Thursday, December 1, 2011

Native Foods Cafe

It's always a pleasure to meet up with good friends Ari and Tali for dinner. We love to try new places, eat good food and catch up on life. Another benefit of going out with the Dermans is that they remind us that there are always "healthier" options on the menu (mostly vegetarian and fish). We decided to go bold and check out Native Foods Cafe - an entirely vegetarian/vegan/organic establishment. The menu is filled with regular looking items like burgers, cheese, gyros and meatballs - but the joke is always on the unsuspecting customer that doesn't realize all of the animal product goodness is replicated with soy and plant based supplements. I love the idea of eating vegan, I really do. You would reduce cholesterol, lower fat and generally eat healthier stuff. But as Erica observed walking out (and speaking from experience as a former vegetarian), there are plenty of options to eat veg. without diving into fake meat replacements (can't get enough pasta, rice, salads, etc). Most of the push back always starts with protein sources - but that is another discussion for another time. Native Foods is a great option for people looking to satisfy the vegan need and eat "normal" food without that animal. I tip my hat to the chef who has the creativity of making a reuben sandwich with corned beef looking substitute and fake cheese. That's taking culinary "art" to a high level, but I think I'll stick to the real deal.

We ordered a lot of food and was able to try many items. My favorite choices were two of the appetizers - "chili cheese" fries and saigon rolls. The fries were just really good and well season. The beans and "chili" didn't hurt either. The saigon roll was very tasty and served with a great spicy peanut sauce. The "chicken" tenders were kind of strange and definitely was too hard not to realize this was fake chicken. I enjoyed the ranch dipping sauce but it certainly lacked creativity unlike the other dishes. My main order was the meat ball sub with pesto marinara. I thought they did a nice job of making it real meat ball sub with a nice sauce and grilled onions. The bread was perfectly good and the texture of the meatballs was pretty close to spot on. Erica went with a rice bowl of sorts that had nice vegetables and "chicken" skewers and a very aggressive sauce - a little too spicy for her but really just too strong with the flavors. Ari and Tali went with a bacon cheeseburger concoction and the previously mentioned reuben sandwich. The texture of the fake cheese kind of throws me off a bit but again, I give credit for the ability and creativity to come up with these dishes and finding ways to pull them off.

Since I know what the "real deal" tastes like it's hard to compare fairly, but for anyone that is vegan and doesn't know the difference, I think there are many fun and interesting options to enjoy. The decor and environment are exactly what you'd expect and the pricing is all very reasonable. Native Foods picked a great location and neighborhood for its third Chicago store and I wouldn't be shocked if more were in the works. Personally, I'd love to be vegan but know that's never going to happen and will try to eat as healthy as possible with minimal animal products. For everyone else I can recommend checking out Native Foods for a wide variety of options and flavors that always change.

Native Foods Cafe on Urbanspoon

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