Table for Two: Native Foods Café
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    Photo courtesy of authors / North by Northwestern

    Whether you’re fretting about where to take that cutie you’ve been crushing on in chem for a casual coffee date or looking for a romantic anniversary dinner locale, we’ve got all the details here. We hope you enjoy reading about these date destinations as much as we enjoy writing about them, and that you’ll give some of them a taste.

    So, in the spirit of this selection: Eat green!

    Restaurant: Native Foods Café
    Address: 1023 W. Belmont Avenue, Chicago
    Hours: Mon-Sun 11:00 a.m. – 10 p.m.
    Getting there: Five minute walk west of Belmont stop on the Red Line

    Native Foods Café serves only organic vegan fare, so we omnivores were somewhat skeptical to give this restaurant a try. After all, our last review was of a barbecue joint! However, Native Foods dishes up delicacies that go beyond simple tofu and salads. This restaurant prides itself on honoring the environment and animals everywhere through its 100 percent plant-based food. There are three locations across Chicagoland, so be on the lookout for Native Foods if you’re looking for a meatless meal.

    His Take 
    Photo courtesy of authors

    I’m not sure what I was expecting when we made the decision to visit a vegan restaurant for this week’s review. I’m by no means opposed to vegetarian food and often enjoy meatless meals, but I rarely feel as satisfied with what I’ve eaten as when there’s some kind of meat involved. That was not the case at Native Foods, where I ordered a Bangkok curry earth bowl and wound up getting more than my fill.

    Native Foods’ earth bowls are large salads served in the titular clay bowls, each highlighting the palette of a different culture. The Bangkok curry bowl is built around Native Foods’ expertly prepared tofu: Steamed vegetables, lemongrass and brown rice provide some interesting textural contrast. But the real highlight of this dish is the ginger-infused coconut milk curry, which tied the disparate ingredients together and gave the dish a much-needed flavor boost. That said, this bowl still stood a little on the bland side.

    I think I must’ve ordered the wrong thing, though, as I stole a bite of Sarah’s sub and it was outstanding! I’m admittedly not much of a salad person in the first place. Whatever the shortcomings of the dish, the house-made drinks at Native Foods are undeniably delicious. On the day of our visit, the café was serving watermelon aguas frescas and lavender lemonade. The lemonade was delightfully tart and extremely refreshing, but the aguas frescas was the real winner: seasoned delicately with mint, this watermelon punch was sweet to the ideal degree, one of the best drinks of its kind that I’ve ever had. 

    Service (4/5)

    The most appealing thing about Native Foods’ service is its first-time guests policy: By becoming a member, a free process that takes mere seconds and requires only an email address and first name of the patron, new customers get a free refillable drink. That may not seem like much, but it took around two dollars off my tab and I appreciate it. What’s more, our cashier was extremely friendly and our food arrived promptly at our table. 

    Atmosphere (5/5)

    The interior feel of Native Foods Café is halfway between the organic hominess of a True Nature-style co-op and a dining room you might see in Dwell. Chalkboards on the wall are scrawled with adorable cartoons of the animals you aren’t eating by dining at Native Foods and details on upcoming farmers' markets and outdoor events in the area. The tables are enormous, beautiful hardwood slabs and menus are supported by carved stones. Indie jams play softly overhead. All in all, it’s a great place to enjoy interesting food and (hopefully) good company too.

    Date Factor (4.5/5)

    With three convenient locations throughout the city (Belmont, the Loop and Wicker Park), Native Foods Café could effectively serve as a destination eatery or a place to get off your feet and grab some grub on an afternoon exploring the city. If you or your sweetheart is vegan or vegetarian, Native Foods is a must try, but even if you’re both omnivores like us you’re bound to find something to love inside. 

    Her Take
    Photo courtesy of authors

    Food (4.5/5)

    Although I was initially hesitant to order an entrée that involved a meat substitute, I decided to bite the bullet for the sake of Table for Two and get the Super Italian Meatball Sub. This bullet turned out to be quite delicious. The Native sausage seitan “meatballs” were a superb mimic of real sausage meatballs, identically matching both texture and flavor. This protein-filled wheat substitute was excellently prepare. I wouldn’t have known this sandwich were meatless if I hadn’t carefully read the menu.

    Meat substitute issue aside, this was a fantastic sub! A pumpkin seed pesto and light ranch dressing complemented the typical marinara sauce. Caramelized onions and bell peppers contributed to the satisfying texture of the sandwich and provided a little punch of flavor. The baguette was somewhat dry, but it effectively absorbed all the sub’s sauces and ultimately worked in the dish. I was amazed by this meatball sub and would highly recommend it.

    For dessert, John and I split a cardamom rose cupcake. This intriguing flavor combination is reminiscent of Persian baklava, which is made with copious amount of cardamom and rosewater. The frosting was delectable, a perfect but delicate balance between the powerful tang of cardamom and the subtly sweet rose flavor. The cupcake itself more prominently featured the cardamom, which I found to be a bit overpowering. Overall, though, Native Foods Café dishes up amazing and amazingly meatless food.

    Service (4/5)

    The employees at Native Foods are very gracious and helpful, answering questions and providing suggestions for those of us unfamiliar with vegetarian and vegan fare. Our food arrived promptly and at the appropriate temperature. First-time guests can enroll in a Native Foods reward program, which makes them eligible for a free drink. Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to sample the unique and delicious house-made lavender lemonade, watermelon fresca, or hibiscus and wild berry iced tea. 

    Atmosphere (4/5)
    Native Foods is a casual café with a hip but mature vibe. A cross between hippie chic and responsibly earth-conscious, Native Foods carefully walks the line between quirky and refreshing. The dining area is painted a creamy butter color; the walls feature quotes from Chef Tanya about her cooking and eating philosophies and paintings of birds. The ladies’ room is even filled with adorable photographs of elephants! Native Foods is a breath of fresh air in the dining world.
    Date Factor (4.5/5)

    Native Foods Café is obviously a must if either you or your sweetheart is vegetarian or vegan, but it is an ideal eatery even for couples without these dietary restrictions. The food is delicious, whether you typically eat meat or not, and the overall experience at Native Foods is worth the travel time. There are several gluten-free options clearly denoted on the menu too. Some of the sandwiches can be a bit messy, but don’t let that deter you from checking this restaurant out with your honey. It is a trip you most certainly will not regret.


    Despite our predilection toward meat, we really enjoyed ourselves at Native Foods. Whether you like your veggies and grains recognizable or disguised as meat, there’s a lot to love. So next time you are and your sweetheart are out and about or just looking for a culinary change of pace, we recommend Native Foods as a unique venue in which to mix things up.

    If you've had an experience at Native Foods or have any suggestions on where we should head next, feel free to leave us a comment below!


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