When I was in Southern California recently, I was able to meet up with a friend at one of my favorite vegan chains, Native Foods. I’ve written about Native Foods before on my blog, and I’ve been able to visit a few of their locations in Southern California and in the Chicago area. My friend, Jenny, and I gathered at their Santa Monica location for sandwiches before a play.
Jenny has a nut allergy, and so before she arrived I grabbed one of their allergen specific menus from the counter, in addition to their standard menus for both of us. (Their restaurants are of the order-at-the-counter variety, but there are so many items to choose between, it’s nice to mull over your options.)
In the special allergen specific menu, they have it sectioned into various allergies (i.e. nut-free, soy-free, wheat and gluten-free). It lists if the meals are already allergen-free as typically served or what modifications need to be made to make them allergen-free. (These menus are all available online as well. See the above links.)
Jenny is allergic to nuts, but her allergy to coconut is less pronounced. So she was able to order the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger, which is made with Daiya, but does contain coconut. (Obviously menu items and preparations change, and so I highly encourage you to check with the staff during your visit if you have an allergy.)
In addition to the non-dairy cheese, the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger is made with thinly sliced seitan, caramelized onions, and Native bacon on a bun with barbecue sauce, ranch dressing, and crunchy, fresh vegetables. It is then pierced with a toothpick bearing several battered dill pickle chips and served with sweet potato fries. I managed to hold my composure enough to not reach across the table and grab a bite for myself, but Jenny did laugh when I took a picture of her plate, saying it reminded her of a certain Vegan Test she’d seen online.
The Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger is my favorite item on their menu, but I opted to try something new – the Bistro Steak Sandwich with house made tofu bleu cheese. This is another seitan-based sandwich, this time topped with crisp shallots, oven roasted tomatoes, and arugula. If you’re inclined to believe that the messier a sandwich is the better it will be, you will love this one. With the tangy, salty tofu cheese and savory seitan, it was an umami-packed wallop of flavors. I ordered it with a side of steamed kale.
It was announced recently that over the next five years, Native Foods will be opening 200 more locations across the country, which is just terrific news. Native Foods has the kind of food that has the power to really alter ideas of vegan food being stodgy, bland, or boring. With things like fried pickle chips as a sandwich topping, much of their menu is certainly comfort food. However, I think fare like this can be far more accessible to people who would be initially hesitant to try something like a raw or macrobiotic restaurant. Plus, their food is just crazy delicious, and so there’s that…