The Gym Rat Diaries: Eating vegan at Native Foods Cafe

The Gym Rat Diaries: Eating vegan at Native Foods Cafe

Native Foods’ Japanese crusted chicken bites.

Every other week, this column will review ways and places to eat healthy in D.C.

When you think of vegan food in college, the first thing that comes to mind may be soggy, raw tofu thrown on a salad from the dining hall. Searching for vegan food that’s good, close by and on a student budget may seem like something that is only in our wildest dreams. But what if you could find delicious, healthy, cheap vegan food that’s only a few Metro stops away?

Where To Try

Native Foods Cafe originated in Palm Springs, California, before expanding across the country as America’s premier fast casual vegan dining experience. With a focus on innovative foods that can be loved by vegan and non-vegans alike, Native Foods Cafe is both kind to animals and tastebud friendly.

The most incredible thing about Native Foods Cafe is that all of its meat and dairy alternatives are made fresh in house, every day. Native Foods Cafe offers plant based protein options like tempeh made from soybeans, seitan made from high protein gluten and vegan cheese made from cashews.

The menu offers a wide variety of options for everyone including appetizers, salads, soups, sandwiches, wraps, nachos, bowls, sides, and desserts. Of course, it’s all vegan.

Native Foods Cafe has three locations in D.C. The closest to AU is the location at 1150 Connecticut Ave. The restaurant is a very short walk from the Farragut North Metro stop on the Red Line. This location has an additional downstairs dining area, so there are plenty of seats during busy hours.

What To Try

The Juice Bar which features Native Food’s own mint watermelon fresca and lavender lemonade. Photo by Arielle Weg.

The lavender lemonade is absolutely delicious and has very subtle flavors of lavender and lemon without being overly sweet. The watermelon fresca was a lighter choice, made with real watermelon juice and mint. The watermelon fresca had real bits of watermelon floating inside but no sweetness at all. Customers can sweeten it to their liking with the organic sugar provided.

The Japanese crusted (vegan) chicken bites were delectable, as a single-serving appetizer. Five seitan chicken bites were served on top of steamed kale, which on its own was perfectly cook, and some pickled shredded carrots.

The seitan chicken was cooked in a sauce of Japanese togarashi spice, mango, lime and sweet chili sauce. It almost seemed like a side salad, especially with all the veggies.

I tried the Caribbean jerk kale salad as an entree. Jerk seasoned tempeh, red bell peppers, red onion, mango salsa, avocado, coconut shreds and chopped green onion with a jalapeno cilantro dressing topped the kale greens.

The salad was definitely enjoyable but not too impressive. The amount of kale was overwhelming, and I left chunks of kale on my plate at the end. The salad had a generous amount of avocado, but with the very creamy and heavy dressing it wasn’t balanced well. There was a good crunch element from the peppers and mango, despite a lack of bready croutons the crunchy vegetables were a healthy alternative. I wouldn’t order it again.

Food on other customers’ plates looked out of this world. The nachos were piled high. Customers also often ordered the vegan reuben sandwich and portobello and vegan sausage burger.

I finished off the meal with one of the best key lime pies I’ve ever had. I instantly forgot I was eating vegan food when enjoying the slice, because the consistency of the pie itself was so creamy, with a heavenly subtle lime flavor. It also felt lighter than a real key lime pie, so for a dessert it was acceptable to eat even after a main course.

Tips To Know

The Caribbean jerk kale salad is topped with jerk seasoned tempeh and pictured with lavender lemonade. Photo by Arielle Weg.

When ordering, make sure to mention if this is a first time visit. Sign up for a rewards card, in order to receive a free drink on the spot. If the card is registered online, a free dessert is rewarded all in the first visit. With this deal, I was able to get a starter, salad, dessert and drink all for just over $16. Make sure to take advantage of these delicious offers.

Be careful when ordering some of the heavier dishes like sandwiches and burgers. Just because a dish is vegan does not make it healthy. Avoid fried foods like french fries, and focus on packing on the protein and veggies. For example, the chicken wings were super popular but opt for grilled with sauce on the side instead of fried doused in the heavy sauce.

The starters on the menu are a cute, snack sized appetizers for one or two people while the “for the table” section on the menu is made to be a major appetizer shared by two to four people.

Address: 1150 Connecticut Ave. NW

Metro: N4 or N6 Metro buses

@ArielleWeg -

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