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The Contender: The Big Zac

A vegan fast-food chain impersonates the McDonald’s classic


NOTE: This series is documenting my citywide hunt for the best veggie burgers in town. See SD Food News for other contenders. I’ll name my winners in a post, coming soon.


In the ’80s, my stepmom didn’t give a damn if a car had power steering or antilock brakes. Her criteria for buying a new car was pretty simple: It had to have a cup holder, she said. Nowadays cars are designed to comfortably fit four people and 38 drinks. There are even aftermarket cup holders for your trunk—great for when you kidnap someone and want to keep them hydrated for the ransom process. But back then they weren’t a standard amenity. So my stepmom decided her car could be a death trap as long as it had a place to hold her fast-food iced tea.

Fast food seemed to be the only food in the ’80s—especially on the West Coast, where our hands spend more time on our steering wheels than on our spouses. Our cars were dining rooms. Our gear shifts were polished with burger grease. Runaway French fries lived long, petrified lives in the cracks between our seats.

Then we noticed something: an ascending pant size there, a slight heart palpitation there. News broke that our fast food habits were inconvenient for our survival as a species. We still needed food at a relatively quick pace, but we needed something a bit healthier.

I’m not sure San Diego’s vegan fast food chain, Plant Power, is much healthier calorie-wise. They load up on the natural-fat sauces and bread. I asked cofounder Zach Vouga for nutritional info, and he says it’s pending. They do, however, cut out the meat, which has been proven bad for us and the environment.

And Plant Power’s “Big Zac” is a meatless riff on one of the great American fast food icons. Triple bun, two patties, two slices of cheese, pickles, onions, Thousand Island dressing—the Big Mac was the indulgent meal of choice for a few generations of hardworking Americans. It was our truffle mac ’n’ cheese.

Plant Power’s tastes mostly like bread and Thousand Island, to be honest. But it’s a testament to how far vegan dressings have come. That tangy, mayo-like sauce tastes like the real thing. The patties have a burger-like texture, and even if they didn’t, it’s hard to tell, and hardly matters, among all that bread. In a blind taste test, I’d bet a few people would have a hard time telling the Mac from the Zac.

It’s an Elvis impersonator of a burger, sure. But what a show. For anyone who ate McDonald’s until they decided life was worth living, this will bring back pleasant memories.


Three locations across San Diego (Encinitas, SDSU, Ocean Beach).

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Restaurant reviews, food trends, top cocktails, wine, beer and generally the best eats and drinks in San Diego, by Food Editor and general good guy Troy Johnson.

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