READERS' PICK: When people get tired of chewing on stinky, ground-up cow parts, they go searching for a veggie alternative. Habitual carnivores are often disappointed by what they find elsewhere, but Bentley's might just convert them to the vegetarian way, at least for the duration of a meal. The patty at Bentley's doesn't convincingly masquerade as ground beef; it holds up fine on its own terms. The consistency is a tad crumbly, giving away its core recipe of rice, nuts, sunflower seeds and secret spices. If bean curd sends you running for the door, rest assured there's not a trace of tofu in this baby. It's served on your choice of breads -- if you're really hungry, order the whole-wheat bun, which seems nearly twice as big as the rye, onion or sourdough. Optional bunmates include greenleaf lettuce (not that gawdawful iceberg), provolone and Russian dressing. Bentley's has installed cool new decor (big ceramic floor tiles, corrugated steel backdrops for the hanging art), but its veggie burger stands forthright and unaltered, a symbol of decency and compassion in this bloodthirsty world. And it tastes good, too.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Sundanse Bakery Cafe, 621 N. Fourth Ave. The Sundanse veggie burger is listed on the menu as the "Garden Burger," but fear not -- it's a far cry from the frozen commercial product of the same name. Sundanse's actually tastes as though it's had more than a nodding acquaintance with the garden. Its large, moist patty made of flavorful black beans, mushrooms, tofu, roasted eggplant and mushrooms is slightly crisp around the edges, but not dry. It's spicy without eclipsing the flavorful blend of veggies. This masterpiece is served on a whole-grain roll that holds up well to the sandwich's juices. In addition to thick slices of tomato and onion and a bed of crisp sprouts, the Sundanse Garden Burger arrives with a little pot of vegan dijonaisse and a thickly sliced wedge of watermelon. At $7.95 it's a bit pricey, but quantity and flavor will make you feel as though you've gotten your money's worth.