Food & Home

veggie burgers

Photo courtesy of Love & Lemons

Building the Ultimate Plant-Based Burger

In partnership with our friends at Grubhub

“We’re not chef-y—we’re geeky,” says Adam Weiss, owner of Honeybee Burger, a totally plant-based fast-food restaurant in Los Angeles. “We nerd out on this stuff.” Others might call his team’s method meticulous or perfectionistic. It results in an incredible dupe of a cheeseburger—they even have the pickle placement down to a science. And they take a dedicated, holistic approach to being a planet-friendly restaurant. They’re committed to continually implementing more-sustainable practices, like using all unwaxed boxes and hand-stamping them so they’re fully compostable and coordinating with organizations that will take their used fry oil and use it to fuel vehicles, instead of just dumping it. Like most restaurants, Honeybee has had to rely on delivery partners during the pandemic, and Grubhub has stood out from the rest because it has prioritized sustainability—particularly with this month’s partner for its Donate the Change initiative: For the month of April, you can donate the change from your Grubhub order to the Green Restaurant Association, a group aiming to help restaurants become more sustainable. GrubHub has also joined the #CutOutCutlery campaign for reducing single-use plastics and plans to begin automatically defaulting to select zero utensils and napkins with every order. For restaurants, these efforts can come at a cost, and they’re certainly more work. It’s worth it, says Weiss.

Weiss hopes to expand Honeybee Burger into the first national plant-based fast-food chain, to prove that plant-based food can be delicious and approachable and that running a sustainable food business is something that can be successfully scaled and repeated. If you’re in LA, there are two locations (Silver Lake and Santa Monica), where you can grab burgers, fries, tots, and milkshakes. For now, those of you outside of LA can use Weiss’s tips to optimize your own plant-based burger at home.

illustration of a plant based cheeseburger


Start with a really good bun

Good buns are crucial, says Weiss, because it’s the first thing you touch and taste when you bite into your burger. That first impression is important. Toast your bun—a step many home cooks skip. Honeybee Burger uses a nut-free cultured vegan butter and toasts the buns on the flat top: This creates a kind of seal that prevents the buns from getting soggy once you sauce them up.

Use a super flavorful burger sauce

Instead of adding a bunch of different condiments (another cause of soggy buns), make one tasty sauce that hits all the notes—creamy, tangy, sweet, and salty, with a bit of heat. Try the one we developed for our take on a Plant-Based Big-ish Mac.

Add umami to your patty

Honeybee uses Beyond Meat and Impossible Meat (which happen to be our favorite plant-based meats) as the base for its burgers but does a lot to take them to the next level. In addition to seasoning and hand-forming every patty, the Honeybee cooks use koji—an edible mold that comes from fermenting rice that’s used widely in Japanese cuisine—on each patty as it cooks on the flat top. The koji provides an intense umami flavor that gives the burger a deep, meaty taste. You can find koji in some Asian markets, but if you don’t have it on hand, you can get a similar effect from umami-packed plant-based ingredients like porcini mushroom powder, soy sauce, vegan Worcestershire sauce, miso, nutritional yeast, or sea vegetables like kelp.

Get cheesy

At Honeybee Burger, it’s mandatory—Weiss says they won’t sell a burger without cheese: “Even if you think you don’t like cheese, it adds a needed richness and creaminess.” After testing countless vegan options, Honeybee landed on Violife (another goop favorite) because it melts so beautifully. It’s also one of the few vegan options made without nuts, which helps keep the menu totally nut-free and accessible to people with allergies. When adding the cheese, the cooks splash a little water on the flat top near the patty to create steam, then cover the patty and cheese until it reaches melty perfection.

Pickle placement

The pickles at Honeybee Burger are house-made—something you rarely see in fast-food restaurants—and they are excellent. Not too sweet, adding just enough salt, tang, and crunch. Also, the pickles are placed thoughtfully. There are four per patty, so that you get the right amount in each bite. And the pickles peek out a bit from the bun to let you know they’re there. (We’re also very pro–homemade pickles.)

Onions two ways

The contrasting textures and temperatures of raw and cooked ingredients is one of the things that makes a burger so great. Honeybee Burger uses raw and cooked onions on its burgers—a thin ribbon of raw red onions for some pungency and an onion jam that’s a little sweet and adds moisture.

Ripe tomatoes

Local tomatoes are the best, but it’s hard to find good ones in the off-season—another challenge that can arise when sustainable sourcing is a priority. When you can nail the fresh tomato, it adds acidity, juiciness, and an almost meaty texture.

Finish with lettuce

Instead of watery iceberg or delicate butter lettuce, Weiss recommend a green-leaf lettuce called Better Burger Lettuce—it has just the right texture, and the frilled edges looks great on a bun. Perhaps more important than the lettuce itself is the placement: “We put the lettuce on the bottom,” Weiss says. And before you ask, yes, his team has tested this, too. Lettuce on the bottom allows the patty to hit your palate first, making for a more desirable eating experience. The only downside is that your burger might get soggier faster, so once you’ve assembled your burger, don’t delay.