100 Favorite Dishes 2013: No. 76, The Heights Burger at Gratifi

The Heights burger at Gratifi is meat-free but still juicy and flavorful.
The Heights burger at Gratifi is meat-free but still juicy and flavorful.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape. It's a list to drool over.

There was a period of time during which I actually preferred veggie burgers to hamburgers 100 percent of the time. When I was in middle school and high school, I had this crazy aversion to ground meat, so any time I ended up at a burger joint with friends, I'd order the veggie burger (or whatever non-meat burger option was available). I became quite the connoisseur.

These days, I eat a lot of hamburgers, and I love them. When presented with the option of cheeseburger versus tofu burger, I'm gonna order the cheeseburger. As such, it takes a truly special meatless burger to make me remember how much I once loved veggie, black bean and tofu burgers.

The Heights Black Bean Burger at Gratifi Kitchen + Bar is one of the only burgers I've encountered recently that could convince me to go meatless once again.

When Gratifi made the switch from Ziggy's Healthy Grill back in November 2012, many of the items on the menu received an overhaul. Owner Kevin Strickland decided to emphasize the "healthy" notion a little less in favor of more broadly appealing items like burgers and chicken-fried chicken.

Some healthier items remain on the menu, though, including the Heights burger. It's a patty made from black beans and salsa, topped with pepper jack cheese and caramelized onions and served on airy poppyseed rolls. Unlike many meat-free burgers that use fillers like bread crumbs and weird, science-project pseudo meat, the black bean patty is just that: black beans. The punch of protein from the beans means it's hearty and filling, just like a beefy burger, but lower in calories and, arguably, more nutritious.

In addition to being substantial, the burger is also delicious, thanks to the addition of salsa to the patty and the thick slice of pepper jack melted on top. The cheese and the generous portion of caramelized onions make the burger a bit juicier and add some fattiness to the end product, which it needs, because black bean patties can be dry and crumbly.

Not this one, though. Thick, juicy and hearty, it's the perfect (vegetarian) counter to the boring burger.

Meat? Who needs it!

The list so far: No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas

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