Monday, June 3, 2013

Restaurant Review: San Diego's Native Foods Cafe

Soul Bowl
Several years ago, I had an internship at a company near UCLA in the Westwood area of Los Angeles. One of the best parts was being within walking distance of a restaurant called Native Foods, which, at that time, had the first vegetarian French dip sandwich I'd ever tasted. Being on a college student's budget, I couldn't afford to eat there often, so I was thrilled to hear about the restaurant's expansion into multiple cities in recent years. One of their newest locations is in Encinitas, CA (near San Diego), which happened to be very close to my mother's house.

  • All vegan
  • Priced for casual dining
  • Many gluten-free options
  • Generous portions
  • A large variety of menu items
  • Multiple locations in different states
  • Some locations can get very busy
Rockin' Moroccan Bowl
I really enjoyed my visit to Native Foods in Encinitas. It is so much fun to have a full-sized menu full of vegan choices. My mother and I ordered two different entrees (pictured) and both were delicious. The portions were very generous and the leftovers provided each of us with a second large meal.

I did find it interesting how much the menu has changed in the past few years. The French dip that brought me in initially was no longer on the menu. Instead, the variety of ingredients appears to have been simplified to a few meats, such as their tofu, Native chicken, Native Tempeh, and Native taco meat. My guess is that, in order to keep up with the pace of a fast-casual restaurant and make a menu that would be easily replicated across so many locations, the chefs had to streamline their process to include fewer ingredients that could be mixed together in dozens of creative ways, with the addition of interesting sauces and sides. It's a clever business model, and one that I hope will allow Native Foods to bring fast casual vegan dining to the masses.

The location in Encinitas was very busy, so we timed our visit to avoid the busiest times. I am always glad to see a vegan place packed with hungry customers, but I hope they can perhaps open another restaurant in the San Diego area to keep up with the demand. On another note, my mother is mostly vegetarian, but she tries to avoid soy and wheat. Most of the adult entree options could be either soy-free or gluten-free, but there were more limited choices if you wanted to avoid both ingredients.

Overall, I really enjoyed my visit to Native Foods. I really hope to see them expand to other cities and states (especially my home city of Austin, TX). In the meantime, I'll just have to stop by whenever I'm near one of their other locations.

Product Ratings (out of 5)

Performance (taste)

Disclosure notice: This restaurant visit was paid for by the reviewer. No compensation was accepted and the opinions are my own. Please verify any claims with the manufacturer, especially if you have any allergies or concerns.

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