Harvesting the Best Veggie Burger in Austin: Magnolia Cafe

Magnolia Cafe Austin Menu with FlamingosThis guest blog post is by Kat Mandelstein.

Last month, my friend Eric Highland, founder of the Austinot and a true carnivore, started a blog series on the Best Burger Joint in Austin. Since Eric had little to no desire to eat a veggie burger and I have now been eating predominantly vegan for the last three years, I happily volunteered for the assignment of finding the best veggie burger in Austin. This post is the first in a series on the Austinot.

Many people think veggie burgers are an oxymoron. But if for health reasons or by choice you can’t eat the real McCoy, then finding a good one can be tough since there is such a wide variety of ingredients that veggie burgers can be made of. Because of this, a lot of it is personal preference.

In this review series, I’ll not only be judging the veggie burger, but the restaurant experience itself. With that in mind, know that these are my personal opinions. Feel free to agree or disagree with them. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations.

All the posts in this series will start with “Harvesting the Best Veggie Burger in Austin” in the title.

Magnolia Café Overall Impression

Magnolia Cafe Original Location in Austin, TX

Magnolia Café original location and still my favorite on Lake Austin Blvd

I have been coming to Magnolia Café since my days as a Longhorn at the University of Texas.

Funny thing is, I had never tried their veggie burger until about three years ago when I heard Rip Esselstyn speak on the healing qualities of a plant strong diet at TEDxAustin. That was a life changing day for me and a new adventure on eating in Austin. Since most of my Magnolia Café favorites from the past contained turkey, chicken, eggs or loads of cheese, I decided to give their Veggie Burger a try and I’m glad that I did.

Kat’s Veggie Burger Review Criteria

For consistency, I decided to adopt Eric’s burger judging scale for veggie burgers using a 1-10 scale, with 5 being average. (As Eric would say, “Don’t be a hater. If I rate you a 5, that means you were average, and that’s not so bad.”)

So adapting the scale for veggie burgers, a score of 1 translates to “tasted like the dirt it grew in,” while 10 translates to “Mother Nature handcrafted it herself.” Remember, you are free to disagree with me. I am entitled to my opinions and so are you.

When reviewing a veggie burger, these are my categories:

  1. Veggie Burger Patty
  2. The Bun
  3. Toppings
  4. Messiness (note: Eric rates burgers higher as they get more messy because that’s how he likes them, but I rate burgers lower as they get more messy)
  5. Presentation (garnish, did they make it look appetizing)
  6. Overall Veggie Burger Taste
  7. Fries or Side Item (extra points for a choice in sides)
  8. Atmosphere
  9. Cleanliness
  10. Other Factors

Good Veggie Burger at Magnolia Cafe West

Magnolia Café Veggie Burger Review

  1. Veggie Burger Patty = 7  The patty is grain-based and has a nice texture. It was smaller than I remember it being the last time I had one. The other negative to me is that it does contain cheese, which makes it off limits for strict vegans. It was cooked just right.
  2. The Bun = 8 Their bun is really good. Wholesome whole wheat with lots of toasted sesame seeds. It is crunchy on the outside, but soft inside.
  3. Toppings = 9 It comes with tomatoes, lettuce, sunflower sprouts, red onion and pickles, mustard and ketchup. They bring it open face with condiments on the side, so you control how much you want. I added some avocado too. The red onions were sliced very thin, so that they did not overwhelm the taste as I added a few to my veggie burger.
  4. Messiness = 8 This is one of the neatest veggie burgers I have ever eaten. It all stays well in the large bun and toppings don’t fall out. Assembly is the only messy part, but if you use a fork and knife you can avoid that too.
  5. Garnish = 7 Since it is served open face, the toppings are the garnish and are attractively arranged.
  6. Taste = 8 It may be unfair that I am rating Magnolia Cafe’s burger first. It is by far one of the best veggie burgers I have had, but I don’t want the bar for future reviews to be too high. My only wish is that the patty was larger. Gave my husband a taste to validate my rating and he agreed with me.
  7. Fries or Side Item = 6 They don’t have French fries. You get your choice of home fries, cottage cheese or chips and salsa. I got the home fries, which are the same potatoes they use in their landscapes. They are red-skinned potatoes and they were good and healthier, not the same as French fries.
  8. Atmosphere = 7 The employees are very laid back and it has a very retro Austin feel to it. Artsy, homey and eccentric. That is a positive in my book. Sometimes the service is a little slow, but our server was faster and peppier than most.
  9. Cleanliness = 6 They cover their colorful fabric tables with plastic that they wipe between customers. Restaurant is aging, but they do their best to clean floors, bathrooms and tables frequently throughout the day.
  10. Other Factors = 9 Magnolia Café has an extensive menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner – 24 hours a day. They also serve desserts, beer, wine and freshly squeezed lemonade. I enjoyed a Shiner Ruby Redbird with my burger on this visit. However, if you really like fresh juice, one of the bonuses is that Juiceland is conveniently located across the street for a healthy dessert after dinner.

Bottom Line on the Veggie Burger at Magnolia Cafe in Austin: 7.5 out of 10

Veggie Burger at Magnolia Cafe in AustinOverall Score = 7.5. The overall score is the average of the 10 categories.

Magnolia Café’s veggie burger is grain-based, so if you are not a fan of the mystery meat or bean-based varieties, this one is excellent and you won’t be disappointed. The toppings are fresh and overall the meal was satisfying. The price is a little higher than a burger joint, but for a sit down restaurant and very fresh ingredients, I am not complaining about what I paid for this veggie burger.

Magnolia Cafe also gets extra points in my book for having their own blog on their Web site, but they could update it more frequently. They have a Twitter account and Facebook fan page as well, but both seem to be managed by the team at their South location. Good social media goes a long way in making me a loyal customer. The pink flamingos on their menu and signs also ingratiate them to me a little more.

The place definitely has a true Austin vibe and for the age of the Lake Austin location they keep it relatively clean and inviting. The employees are laid back and the crowd is always an eclectic mix for people watching. It originally opened in 1979, as the original Omelettry West, before partners parted ways and they rebranded to Magnolia Café. If you are hankering for a good veggie burger any time of the night or day, I would definitely recommend you give Magnolia Café a try. There are plenty of things on the menu for your carnivorous friends including 24 hour breakfast, so everyone will leave happy.

Harvesting the Best Veggie Burger in Austin Continues

Here is the scoreboard so far:

#1 – score 7.8 – Bouldin Creek Cafe

#2 – score 7.5 – Magnolia Cafe

#3 – score 6.8 – Elevation Burger

#4 – score 6.35 – Billy’s on Burnet

Other places that have been suggested so far are: Mr. Natural, Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse, Elevation Burger, Mother’s Café & Garden, Woodland, Billy’s on Burnet and Big Daddy’s. Be on the look out for my next veggie burger review.

Kat Mandelstein is not a native of Austin, but she got here as fast as she could. By day she is the Director of Social Business Strategy & CollaborANT at Ant’s Eye View, and by night she is the President of Social Media Club Austin, sits on the International SocialMediaClub.org Board of Directors and recently became the host of the Social Media Book Club and Webinar.
Magnolia Cafe on Urbanspoon

  • Jill

    My favorite veggie burger in Austin is at Freddie’s Place on South First. seriously delicious. Also, gotta love P Terrys. I’ve eaten a lot of veggie burgers around town – so try those two out if you havent already!

    • katmandelstein

      Thanks Jill, I have been disappointed with PTerry’s veggie burger lately, so will not review them in hopes that it was a few off days. I like them as a business and their fries are tasty. Freddie’s… I love their toppings and hanging out with my pint-sized Pomeranian listening to music on their patio (plus great people watching…Leslie used to appear her often even, may he RIP), but their veggie burger patties themselves are average so will also avoid giving them a rating since I really like them as a business, and they have pretty tasty sides and decent margaritas.

  • MatthewParente

    Love the topic, and if you need an eating partner, feel free to let me know. I’d be happy to eat a veggie burger in the name of science. Or reviews. Here are some places I’d recommend:

    * Hopdoddy
    * Crown & Anchor
    * Waterloo Icehouse
    * BJ’s
    * Galaxy Cafe
    * Freddy’s Custard (I’m sure there are other locations, but I know of one on W. Cannon; I haven’t had theirs yet…)

    • katmandelstein

      Thanks Matthew, Have never tried Crown & Anchor, BJ’s or Freddy’s Custard, so will add them to the list for exploration. Will give you a shout if I need a meal companion/second set of tastebuds for rating.

  • http://austinstf.tumblr.com slavetofashion

    I accidentally got a veggie burger there once (they switched my burger with someone at another table) and I actually loved it. As soon as they realized their mistake (the person knew theirs was meat REALLY fast) they offered me a new burger, but I was happy to stay with mine. And I am a total carnivore! Great review Kat :)

    • katmandelstein

      Thanks Cathy! Your story cracked me up: ) We will have to do brunch soon and both intentionally have a veggie burger here.

    • http://www.austinot.com/ Brittany Highland

      Wow, @slavetofashion:disqus – that’s saying a lot. I feel bad for the other table, though. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/AprildawnwithanE April Dawne

    I look forward to sharing a veggie burger at Bouldin Creek w/ya!

  • mandy

    They should get extra points just for providing avocado as a condiment!

    • http://www.austinot.com/ Brittany Highland

      Yes! I’m all about that, @0741e79198b1685c69c3b68c4fc0a5ae:disqus.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.highland Eric Highland

      I’m not even a veggie burger fan. (Thanks to @katmandelstein:disqus for representing!) But I’ll give an “Amen!” to any joint that provides avocado as a condiment! mmmm good @0741e79198b1685c69c3b68c4fc0a5ae:disqus I agree!

  • Mike

    Thank you for creating this list! I became vegan after hearing Rip speak as well, and I rank messiness the same way you do! This is great!

  • Ron

    Bartlett’s at Burnet and Anderson has the best veggie burger in Austin.