Portobello and Sausage Burger at Native Foods Cafe
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Native Foods Café

3369 Rosecrans Street, Point Loma

It was the day before Mother’s Day and the kids and I wanted to give my wife a nice meal.

She’s been a vegetarian for more than a year so I figured a steakhouse was out. Luckily, Native Foods Café had just opened a location down in the Sports Arena area.

Native Foods Café is a Chicago-based chain restaurant catering to vegans and vegetarians that has locations all over southern California, as well as Colorado, the Midwest, Washington, D.C., and Oregon.

The exterior of Native Foods Cafe in Loma Portal

The Sports Arena area location is the newest, though there is also one in Encinitas.

The chain is filling a void for people who want to eat vegetarian, but still want dishes that remind them of meat. Think of it as a vegetarian version of, say, a Cheesecake Factory or a Coco’s. The menu is varied, with vegan tributes to Asian, Mexican and Caribbean cuisines, but the Café’s specialty are dishes made with variations of fake bacon, fake chicken, fake sausage.

And it tastes really good. I didn’t miss the meat. Not too much anyway.

I ordered the Portobello and Sausage Burger, which uses a sausage-flavored patty of seitan, a fake meat made from wheat. It was topped with caramelized onions, tomato salsa, roasted garlic, and creamy pumpkin-seed pesto.

Bangkok Curry Bowl at Native Foods Cafe

Honestly, I was surprised how good it was. I am not a fan of fake meat (except for soy corn dogs), but the only thing missing from this sausage patty and a real one is the coronary.

The sweet potato fries on the side were crisp and hot.

The Saigon Roll appetizer with braised lemongrass tofu, daikon and carrot, brown rice, and a tangy peanut dipping sauce, was a high point as well. My kids and I fought over it, until my wife pointed out that it was supposed to be a meal honoring her.

She had the last bite.

Spicy split pea soup at Native Foods Cafe

My wife was very happy with the Bangkok Curry Bowl, which is tofu steak over veggies, kale, brown rice with a lemongrass and ginger curry made with coconut milk. It was a huge amount of food so she took some of it home and said it was even better reheated a few hours later.

Twister Wrap at Native Foods Cafe

Soups change each day and I chose the Spicy Split Pea. It was brothier and not as thick as other pea soups, but it had just the right amount of spice. Garlic croutons added a nice crunch.

My daughter enjoyed the Twister Wrap, which had fake chicken, baby greens, and cucumber salsa. She had the chipotle sauce on the side. It was too spicy for her, so I dipped my fries in it instead.

Brontosaurus burrito at Native Foods Cafe in Loma Portal

My son is more particular. He ordered the Brontosaurus Burrito off the kids menu. It comes with shredded fake cheese and avocado and he was surprised at how much he liked it.

We all were surprised. I don’t know if it was the quality of the food or our shock at how delicious the food was, but we had a lot more energy by the time we left than we had when we arrived.

Native Foods Café serves beer and wine, but we tried some of the housemade drinks. The lavender lemonade was refreshing, as was the watermelon fresca. The blueberry hibiscus iced tea sounded better than it tasted, but a little lemonade perked it up.

A lot of true vegans don’t like meat substitutes like the kind served at Native Foods Café, but to people who want to eat healthy but still like the taste of meat, it’s a great place. It’s also a good place for “mixed families” like ours because there is something for everyone.

Peanut butter parfait at Native Foods Cafe

Including dessert.

I liked the peanut butter parfait, which is served with banana bread crumbles and chocolate chips. However, the zucchini date cake is the thing to get. It’s sweetened with orange juice and comes with a zippy coconut caramel sauce.

Would I go back? Uh, yeah. My wife’s already decided that for me.

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