Thursday, April 26, 2012

Native Foods, Chicago

I got soooo excited when I heard Native Foods was opening not one, but three restaurants in Chicago. Then, I found out one was opening the day I was flying in so, of course, I had to go to that one.  The first time I went to Native Foods was when I was in Los Angeles about 10 years ago and I haven't stopped thinking about it since...seriously.

Native Foods Cafe was founded in 1994 in Palm Springs, CA by Chef Tanya Petrovna whose vision was to have a Native Foods in every major city in the United States. She always said she wanted Native Foods to be a household name like the major players in the fast food industry so that everyone would have access to good, healthy vegan foods.  Recently, other investors bought into the concept and moved the headquarters to Chicago and now a major expansion is underway with 15 restaurants planned to open this year bringing the grand total to 27. They have even been looking into the Washington, DC area -- oh, please, please, please open one here!!

What makes this cafe unique is that they make almost everything from scratch including their seitan and tempeh. All of the sauces, drinks, desserts, etc. are all made by Native Foods. I think this is the first place I've ever been to that made their own tempeh so that in and of itself is impressive. The only thing they don't make in house is the "chicken," which is Gardein brand. They also source locally whenever possible.

So, right after I checked in to my hotel, I headed over to the new location in South Loop that is only open until 8 p.m. I walked in and picked up a menu and even though I had looked at it ahead of time, I still stood there for a long time trying to decide what to order. There is no table service at Native Foods, rather you order at the counter and they bring your meal out to you. After a few minutes the manager came over to ask if I had any questions and we talked a bit about the different menu items. Everything sounded amazing! I finally placed my order and took a seat.

The restaurant has a warm inviting feel to it with orange walls and lights. The exposed ductwork gives it a modern feel, while the artwork conveys a message about the importance of sustainability. They brought my Cabernet Sauvignon out first, which was very nice. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they served beer and wine at this cafe.  The entree I ordered was from the Chef's Favorites section. It was a portobello and "sausage" burger that was divine!  The homemade Native Sausage seitan was formed into a patty that was topped with juicy grilled sliced portobello mushrooms, carmelized onions, salsa pomodoro, sweet roasted garlic, and fresh basil with creamy pumpkin seed pesto and mayo.  The flavors meshed perfectly and I was in Native Foods heaven. I mean for $10, you really can not get better food than this.

Portobello and Sausage burger (open)
I also ordered a house salad on the side, which was amazingly fresh with shredded beets, carrots, and sprouts over mixed greens and topped with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Afterwards, I was pretty full, but I just couldn't resist the dessert case. I was intrigued by the cardamom rose cupcake, but ultimately decided to go with the new carrot cake cupcake. I loved the cake, but the icing was a bit too cold. I think you lose some taste when you keep baked goods too cold. It probably would have been perfect had I taken it back to my hotel, but, of course, I couldn't wait that long.

The entire time I was there, people kept stopping by to see if I needed anything. I almost felt as if I had table service anyway.  The service was great, the prices were right, and the food was amazing. Highly recommended.

Native Foods
218 S. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60604

Native Foods Cafe on Urbanspoon


  1. Angela... great review.... Saw you were in Boulder recently and NF is opening there May 29th.

  2. Oh, I can't wait. Love Boulder and Native Foods -- this will be a great addition to that city!

  3. I agree that Native Foods is probably at the top of the list, if not the top, vegan restaurant on my list. I love their super italian meatball sub and bistro steak sandwich.

    Take care,


  4. Oh, sounds so good! I can't wait to try more!