Native Foods Café
1023 W. Belmont, (773) 549-4904
218 S. Clark (312) 332-6332
1484 N. Milwaukee (773) 489-8480
If part of your New Year's resolutions include eating better, but you know you'll still crave all those fast food items you've grown to love, Native Foods Café may be your answer. Normally I don't review chain restaurants, but Native Foods Café, a vegan fast-food style restaurant that serves food that is so delicious, healthy and fun that I'm making an exception.
Native Foods Café may be vegan, but carnivores will walk away so satisfied that they'll hardly notice. All the basics of a fast food restaurant are there; burgers, fries, nachos, deli sandwiches and desserts. Everything on the menu is made fresh from scratch every day, from the seitan (wheat gluten used as a meat substitute) and tempeh (a soy-based meat substitute) to the sauces and desserts.
For the most part, the meat substitutes are successful in recreating the taste and texture of meat. That's not so unusual in items featuring "ground meat", such as burgers, what is amazing is that Native foods manages to recreate sliced beef, shrimp and even chicken wings with amazing results. The sole exception to this is the bacon. The flavor is spot on, but the texture is a bit rubbery. "Dairy" products such as cheese, sour cream and are so spot on in flavor and texture that I bet few would be able to tell the difference.
Most meals average $10-$15, a bit more than you'd pay in a typical fast food restaurant, but not exorbitant, by any means. Daily specials include a free side dish which include; soup, seasoned fries (delish!), sweet potato fries or kale. Normally I'm a fries kind of guy, but thought that I'd try the kale so that I could experience the whole healthy aspect of the meal. I fell in love with the kale! Perfectly cooked tender leaves retained just the right amount of crispness and the light sauce made this dish addictive.
Among some of the more notable dishes are the nachos which features freshly made corn tortilla chips covered in black beans, vegan taco "meat", chipotle sour "cream", "cheese", salsa and guacamole. The dish is then topped with corn, green onions, cilantro and jalapenos. There's enough here to serve as a meal for one or a starter for two to three. The taquitos are another successful dish; corn tortillas filled with coconut mashed sweet potatoes are drizzled with chipotle based sour "cream" and served with guacamole. If you're noticing a Latin theme going on, you're right. The California based chain does feature a strong Latin influence, but also offers classic American fare.
Buffalo "Chicken" wings are served with a side of ranch or buffalo sauce, while the classic deli Reuben features seitan that recreates corned beef with amazing success, piled high on grilled marble rye topped with homemade sauerkraut, horseradish "cheese" and a slather of Russian dressing. The Italian sub combines "meatballs" and "sausage" on a grilled baguette topped with marinara, caramelized onions, roasted sweet peppers, pumpkin seed pesto, ranch dressing and Parmesan "cheese". Even that staple of Greek fast food joints, gyros, is recreated with slices of peppered seitan sautéed with shallots and served on grilled flat bread with quinoa, steamed vegetables, hummus and kale with lemon garlic sauce.
While these fast food staples are much healthier than their traditional counterparts, diners wishing to cut calories even more can opt for lighter fare such as; the twister wrap a combination of salad greens, avocado, cucumber salsa, chipotle "cream" sauce and a choice of crispy, blackened or grilled "chicken" in a whole wheat wrap. "Fish" tacos fill grilled soft corn tortillas with crispy battered tempeh, homemade surfer sauce, salsa fresca, shredded cabbage and guacamole.
Beverages options include juices and iced tea, but one taste of the watermelon water and you'll never want anything else. Desserts are amazingly rich, sweet and satisfying, especially the "cheesecake".
A note to those with nut allergies, Native Foods Café's cheeses and cream sauces are made with a blend of cashews, sunflower seeds and other nuts. Soy-free, gluten-free, and nut-free menus available upon request