Hello Everyone, this is Mike (Diana’s Boyfriend), and this is my first guest blog post. Our friends, Krin and Etan, invited us to the grand opening of the Wicker Park location of the Native Foods Café, which is self-described as “the premier chef-crafted vegan restaurant serving homemade, fresh food every day of the week”.
Unfortunately, Diana wasn’t able to attend, so I offered to blog about this restaurant and grand opening experience. The event was FREE, and each person was allowed an appetizer, an entrée, a side, a dessert and a non-alcoholic beverage. If you wanted beer or wine, as Etan and I did, there was a $2 charge, which the restaurant is donating to local animal shelters and community gardens!
Disclosure: I am an omnivore, though I do try to eat free-range, organic meat and dairy, and fish that was obtained in a sustainable manner.
Native Foods Café was founded in Palm Springs, California, by Chef Tanya Petrovna in 1994. Chef Tanya has been featured on the Food Network and is the author of two cookbooks.
Native Foods Café has 7 locations in California and three opening up shortly in Chicago. The Wicker Park location opens to the public, August 9, the Lakeview location on August 29, and the loop location in late September.
When we were let into the restaurant, we got in a line to the front counter, where they took our orders. The first thing we noticed when walking into the restaurant was how nicely decorated it is. There are beautiful chalk board drawings hanging on the walls and the place also has a nice modern décor. During our wait, we were served samples of the Lavender Lemonade and the Watermelon Agua Fresca; both were good but I especially thought the Lavender Lemonade was delicious. Also, several friendly and knowledgeable servers came up to us in line to answer any questions.
Once we had made our order at the counter, the food came out very fast. For drinks, Krin ordered Native Iced Tea, Etan ordered Two Brothers Ebel’s Weiss and I ordered Two Brothers Cane and Ebel. Krin’s iced tea was delicious and Etan and I both enjoyed our beers. Etan’s was a traditional German-style hefeweizen (a wheat beer) and my beer was a dry red rye ale (pretty hoppy tasting).
For appetizers, Etan ordered the Native Chicken Wings, Krin ordered the Sweet Potato Taquitos and I ordered the Saigon Rolls. The buffalo sauce served with the Chicken Wings was amazing. It reminded me of the buffalo sauce from my favorite place for buffalo wings, Buffalo Joes in Evanston. It was so good that I put some on my burger (I hope Chef Tanya didn’t see me do this, haha). The Sweet Potato Taquitos were an interesting (and good) take on taquitos. The Saigon Rolls themselves were kind of bland, but the peanut sauce served with them was delicious. Vietnamese food is my favorite East Asian food, so I tend to be picky when it comes to Vietnamese rolls. Diana and I are actually hoping to take a trip to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) this Winter.
For entrées, Krin had the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger, Etan had the BBQ Love Burger and I had the Portobello and Sausage Burger. Even though we all got burgers, this restaurant has a lot more to offer. There are salads, wraps, pizzas, and healthy bowls (what Diana would have probably gotten) [Note from Diana: Yes! I have my eye on the Sesame Kale Macro Bowl!]. As a side, Etan ordered sweet potato fries and I ordered Posole, a spicy Mexican soup. The soup was exquisite and comparable with Posole soups that I’ve had at high-end Mexican restaurants.
The Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger came with thin slices of seitan on a bun with vegan cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, vegan bacon, BBQ sauce, vegan ranch dressing, romaine, carrots, onions, tomato and battered pickles. The cheese is close to the real thing, though I would say do not eat it by itself, as it has a weird texture. Overall, I thought this burger was delicious, with a nice balance of flavor.
The BBQ Love Burger also came with thin seitan, topped with asian slaw. I thought that the flavor of the BBQ sauce stood out more on this burger than on the Bacon Cheeseburger. The BBQ sauce was delicious and so was the asian slaw. The fries were great too. I sampled the seitan individually and it had a nice texture and taste. The bun was the only draw back, as it tasted plain. Overall, another good burger.
The Portobello and Sausage Burger came with grilled portobello, sausage seitan, caramelized onions, salsa, sweet roasted garlic, creamy pumpkin seed pesto and vegan mayo. I thought the portobello was delicious and that this burger was well balanced. I couldn’t identify the pumpkin seed pesto taste though.
For dessert, we had a vegan cheesecake, a Peanut Butter Parfait and “good luck cupcakes”. The cheesecake, which was served with blueberries, was just ok; I think that it is particularly difficult, if not impossible, to make a vegan version of cheesecake that tastes like the real thing. I thought the ginger granola crust was delicious though.
The Peanut Butter Parfait was AMAZING! (Unfortunately, my picture was too blurry to post) It is a mixture of creamy whipped peanut butter, chocolate chips and a crumbled boogie bar and then sweetened with agave. The boogie bar (which you can also order individually) is a banana bread with almonds, oats, coconut, chocolate chips and jungle vanilla, sweetened with agave and maple syrup.
We also enjoyed two cupcakes, a chocolate one and a cardamom rose one. Both were rich, decadent and tasty. I couldn’t stop smelling the rose cupcake – it smelled just like a flower – so Krin had to take it away from me for sanitary reasons, haha. The restaurant actually let us take these cupcakes to go, packaged in cups (I couldn’t resist making a corny comment about the irony of cupcakes in cups). Afterwards, Krin, Etan and I met up with Diana and some friends, so Diana got to try the cupcakes.
In summary, I would highly recommend Native Foods Café to anyone, not just vegans and vegetarians! The atmosphere of the restaurant was fun and comfortable. The service was excellent and very knowledgeable. I left there feeling satisfied and very full. Thank you for reading my first post! Chef Tanya and everyone else from Native Foods, thank you for your warmth and generosity! Also, thank you Krin and Etan for the invite!
Have you ever been to a grand opening of a restaurant?
Have you had any interesting (and/or funny) experiences taking people for their first time to vegan or vegetarian restaurants?