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August 9, 2011

Native Foods Cafe open in Chicago!

Back in June I took a weekend trip to LA. Top on my list of local vegan restaurants to try was Native Foods. Perusing their website in preparation for my visit I was surprised to learn that there would be three locations opening in Chicago in the fall. I decided to postpone my visit to Native Foods and wait for them to come to me. The two month wait is over, the first Chicago location opened in Wicker Park today!

I didn't have to wait until today though, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a pre-opening dinner on Friday night!

Our dining experience started out with a greeting from Chef Tanya herself at the door! Starstruck, I expressed my excitement to meet her and asked for a photo, to which she replied, "Oh, a groupie!" Guilty as charged, vegan food nerd to the core! We had a nice chat before getting in line to order.

While we were in line we were offered samples of their Lavender Lemonade and Watermelon Fresca. I am not a big fan of mint, watermelon, or lavender, so I did not think that I would like either of these. To my surprise I loved them both! They were light and refreshing, and the flavors were very complimentary and not overpowering.

When we reached the counter we were encouraged to order several things, all on the house, so that we could get a good taste of their offerings. How could we resist with a menu like this?

For our starter we chose the Sweet Potato Taquitos. We loved these! The dish comes with three fantastically crunchy corn tortillas stuffed with coconut mashed sweet potatoes and topped with chipotle crema.

For my main dish I chose the Portobello and Sausage Burger with a side of sweet potato fries. This burger is made up of grilled portobellos, sausage seitan, caramelized onion, pumpkin seed pesto, roasted garlic, pomodoro, and vegan mayo. The pumpkin seed pesto and roasted garlic really pop in this sandwich, which just happen to be a couple of my favorite flavors on earth! The sweet potato fries were tasty too, but a bit too heavy alongside the burger for me. Next time I'll try it with the steamed kale.

Steve's entree was the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger. This was our favorite dish of the night! It might be hard to figure out what all the awesome is in this picture, so let me break it down for you. On the left side of the plate is the top half of the sandwich: bun, lettuce tomato, onion. On the right side of the plate is the bottom half of the sandwich: sliced seitan, bacon, melted "cheddar", caramelized onion, battered pickle chips, and bbq sauce. Everything about this sandwich is amazing and perfect, but we both agreed that the cheddar stole the show. Chef Tanya, please give me your recipe!!

I got a kick out of being served Annie's ketchup--it was the first time I have seen an Annie's product at a restaurant. I prefer my fries without the high fructose corn syrup, thanks for that Native Foods!

It was pretty foolish to think we'd have room for dessert after all of that food, but thankfully our selections were served in to-go cups. We took a single bite of each and tucked them away for later. My choice was the Strawberry Shortcake Parfait. I couldn't resist, strawberry shortcake is a childhood favorite of mine, and something I haven't had since going vegan. What a treat! I was very impressed by how close this vegan and refined sugar-free version tasted to what I remember from childhood. I particularly loved the fluffy layers of almond creme.

Steve made the winning selection again with the Peanut Butter Parfait, but how could you go wrong with a dessert featuring whipped peanut butter filling? The cookie pieces are actually crumbles of Native's boogie bars, a banana bread made with oats, coconut, and almonds. So creative and delicious, and most definitely healthier than the average parfait.

We welcome our new friends at Native Foods to Chicago with open arms! Our first visit was simply amazing, and we haven't stopped talking about it since. Our next visit is officially on our calendars, so we'll see you really soon! (We may or may not have even decided what we are going to be trying next time [I'm looking at you, Soul Bowl]). Thanks again for your hospitality and great eats!