Last month, I searched for the best soup dumplings in the city, and found the ones I’d recommend to people I love. Now I’m hunting San Diego’s top veggie burger. I pestered vegetarian friends, carnivorous friends who dabble in the plant arts, social media friends, chefs, and restaurant people for their favorites. Some names came up again and again. Made a master list, pointed Waze in all kinds of directions, and got on the road.
The way to spot a vegetarian in Ocean Beach is to close your eyes and then open them. They’re everywhere. The counterculture set up camp here in the ’60s because no freeway had direct access to it (I-8 didn’t reach it until 1972), making it a prime place to turn on, tune in, and drop out.
Gentrification has finally, tragically reached OB, as any longtime resident who’s recently moved to East County will attest. But hippie culture is hanging on, thanks to residents who bought property when the market was low and refuse stupid-high offers because they feel a spiritual obligation to preserve the last great beach town in California. (The low shower-per-capita and bustling homeless population also requires a down-to-earth, highly humanist gentry—aka hippies). They’ve got the only food co-op in San Diego (People’s), which refuses to sell meat. Even the local barbecue joint offers decent veggie burgers (not one, but two) and veggie wings.
In other words, sad tofu patties don’t stand a chance in these streets. If your veggie burger can make it here, it can make it anywhere. And Royale’s does—making it a contender for best in town.
I have a few basic "NOs" for veggie burgers. The patty can’t be dry. It can’t fall apart at a glance. And it can’t be too smeary (overworked beans become glue).
Royale’s starts with a black bean and quinoa patty, using flaxseed meal and bread crumbs as a binder that holds it together perfectly. Tucked inside to season it are shallots, garlic, and balsamic vinegar. It has a nice crust like a smashed burger, and the inside avoids being overly dense despite the beans. They place it on a Sadie Rose whole wheat vegan bun (vegan baked goods are no longer underwhelming dry things for the niche crowd), a quick pickle slaw (julienned beets, carrots, cucumber, and jicama), and thinly sliced, tempura-fried eggplant for crunch and vegan mayonnaise flavored with Crystal Louisiana hot sauce and paprika.
The search continues, but so far it’s the one to beat.
Royale, 4204 Voltaire Street, Ocean Beach / Point Loma