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Native Foods originated in California and within the past few years has started adding locations around the country, in places like Boulder, Portland, and Chicago. There are three locations in Chicago, and I visited the one in Wicker Park.
The Wicker Park location feels like a really large restaurant, probably because of the abundant picture windows and high ceilings. You can eat inside either in the front or tucked into the back, or you can dine on the patio in nicer weather.
Native Foods uses a fast food-ish style to serving food; you order at the counter and then either pick up your food to go or collect a table number so the server can bring your order to you. You also get a drink cup and fill your own at the drink station in the middle of the restaurant.
I picked up my order to go, and as with most to-go food, things were a big squished and shoved around in their containers by the time I got to eat them. Luckily it didn't affect the flavor in the slightest. The dishes I saw the servers bring out had beautiful presentation, which was unexpected for a order-at-the-counter establishment.
Because I signed up to be a rewards member, I got to try a homemade drink for free.
I did a quick taste test and found that the watermelon fresca was just a bit too sweet (although I did love the chunks of watermelon and mint floating in the drink), the Native Iced tea was good, but the winner for me was lavender lemonade.
It's easy to win me over with lavender flavored foods, and I loved the lemon pulp in the drink. Their drink station is high class, offered sprigs of mint, limes, and nice high quality straws.
Now, on to the food...
I'm not entirely sure how this is possible, but Native Foods makes their own fake meats, and their chicken is as close to the real thing as I've ever had before. Unfortunately, for me this is kind of a turn off. It's fascinating and I'll probably always want to try it, but I can't get over the sensation that I'm biting into meat. However, many other vegans would absolutely love the fact that the chicken is so spot on.
My husband, for instance, was beyond thrilled with the Chicken Run Ranch Sandwich. I love the cute name-- what if the chickens did run the ranch?
The sandwich itself had a thick piece of Native Foods's seitan chicken, battered and fried, and it reminded me exactly of eating chicken nuggets at McDonalds as a kid. It was filled with lettuce, shredded carrots, onions, and their homemade ranch dressing. I ordered it as a special so it came with a side and I chose white bean soup.
I really enjoyed the Super Italian Meatball Sub. Their seitan meatballs were less meaty and therefore more palatable for me. I'd rather have it taste like plants than animals, but these still had an excellent texture and retained their meatball shape. The sandwich was covered in roasted peppers and onions, pesto, ranch dressing, and a bit of marinara sauce.
Here's a closer view of the "meatballs," made with seitan. You can see how perfectly each ball is formed, and that the Native Foods chefs used multiple layers of flavor to assemble this sandwich.
I picked up an Ensalada Azteca salad for a later meal and it hit the spot perfectly. I love that it was filled with quinoa, avocado and jicama, and the slice of mango was a nice touch. I enjoyed their "award winning mango lime vinaigrette" as well.
I'm sure every Native Foods is slightly different, but most of the food I picked is standard at each of their vegan restaurants, so you should be able to try these dishes close to you. I really enjoyed the airy atmosphere and the well-thought out sandwiches and salads. Next time I plan to eat at the actual restaurant and take in more of the experience.
If you want to try to recreate some of their famous vegan recipes, I'd definitely recommend their vegan cookbook.