At one point in this city’s history, veggie burgers were made with actual vegetables: quinoa, chickpeas, and walnuts in the case of Superiority Burger, located near Tompkins Square Park; or portobello mushrooms, cannellini beans, and onions at Lekka Burger, which closed the last of its Manhattan storefronts earlier this year. Now, burgers across the city are made at chain restaurants with plants that bleed. It’s been too long since vegetarians had a proper burger that made meat eaters jealous.
One appeared recently in an unsuspecting location: Desi Stop and Deli, a small snack shop that’s completely vegetarian, opened at 75 Second Avenue, between East Fourth and Fifth streets, last fall. It’s one of a handful of Punjabi businesses in the area that cater to taxi drivers and college students in search of affordable food at all hours. Because it’s hidden under scaffolding, and sandwiched between a smoke shop and a shuttered restaurant, it’s easy to miss.
In a dining room found a few feet below street level, customers hover over aluminum takeout containers with roti, curries, and grilled paneer sandwiches. Near the register, stuffed paratha and vegetarian hot dogs — a bun with seasoned potatoes, onion, and cilantro chutney — line the shelves of a display case. Every now and again, someone might order Maggi noodles, the brand of masala-spiced instant ramen: They’re not listed on the menu, but the shop will make a package of them for a few dollars.
It’s here you’ll find city’s next great burger, which Aman Deep, an employee at the shop, calls a “samosa burger.” It’s lighter than a smash burger, covered in sauce, and served 24 hours a day. The best part: It costs $5 before tax and tip, making it one of the cheapest sandwiches in the city right now.
The burger starts with potato and onion that are shaped into a patty and then fried into a golden log that resembles a Filet-O-Fish sandwich from McDonald’s, or one of the vegetarian burgers the fast-food chain sells at its locations in India. The patty goes onto a sesame seed bun with shredded lettuce, thick tomato slices, and a slab of firm cottage cheese. In place of a traditional burger sauce, made with ketchup, the buns are slathered in mayonnaise and hot sauce.
The combination is light and satisfying, and while the burger isn’t a full meal on its own, it can easily become one when paired with one of the many affordable snacks sold here.