No disrespect to San Diego’s own Sipz Cafe, Native Foods is one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants. Its unique approach to working with alternative proteins, such as seitan and tempeh in such a convincingly flavorful manner makes it not only healthy, but even desirable by those normally afraid of even the sound of the word tofu.
Served in a casual environment, Native Foods forges accessible veganism not only through an Asian lens, but an altogether multicultural culinary palette.
NF’s taco salad, which went through a recent name change for “Soy Amigo” to “Yo Amigo,” still retains is bright and crunchy taste. Its medley of romaine and cabbage is topped with Native Taco “Meat,: and a tomato salsa. The salad also benefits from corn, green onion, cilantro, and thin tortilla chip strips. The salad’s highlight is the mildly spicy creamy chipotle dressing, which is thick enough to use by dipping your fork into it, then scooping the salad (or vice versa).
Another NF staple is the portobello and sausage burger - grilled portabellas and a seitan sausage patty are dressed in a pumpkin seed pesto and mayo. Warning: This hearty burger is heavy on the roasted garlic.
As part of the “handhelds” portion of their menu the native chicken wings are frankly juicier than any real chicken wings I’ve ever tasted. They come served with a side of ranch dressing.
The most overused alliteration special in the history of restaurants - Taco Tuesday - at NF is comprised of two tacos of your choice ( Tijuana or Baja Surf or 50/50) and a side order of your choice for under $10. NF’s fish taco of battered tempeh is crispy and frankly too big to be sustained by its weak tortillas. While the “fish: was delicious, the meatless ground beef in the Tijuana taco was mealy and too moist for the taco.
As a side order, the vegan posole, was reminiscent of enchilada sauce or tortilla soup. Its tiny maize kernels were tender and tasteful.
Native Foods also brews enticing elixirs, including a lavender lemonade (of French lavender) and an agave sweetened watermelon fresca. Refills are free.
The beauty of Native Foods is that it is easy to forget it is a vegan restaurant. It is apparent in it diverse clientele, which routinely includes all demographics, including the youngest of children. It’s not stuffy, self-righteous, or alienating. It’s just good eating.
Native Foods Cafe
2937 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA