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Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

I love small, independent restaurants, ideally with someone eccentric (like the Swedish Chef from Sesame Street) in the kitchen.

But, if we’re going to feed the planet’s seven billion a sustainable diet, we need order, efficiency, and scale. So it’s great that California’s Native Foods Cafe has opened a new outpost in Boulder. (You can also find them in Portland and Chicago.)

Their Boulder cafe is not near Frasca, Salt, and other upscale restaurants on Pearl Street, but in a strip mall along with Pei Wei, Panera, and Chipotle. Native Foods is fast, casual, reasonably priced – and vegan.

(On a related note, check out this Wired story on Lyfe, a new chain with sustainable fast food.)

Native Foods brags that it makes most things in-house, including “chicken” and “bacon.”

The menu is a mix of indulgent treats (nachos, bacon cheeseburger, meatball pizza), healthful options (crunchy kale salad, curry bowl) and points in between.

I wanted to try one of the Native Meats, so I started with a cup of chili:

The Native Meat (tasted like tempeh) added a meaty texture to the white bean chili. The accompanying cornbread was pretty moist, which can be hard to achieve with vegan baking.

The Native Cheese, a housemade blend of cashews, sunflower seeds, and other nuts, added creaminess but didn’t really have the umami of dairy cheese. Once I added some hot sauce, this was a tasty and protein-packed dish. I’m sure they season lightly to appeal to a wide audience.

Next up: the Bangkok Curry Bowl. This is a dish you find on a lot of fast casual menus. Native Food’s version stood out for the variety of vegetables: kale, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, and carrots.

The tofu steak had a nice sear on it. The coconut milk curry was tasty but, like the chili, lacked heat and required a liberal dose of hot sauce. Next time, I’ll ask for the curry on the side to avoid the brown rice on the bottom of the bowl soaking up the liquid.

Apps at Native Food Cafe run about $6- 7, while entrees are $9-10. These are not McDonald’s prices, but they’re very reasonable for the quality of what you get.

I hope Native Foods continues to expand its footprint  – this is a chain I can happily get behind.


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