Native Foods Cafe – Newport Beach, California

Newport Beach Orange County

It’s rare that the Nomads eat at a restaurant that has a wide range of choices for South Nomad. Usually it’s chips, or garden salad, or one menu item without the cheese, or eggs, or the dressing (or without the meat, in the worst cases).

On the rare occasion we do visit a restaurant or a café that has a stack of veggie/vegan friendly options, I get paralysed by indecision, scanning every single item on the menu like my life depends on making the right choice.

North Nomad is patient, as always, mostly amused, and with only a hint of frustration.

Every trip to a restaurant or café in So-Cal is one where this choice-paralysis hits me. Even more so when dining at venues like Native Foods Café at Newport Beach.

The Café first started in the mid 90s in Palm Springs, because of a love of fresh food, animal welfare, and the environment.

Native Foods Cafe Newport Beach

Now it’s turned into one of the most popular vegan chain restaurants across America. Not that they cater only for vegans, as they state themselves, “our menu aims to please the palates of vegans and non-vegans alike.” Everything is made fresh daily, including any tempeh (pressed soybean) and seitan products, their own cheeses, sauces, and desserts. They even have free cooking demos once a month – something I’ll have to take up when we’re living in So-Cal temporarily this summer!

The café itself feels like my old university cafeteria – it’s clean and sterile. But it’s one of those gorgeous Californian evenings where it’s warm, there’s a distinct lack of humidity (compared to Toronto and Sydney), and the sun is setting rwith pretty oranges and pinks.  So the lack of soul in the architecture or décor really doesn’t matter when it’s a beautiful night on a patio eating good food with good friends.

We decide to share  a selection of appetisers (another novelty for me!) and order our own mains/entrees.

Buffalo Wings Native Foods Cafe

We order three appetizers. Jay’s choice is what I’d pick for an omnivore dining at Native Foods – the native chicken wings. They look like battered chicken tenders and come with a side of ranch or buffalo sauce. I try one and it’s piping hot, fresh out of the fryer. It’s tasty, but really too close to chicken for me to have more than one. My brain can’t reconcile the difference between fake chicken and real chicken!

Leysa’s choice, the island jack-frittersn are the surprise hit for me. They’re hot and crispy, and bursting with flavour. And jackfruit is a new sensation to me – it reminds me of sweet and sour sauce in fruit form. I like the chunky, fleshy texture of the fruit in the tenders, and it mixes well with the onion, red peppers (capsicum for the southern hemisphere readers), herbs and spices. And it goes nicely with the lemon wedges and chipotle dipping sauce.

Island Jack Fruit Fritters Native Foods Cafe

My choice was the Saigon rolls, and the smell of the tangy peanut satay sauce is tantalising. They come in whole wheat wraps, but they taste and smell very similar to Thai spring rolls. The lemongrass and the crunch of carrot and cucumber pairs nicely with the tofu, and basil and cilantro and brown rice.

Saigon rolls Native Foods Cafe

Leysa has the Baja Blackened Tacos and fries for a main. It’s two soft, golden tortillas filled char-grilled,  home-made tempeh. The toppings are shredded cabbage, chipotle sauce, and generous servings of salsa and guacamole.  And I must admit to being a little jealous of her food choice (and to stealing some of her fries).

Baja Blackened Tacos Native Foods Cafe

Jay and I both choose healthy looking “Earth Bowls”. He has the Sesame Kale Macro Bowl; I have the Bankgok curry bowl. Mine has a generous serving of seared tofu steaks sitting on top of a fragrant serving of steamed veggies, greens and brown rice, with a lemon grass and ginger coconut milk curry sauce. Jay’s bowl is grilled tempeh chunks with brown rice, kale, ginger sesame dressing and delicious garnishes like gomasio, toasted sesame seeds and green onion.

Sesame Kale Macro Bowl Native Foods Cafe


Bangok Curry Bowl

I also try out a gluten free pale ale “New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale”, and Jay has a lavender lemonade.

Sadly, I am STUFFED and cannot try a desert. Next time Gadget…next time…

What’s your favourite Californian style dish or restaurant?

Location: Fashion Island, 1091 Newport Centre Drive, Newport Beach California 92660

Getting there: You can find Fashion Island above the Pacific Coast Highway between MacArthur Boulevard and Jamboree Road. Or you can use Metrolines 1, 57 or 79 to get to Orange County.

Cost: $52.15 (plus tax and tip – Jay did his lovely sneaky ninja trick of paying for us all while Leysa and I were yakking on, so I’m not sure of the grand total!)


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