Veggie burgers aren't a big part of my diet, but when I heard that better-than-average fast food chain Smashburger was in the process of rolling out veggie burgers across the nation, I was curious. Turns out the burger has been available in San Diego since the downtown location opened, but I never noticed it (most likely because it's hiding at the very bottom of the menu, after the chicken, salads, sides, and even shakes).
Having tried (and enjoyed) multiple items, I felt fairly confident that the Black Bean Burger ($5.99) would be palatable. To my delight, not only was it passably edible, it was actually pretty good.
Smashburger's black bean burger is made from a mix of black beans, bread crumbs, crushed blue corn tortillas, cilantro, cumin, salt, and "other seasonings." With all of the spice, the patty is almost flavorful enough to eat by itself, but like all veggie burgers, is better with additional toppings to round out the texture.
The smash and sear method of cooking really works for this burger. The patty had a crust on the outside and wasn't too mealy or mushy on the inside. That being said, the patty was so smashed that it was about 30 percent bigger than the bun.
You can custom design your black bean burger, or choose one of the pre-made burger styles. The Spicy Baja (with pepper jack, chipotle mayo, jalapeños, and guac on a chipotle bun) was a good fit, particularly because of the patty's Mexican flavor profile, but the ingredients posed some difficulties, and not all elements were properly executed.
The partially melted shingle of cheese was too thin for the flavor to register, and the mayo and guac lubed up the patty so much that it slipped out of the bun with every bite. By the end of the meal, I had guacamole and veggie burger bits all over my hands and was rethinking my choice to sit by the window. Still, despite the fact that eating it was a bit awkward, and I was wishing for a privacy screen, this is a veggie burger I'd go back for.
With the cheese, mayo, and avocado, my black bean burger was probably outside of the realm of "healthy," but considering that the veggie patties have only 230 calories and 10 grams of fat (plus 9 grams of protein), it is possible to build a healthy alternative to a traditional burger that, as an added bonus, does not suck.
Still, whether or not true vegetarians will feel comfortable eating a veggie burger grilled on the the same spot as many beef and chicken patties remains to be seen.
Related: SmashBurger Is Smashingly Good