A Vegan Burger Tastes Like ‘Normal’ Fast Food – and That’s Supposed to Be a Compliment

Hakatzav Hayarok, Tel Aviv's newest vegan restaurant, offers the classic American diner experience and aims to recreate the experience of eating meat as much as possible

Hakatzav Hayarok on Ben Yehuda street in Tel Aviv, May 12, 2019.
Eran Laor

How do we sum up the local vegan revolution of recent years, if it can even be summarized, and if it can even be called a revolution? With my love for meat, cheese and combinations of the two, this may not be the best place to do so. Still, we can’t ignore one related mini-trend: the proliferation of vegan diners.

Any way you look at it, it’s a logical move. The diner – that classic American institution that in Israel tends to combine aspects of a fast-food restaurant, a regular restaurant, street food and often a bar to boot – has become the ultimate place to enjoy everyone’s favorite junk food (burgers and pizza, of course), wrapped in a cool label with an attractive atmosphere. After vegan restaurants started to spring up, it was only a matter of time before diners with a similar agenda would appear – and the response was not long in coming, with places like Goodness, Nature Boys, Rainbow and Sultana Shawarma, which all offer vegan adaptations of popular fast-food dishes.

The new addition to the list is Hakatzav Hayarok (“The Green Butcher”), which recently opened on Ben-Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv. This place also follows the rules of the genre, with a colorful American-style design and a menu that offers burgers, hot dogs, arayes (ground meat in a pita) and kebabs as single items for 35 shekels or as part of a meal with a side dish and a drink for 49 shekels.

With the exception of the hot dogs, all of the items are based on the Beyond Burger, a plant-based meat alternative from the American company Beyond Meat that aims to recreate the experience of eating meat as much as possible – in terms of look, texture, color and aroma – during and after grilling, including the “bloody” effect.

What’s interesting at Hakatzav Hayarok is the way they use Beyond Meat, which became available in Israel several months ago, as an ingredient. You can order a regular burger, but it’s recommended to try the other dishes in which the burgers are broken apart, seasoned and transformed into a something more original. We tried the arayes with fries, the Hakatzav Hayarok meal – a seasoned Beyond Burger – with spicy fries, and hot dogs in Moroccan frena bread with roasted vegetables on the side.

The colorful American-style design at Hakatzav Hayarok on Ben Yehuda street in Tel Aviv, May 12, 2019.
Eran Laor

A short wait after placing our orders at Hakatzav Hayarok, my two vegan companions and I received our meals. The appearance was convincing. It looked like meat, smelled (a lot) like meat and, most importantly, successfully met the challenge for any diner – all the more so a vegan one: creating a fun eating experience even before the first bite. All that was left was to taste it.

What I’m about to write is liable to be perceived as a negative review, but it should be read in a positive context: The Beyond Burger, in its present incarnation at least, is no substitute for fresh beef, no matter how it’s seasoned and served. However – and here is where it excels – it does quite a convincing job of imitating a real frozen hamburger. And that’s nothing to sneeze at. Okay, so hamburger lovers who’ve grown accustomed to a high standard of fresh beef won’t be rushing to convert to veganism for the sake of this option, but they might occasionally consider deserting to the Beyond Burger, especially when out with a vegan friend.

The upgrade that Hakatzav Hayarok makes to the Beyond Burger is appealing, with the seasoning mix making it a little spicier and more interesting. The problem is that they could have gone a lot further. Instead, they use the same seasoning for the hamburger, the kebab and the arayes – only the form changes. Instead of distinguishing the arayes and kebab by some parsley and onion, as in their “real” versions, they taste exactly like the hamburger. What accompanies them is quite good on its own terms – the soft hamburger bun, the seared and toasted pita, the salads and the sauces (we particularly liked the pickled lemon “aioli”), but a little more creativity could have gone a long way.

The hot dogs at Hakatzav Hayarok were the weakest link. Instead of long, grilled hot dogs cradled in a bun, they came sliced, which made the whole business of getting them from the tray to the mouth a little trickier, though it was quite a generous portion. They are based on pea protein and were reminiscent of some of the less successful meat substitutes out there. The stir-fried vegetables that came on the side – a partially under-seasoned and partially over-seasoned mix of frozen broccoli and green beans – were no cause for excitement either.

We left not completely satisfied but relatively pleased with Hakatzav Hayarok, a diner with an original idea and a largely pleasing menu heading in the right direction. And it’s still not too late to improve and even experiment a little – no animals will be hurt in the process.

Hakatzav Hayarok, 98 Ben-Yehuda Street, Tel Aviv. 077-7884818. Open Sunday-Wednesday 12:00 P.M.-11:00 P.M., Thursday 12:00 P.M.-12:00 A.M., Friday 12:00 P.M.-4:00 P.M.