We visited a fast-food chain that's like McDonald's for vegans

Take a bite out of a VeganBurg burger and you might be surprised to find that it tastes about as exciting as a fast-food burger. The plant-based patty’s texture is reminiscent of a McDonald’s item — nothing special. But that’s kind of what San Francisco’s vegan burger joint is going for.

These days, fast-food burgers run the gamut from the classic McDonald’s Big Mac to Jack In The Box’s Hella-Peño Burger Munchie Meal, which is filled with cheesy jalapeño poppers. There aren’t many quick-service burger options for vegetarians, let alone vegans.

Then there’s VeganBurg, a plant-based burger restaurant that got its start in Singapore. The chain opened its first US location in San Francisco’s earthy-crunchy Haight neighbourhood in December 2015. Take a look inside to see if VeganBurg “meats” the hype.

In 2015, VeganBurg opened its first restaurant in the US on San Francisco's bustling and quirky Haight Street. It's more than 8,600 miles from the flagship location in Singapore.

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Tables made from wood palettes, hardwood flooring, and potted plants create an industrial, 'safari-chic' vibe, according to VeganBurg founder, Alex Tan.

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AstroTurf blankets the dining stools, just like at VeganBurg in Singapore.

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Just a few years ago, Tan, a diehard-carnivore, swore to his friends he would never eat a veggie burger. He thought it looked disgusting.

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But when he became sick and his ailment perplexed chiropractors, therapists, and every kind of doctor in between, he was forced to try a plant-based diet. His condition improved.

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Tan quickly grew bored of the bland vegan foods on the market -- and frustrated there were no quick and easy restaurants like McDonald's that cater to vegans.

Typical veggie burger patties.

He began to experiment, first with vegan pastas, then with vegan burgers. Soon, Tan conceptualized a menu of eight burgers, satisfying eight different flavour profiles.

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That menu came to life at VeganBurg. We stepped into the kitchen at the San Francisco location to see if the chain's plant-based burgers could satisfy a meat-lover like me.

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First, a restaurant manager tossed a whole wheat bun and a mushroom-based patty on the griddle. It got a slathering of sweet, smoky barbecue sauce.

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Lettuce, onions, tomato, pickles, and a slice of vegan bacon (for $1.50 extra) were piled on top. The kitchen manager bundled the burger in faux newspaper to keep it together.

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Tan said the Smoky BBQ burger is the most popular item. It fell flat for me, however. The produce overwhelmed the patty, which was flavourless and dry.

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The combo meal rings in at $US14, which is about double the cost of a McDonald's meal.

The side certainly caught my fancy. Thick-cut french fries sprinkled with organic seaweed flakes, in lieu of salt, were tender and well seasoned.

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Back in the kitchen, the manager whipped up the Mustang Relish burger.

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A GMO-free, soy-based 'crispy' patty got a helping of fat-free mustard, gherkin pickles, and chopped red onion. It looked promising.

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I added avocado for $1.50 extra, and the cook definitely did not skimp.

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The cook also prepared the Cracked Mayo burger, considered the menu's classic.

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The toppings are simple: just mayonnaise and lettuce on the same soy patty.

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This time, the burgers blew me away. Each uses a soy-based patty that tasted crunchy on the outside, like a McDonald's crispy chicken sandwich, but moist on the inside.

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Paired with the salty seaweed fries, the meal was hearty and fresh.

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Momentum riding high, I sampled the 'chicken' nuggets and a few other items.

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The Smoked Franks, a carton of mini tofu sausages, were bland and tasted no better than street cart dogs. They cost about $5.

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The soy-based Chik'n Tenders stole the show. I dunked mine in Dijon mustard and couldn't tell the difference from real poultry. The chicken nuggets cost about $5.

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Today, there are eight burgers on the menu, including a classic Hawaiian burger loaded with pineapple and teriyaki sauce and a burger topped with a beet and avocado pâté.

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Tan tells Business Insider there are two more burgers coming to the menu in March, plus a new gluten-free, soy-based patty made from brown rice, artichoke, and cashew nuts.

Do I see myself swapping my typical In-N-Out cheeseburger for one of VeganBurg's frozen, animal product-free burgers? Not anytime soon.

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The restaurant nails one thing: Making vegan food accessible. A vegan diet can be expensive and seem pretentious to newbies. But a VeganBurg meal feels familiar and costs under $14. I never had to look up the ingredients on my phone to know what I was eating.

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