According to McDonald’s, only one in five millennials has ever tried their signature Big Mac. While the fast food giant struggles to get its burgers in order by switching to “fresh” beef and developing new animal product-laden offerings, we’re turning to the best of plant-based burgers—the real winners amongst millennials and our own mouths alike—for our fast-food fix. We’ve eaten our fair share of delicious Beyond and Impossible Burgers—at places such as Cockscomb, Veggie Grill, and Crossroads. Here, we’re focusing on places that really break down the McDonald’s menu and make it their (vegan) own without the use of animal products. Here is our list of five burgers that drive the final nail into the old-and-gross coffin of traditional fast-food with their copycat plant-based burgers.
1. Special Sauce @Next Level Burger (Oregon)
McDonald’s has sold many-a-customer on its “special sauce” and we see nothing all that “special” about a dairy-based sauce slathered on a factory-farmed beef patty. Next Level Burger’s version of a classic hamburger—similar to a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese—features a savory plant-based patty topped with vegan cheese and a host of organic ingredients (including dill pickles, green leaf lettuce, roma tomatoes, and red onions) served on a sprouted whole grain bun with a generous schmear of vegan special sauce. Would you like fries with that? Well, Next Level’s “special” fries come with grilled onions, a bit more of that melted vegan cheese (choose from cheddar or swiss), and a whole lot of the special sauce that’ll make McDonald’s weep tears of going-out-of-business fear.
2. Breakfast Sandwich @Urban Vegan Kitchen (New York)
A burger is a type of sandwich which makes an Egg McMuffin sandwich a burger, right? Semantics aside, this satiating breakfast offering has quite a backstory. The McMuffin look-alike was developed for New York-based Urban Vegan Kitchen’s menu by 10-year vegan and food stylist Timothy Pakron, the chef behind blog Mississippi Vegan. Pakron replaced eggs with a crispy griddled tofu round, then added fresh arugula, avocado, red onion, shiitake bacon, and a vegan hollandaise aioli to bring that tired McMuffin to a whole new level.
3. Crispy Chicken Sandwich @Doomie’s Home Cookin’ (California)
Doomie’s does justice to everything that’s great about fast-food but without having to dine on the dead. This masterpiece is a beautifully battered piece of “chicken” that is supported by a crisp piece of lettuce, a perfect round of onion, and slices of ruby red tomato served on a lightly toasted sesame seed bun. This cruelty-free sandwich is several squawks above McDonald’s McChicken version and is available in only two places—Los Angeles, CA and Toronto, Canada. You have the option of getting it “spicy” and you probably should.
4. Pulled Pork-N-Jack @K’Alish (Illinios)
Anyone that’s ever regretted being a former meat-eater knows that the best part of a McRib sandwich is the sauce and Chicago-based Kal’ish’s saucy Pulled Pork-N-Jack doesn’t disappoint. Filled with succulent braised jackfruit shreds that are smothered in the eatery’s smoky sweet “q” sauce and served with purple slaw and pickles, that distant memory of chowing down on suspiciously slimy meat can be replaced with eight napkins-worth of saucy goodness that’s never harmed a single pig. Kal’ish also makes a mean New Fashioned 2NA Melt—with chickpea-based “tuna” salad, vegan cheddar, and an “overnight tomato”—if that’s your jam.
5. Big Zac, Big McInnes, V Mac. etc @ a lot of plant-lovin’ places (Everywhere)
McDonald’s may have had the monopoly on Big Macs back when people thought smoking was just dandy, but nowadays, many vegan establishments have cracked the secret recipe of the iconic burger—and have removed the meat and dairy products to fully bring it into the modern era. San Diego’s Plant Power Fast Food’s Big Zac—named after co-owner Zach Vouga—transforms the fatty burger into a GMO-free, handheld fiber-filled flavor bomb. In Canada, local comfort food guru James McInnes developed his cruelty-free knockoff the Big McInnes in 2016 which (figuratively) slaughtered the competition—selling more than 500 in two days—at Canada’s largest barbeque festival last August. Vegans are so good at replicating Big Macs that there’s a whole pop-up dedicated to the plant-based version of the burger scheduled at the end of April in Glasgow, Scotland, where local chef Danny McLaren will be hawking his V Mac until the cows come home … to sleep and cuddle, because using them for making burgers is absurd given these plant-based options.