiles, avocado, and chipotle ranch dressing. Yum.

Unfortunately, the phrase "less is more" applies here. The patty is on the dry side, and the overwhelming taste of chipotle drowns out the other flavors. We couldn't even taste the avocado, despite the fact that it was a sizeable chunk. The Cantina burger could be the right pick for someone who craves Latin flavors, but there's another option for going meatless with the addition of the Impossible burger, found in the "non-burger burger" section of the menu. The patty is available for replacement in any of Bad Daddy's signature offerings, and you can make your veggie burger any way you like it. This level of personal choice gets high marks, particularly since Bad Daddy's has some delicious, if indulgent, accouterments.

8. White Castle Impossible Slider

Tiny, steamy, and smushy, the famed White Castle burger checks all the boxes when it comes to comfort food (and late-night post imbibing). But how does its Impossible veggie burger measure up? Pretty nicely. This is a simple burger (or, slider, as trends go), and it should be.

In keeping with the original White Castle slider recipe, the Impossible Slider patty is cooked on the griddle and steamed with White Castle's signature sweet onions. The added surprise is that the Impossible patty carmelizes slightly, resulting in charred edges that retain a smokey flavor that will absolutely make you forget you aren't eating meat.

Since we haven't found anyone who can replicate the original White Castle slider, it's safe to say that even White Castle can't replicate its original. But the Impossible slider comes awfully close. As the pioneer of the tiny burger, White Castle was the first to find ways to trap in all the juices and flavors of a burger in a fun-sized version of itself. The main takeaway: it's decidedly tasty and comforting, and you should enjoy more than one.

7. Applebee's Impossible Cheeseburger

The Impossible Cheeseburger at Applebee's is a pretty straightforward veggie burger that's capable of standing up to the chain's classic cheeseburger. With American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles, this "hamburger" screams all-American, neighborhood food and fun, much like the TV theme songs that Applebee's has been employing in its recent ads.

It doesn't seem like there's a lot to boast about with this cheeseburger, but whatever Applebee's is doing (and maybe it just owes to the simplicity), the Impossible cheeseburger tastes a lot like the regular one, and meets the criteria of a solid burger we like to see served up in a restaurant. It has a delicious brioche bun, two slices of cheese, an onion slice (not too thick), and fresh lettuce. Pickles are optional for some of us, but pretty standard. Bonus: You can swap the Impossible veggie patty in with any of the handcrafted burger options the brand has available. Have it your way, where everybody knows your name.

6. Red Robin Impossible Cheeseburger and Gourmet Veggie Burger

Red Robin has offered its Gourmet Veggie Burger (an ancient grain and quinoa patty topped with salsa and avocado) for a decade now. Despite initially getting into some hot water over a controversial ad about the burger that mocked vegetarianism as a "phase," Red Robin has retained the veggie burger as well as added the Impossible Cheeseburger.

The Impossible Cheeseburger is a mirror image of its meaty cousin, the Red Robin Gourmet Cheeseburger. Both come with Red Robin's pickle relish, red onions, pickles, tomatoes, mayo, and your choice of cheese. Does anyone feel like there's a pickle overload here? We also don't dig mayonnaise only on a burger (but requesting ketchup and mustard is an easy enough fix). Sadly, the bun was far too much bread (a too airy, volumeless sesame seed bun), and the patty didn't have much flavor. Neither of the veggie burger offerings at Red Robin is particularly memorable (and we wonder what the heck is up with adding salsa and avocado to every black bean or grain-based burger around).

5. Burger 21 Black Bean Burger and Impossible Burger

Throwing its hat in the black-bean-and-Impossible burger race, Burger 21 (a simple, fast-casual, and well-liked burger joint) offers a black bean patty with (oof) avocado, cilantro cream, onions, sun-dried tomato aioli, pico, lettuce, and Roma tomato. The Impossible Burger comes with onion, lettuce, and Roma tomato on a whole wheat bun.

Here's the twist: the better veggie burger here was the Black Bean Burger. As with all of its burger counterparts, Burger 21's black bean veggie version is chef crafted, and not too overloaded with sauce, considering there are two types. The sun-dried tomato sauce added a nice tangy bite, and the cilantro cream wasn't too overpowering. This is hands down one of the best black bean patties around, and the execution really works.

There was little that was notable about the Impossible Burger, at least patty-wise. You can spend time at the condiment bar and load up on sauces if you like. For this reason, Burger 21 gets a middle-range ranking, but does have notably fresh toppings that edge out the competition. 

4. Shake Shack Veggie Shack

It's not fake meat. It's not black beans — it's the Veggie Shack patty. According to Shake Shack's menu, this burger patty is comprised of mushrooms, sweet potatoes, carrots, farro, and quinoa. The burger itself comes with American cheese, crispy onions, pickles, and ShackSauce (a mustard-mayo-ketchup concoction). It's ... interesting.

The Veggie Shack looks and tastes like something hastily created on an episode of "Chopped." The patty itself is light in color, varied in texture (with visible pieces of ingredients), and resembles a ground turkey meatloaf mix. That said, the taste of the patty is satisfactory. It just doesn't taste like meat, or vegetables, or much of anything. Is that the reason for the heaps of fried onions (yes, they're pretty delicious)? We're not sure. But it's easily the oddest burger of the bunch. If you're loyal to the Shake Shack brand, and its menu can do no wrong, you may not be displeased. The familiar sauce, deep fried onions, and a lovely, buttery bun make it a really yummy hamburger replacement.

3. Ruby Tuesday Awesome Burger

In January 2020, America's neighborhood chain Ruby Tuesday stepped up to the veggie burger plate with its unveiling of the Awesome Burger. Bringing something slightly different to the table in terms of faux meat, the chain teamed up with the vegetarian brand Sweet Earth (a subsidiary of Nestle USA) to create its unique meatless patty. According to Whole Foods Magazine, yellow pea protein is the main ingredient in this veggie patty. It's served on a toasted brioche bun with lettuce, onion, tomato, and pickles.

Here's the good: this pea-plant-based protein tastes like meat, even in its bare state. The Awesome burger isn't loaded with saucy condiments, and the flavor of the patty comes through nicely. The bun is spot-on: eggy, buttery, and slightly sweet. The condiments are on the bottom of the burger with the patty on top (burger-makers take note: We wish more folks would assemble a burger this way so that everything inside the sandwich stays in the sandwich).

The bad: while it's not egregiously offensive, there's something about the Awesome patty that feels lighter than most burger patties. There just seems to be very little weight to this burger, which ultimately makes the lettuce, tomato, etc. play a bigger role than we'd like. All in all, the Awesome Burger ranks at the upper end of veggie burgers offered at sit-down chains.

2. Carl's Jr. Beyond Famous Star with Cheese

Carl's Jr. has set the bar on the high side when it comes to fast food. In 2019, it unveiled a Beyond burger to round out the available vegetarian selections (the chain was one of the first to introduce salad bars). We're getting closer to the mark in the fast-food category of meatless burgers with the Carl's Jr. Beyond Famous Star with Cheese. It's a good replica of the regular Famous Star with Cheese: American cheese, lettuce, tomato, sliced onions, dill pickles, mayo, and Carl's trademark special sauce. The patty on this burger is just as thick as a regular Carl's Jr. meat patty (we've noticed some inconsistency with thickness in other brands), and tastes remarkably like the real thing, down to the slightly pink, juicy messiness that defines a Carl's Jr. burger.

Just as with Burger King and its flame-broiling, the cooking method of charbroiling the Beyond Famous Star with Cheese gives it the distinctive taste you're looking for in a Carl's Jr. burger, as does the Special Sauce, a mixture of ketchup and relish (not to be confused with the Classic Sauce, a genre of Thousand Island dressing).

As far as fast-food chains go, Carl's Jr. veggie burger checks all the boxes in terms of recreating the decadence of a burger. Vegans looking to indulge their junk-food cravings can opt for no cheese and no mayo, and still feel good about the choice.

1. Wahlburgers Impossible Burger

The Wahlberg brothers (Donnie, Mark, and Paul) opened their flagship burger joint in 2011 in Hingham, Massachusetts. Since that time, the brand has franchised, opened locations abroad, been the focus of a TV show, and been selected as the official burger of the Boston Red Sox. It's an impressive endeavor from the famous brothers who include boy band frontman Donnie, and actor and singer Mark (formerly Marky Mark). The food here is equally as impressive. The burgers are yummy and offer an eclectic selection.

The Wahlburgers' Impossible Burger is the only veggie option on the menu, and the burger is touted as Marky Mark's favorite. It includes smoked cheddar, lettuce, caramelized onions, housemade chili-spiced tomatoes, and Wahl sauce (a combination of ketchup, mayo, sriracha, and spices). It sounds like a lot, we know. But the flavors marry perfectly, creating a sweet, tangy smokiness that doesn't overpower the patty, but comes through boldly in each bite. 

The patty itself is not mushy but juicy, and has a great meat-mimic factor, with a slightly nutty flavor. The bun holds up to the sauce, so no fear of the fall-apart-factor. Burger traditionalists may be skeptical, but this veggie burger takes the lead in total: great texture, sweet and savory flavors, and the juiciest patty we've come across (extra napkins recommended).