The Dollar-Wise Gourmet: Veggie Burgers on a Budget


Tasty vegetarian burgers are plentiful around town, from Tower Cafe’s nutty earth burger to Plum Cafe’s California burger, a vegan beauty boasting tempeh bacon and avocado. But at $10.95 and $12, those two were off-limits for this Dollar-Wise column, in which the goal was to find deals under $10. While I found plenty of options in that price range, I also found—surprise, surprise—that many of the least expensive veggie burgers in town also are the least enticing, using frozen patties (yup, the same Gardenburgers you find at the grocery store) and little innovation. Here are four exceptions to the rule, in no particular order.

You probably wouldn’t expect to find a great veggie burger at a pub. But FOX & GOOSE’s Nutburger may surprise you. The lightly crumbly patty is not just nutty but full of bewitching spices, making for an unusual, slightly exotic blend. It’s topped with red onion, tomato, lettuce and sprouts and served on your choice of four buns. My buddy Wayne, who never had tried a veggie burger in his 49 years on this planet, said he’d actually order it again—a big statement coming from a guy who clearly is an omnivore.

PRICE: $8.50 includes a big pile of old-fashioned fried potatoes (the real deal, and really good) or a lovely sampling of fresh fruit

DOLLAR-WISE TIP: We also tried F&G’s portobello mushroom sandwich ($8.50)—the next-best thing to a veggie burger on the menu—and hands down preferred the Nutburger.

1001 R St.; (916) 443-8825;

My friend Jeanne is a sophisticated foodie who pretty much has munched her way around the world. So it was a VBD (very big deal) when she proclaimed ETTORE’S housemade mushroom veggie burger “the best I’ve ever eaten.” The plump patty is full of unexpected ingredients, including slivered almonds, tofu and rolled oats, and the outside is lightly crispy and cheesy, as if cocooned in a white cheddar cradle. The green goddess dressing adds a unique twist, and those who think it’s all about the bun will be happy to hear this one is made in-house.

PRICE: $8.95 includes a side of pasta salad or sweet-potato fries

DOLLAR-WISE TIP: You can sub a different side salad at no extra cost, as long as it’s nonmeat. (We had a couple of raw veggie salads, both unusually good.)

2376 Fair Oaks Blvd.; (916) 482-0708;

After one bite of her portobello burger at BURGERS AND BREW, my pal Debbie was sold. “It’s delicious,” she said. My assessment mirrors hers. The beautifully grilled, meaty mushroom comes on a nice wheat bun, smothered in roasted red pepper mayo and topped with green leaf lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. We were equally impressed by the side salad, which was much bigger than expected. The bountiful bed of greens, lightly dressed in balsamic vinaigrette, adds great value to an already decent deal. (Fries are the other side option, and also excellent.)

PRICE: $7.95 includes french fries or spring mix salad

DOLLAR-WISE TIP: We also tried the garden burger ($7.50) but found it disappointingly bland. Stick to the portobello.

Two locations: 1409 R St.; (916) 442-0900; 403 Third St., Davis; (530) 750-3600;

Yep, it’s been around forever. But don’t overlook the Nutburger at SUNFLOWER DRIVE IN, which after umpteen years continues to live up to its reputation for providing cheap thrills. It’s fresh and crunchy, bursting with greens (romaine and sprouts), red onion and pickles, and the good-sized nutmeat patty is nice and firm. The fluffy whole-wheat bun adds to the healthfulness factor. Specify vegetarian or vegan when you order.

PRICE: $5.95

DOLLAR-WISE TIP: This burger comes stag—i.e., no side. But there’s a cheap, easy solution: chips and salsa for 60 cents. 10344 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; (916) 967-4331;