I’d never heard of Native Foods Cafe until I was in California last month.
But within the first few days, no fewer than three people had mentioned this regional fast-casual vegan chain. The first time was from my uncle, who said that he and his wife have been wanting to try it but there’s always too long of a line to get in.
Too long of a line for a vegan cafe?
Coming from a place where people stand in line for hours for brisket, I decided it would be worth the effort to check out what all the fuss was about.
Driving from San Diego to Anaheim, where I was attending a giant food show, I popped into the Native Foods Cafe in Encinitas for a mid-afternoon lunch, where there was only a short (3-person) line.
Native Foods is known for using house-made meat substitutes, some of which are based on ancient foods like tempeh and seitan, to make comfort food dishes that even omnivores enjoy.
I skipped some of their most popular dishes, like the Chicken Run Ranch Burger (made with their battered “Native Chicken) or the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger (using tofu bacon and sliced seitan), in favor of a seasonal special called the Bistro Steak Sandwich ($9.95).
Seitan isn’t steak, but I’ll be darned if that thinly sliced seitan, topped with a tofu-based knock-off of bleu cheese, crispy shallots and arugula on a chewy fresh baguette, wasn’t just as satisfying as one made with real meat and cheese.
But to call it health food would be quite a stretch.
The seitan, bleu cheese and fried shallots, though the best parts of the sandwich, made for quiet a dense, almost greasy sandwich, one that absolutely hit the spot on my little road trip.
The company, founded more than 20 years ago in Southern California, moved its headquarters to Chicago in recent years and hired a former Chipotle executive to expand the company nationwide. They have nearly 30 locations throughout California, as well as Colorado, Oregon, Chicago and, as of last fall, Washington D.C.
The plant-based eatery aims to have 200 locations open by the end of 2017, and I can’t imagine how some of them wouldn’t be located in Texas.
But the question is, when and where?
Austin, a city teeming with vegans who eat as well as non-vegans, seems like an obvious choice.
I’ve reached out to the company for an official comment on when we might be able to expect them to expand here, and I’ll update this post if I hear back from them.
Have you tried Native Foods Cafe? Do you think it would do well in meat-loving Texas?