A small but progressive chain founded in Palm Springs, California, Native Foods Cafe has 13 locations throughout the United States, most of which are in the vegetarian concept’s home state. Though the cafe has a fun and bright atmosphere, it’s got a deliciously serious mission: making sustainable, organic and holistic food. Though progressive-minded Californians are more open minded to this kind of food, it’s pleasant to see it creeping ever eastward and into the Midwest, as Chicago has become the home of three stores. Dubbing itself “America’s fast casual vegan restaurant” I hope to see big things from this chain.The food here is entirely vegan — in fact the restaurant notes its menu is entirely plant-based. You see a variety of things, from rice bowls, pizzas, vegetarian burgers, salads and even a bakery of goodies. It’s impressive in its variety alone, that so many items are made completely vegetarian friendly. The execution of these items is fantastic. Delicious.
I sampled the portobello and sausage burger, which is actually comprised of seitan sausage topped with caramelized onions, roasted garlic, pumpkin seed pesto and pomodoro. The creative use of these ingredients is ingenious. Another alternative is the Ensalada Azteca Bowl packed with all the best fresh ingredients, a delightful bed of greens topped with avocado and jicima salsa, quinoa, currants, pumpkin seeds and cilantro, and a fantastic mango lime vinaigrette. It’s fresh and fruity, but complex and ultimately filling for light fare. This menu is a masterpiece. If eating vegetarian was this delicious I would do it every day.
It pains me to make this complaint, because I feel like the food and the menu deserve five stars, but unfortunately there was one major problem that could not be overlooked. The Chicago locations I visited informed me that they were out of the ingredients for the “BBQ Love Burger” one of the “Chef’s Favorite” items, the designated signature dishes of the restaurant. I was informed that the Chicago locations had been out of this item, which the cafe website notes as one of the most popular summer dishes, for quite some time. It’s even the special of the day on Tuesdays. Well, unless they were lying to me about this for some reason, it’s about the most elementary and damning mistake for a business. Granted, the chain’s locations mean the Chicago locations are the most far-flung and difficult to restock logistically, but it’s a really poor showing for a restaurant looking to grow. You won’t be successful as a business if you can’t overcome these basic hurdles. It’s severely disappointing. I’m sure the item was great, too.
This hiccup aside, I’m blown away at how good this food is. It’s great! I hope to see Native Foods Cafe set up for success.
- The items are all vegetarian, so if you’re unfamiliar with that cuisine you’ll want to stick with the simpler items on the menu.
- This is primarily a lunch place, open to foot traffic.
- The veggie burgers are a great first item to try, as are the baked goodies.