June 4, 2012

Native Foods Opens, Bringing Delicious Gluten-Free Vegan Food to Boulder

By Evan Sandsmark -  

We recently wrote about Native Foods opening a store in Boulder, an event that we were extremely pleased to announce. Native Foods is one of our all-time favorite restaurants, and we were beside ourselves with anticipation awaiting its official opening. When it opened, we pounced, visiting the restaurant within mere days of its opening (and we have visited it multiple times since). As we described in considerable detail in our last article about Native Foods, the restaurant has a wide range of gluten-free options, especially if you’re familiar with the restaurant’s offerings. Native Foods is also an entirely vegan operation, meaning, of course, that it offers the ever-elusive gluten-free vegan food – some of the best vegan food we’ve ever had, we hasten to add. It’s hard enough finding vegan food and gluten-free food, and harder still to find a dish that adheres to both dietary restrictions, but you can find plenty of delicious options at Native Foods. It is beyond amazing and we give it our highest possible recommendation.

Appropriately, Native Foods has opened in the 29th Street Mall area, which, as we have noted before, is something of a hotbed for restaurants that offer gluten-free options. Modmarket, San Francisco Soup Company, Smiling Moose Deli, and Z Pizza are all within short walking distance of Native Foods. The restaurant took the place of Rumbi Island Grill, and while the interior has fundamentally the same arrangement, Native Foods has taken a different direction with respect to decoration. Dark earthy tones play a prominent role in the color scheme, and wood is used everywhere. The tables and chairs are wooden, and wood paneling is scattered about. Rock is also incorporated in various ways; most notably, there are stones on every table that hold little blue cards. The cards give you something to look at while you wait for your food, and they have some great information on them, like a recipe for some delicious-sounding Pina Colada Popsicles. Finally, there was a long mural on one wall that featured the word “Boulder” at its center, a nice local touch from the national chain.

Now, about the gluten-free food available. We see little reason to repeat everything we said in our last article about Native Foods, but now that we have been to the restaurant, we have a few notes to add. Online, there is a gluten-free menu that serves as a guide to the regular menu. This menu (or something very similar) is available in the restaurant, but it is kept behind the counter, so you have to ask to see it. If you have a chance, you might consider checking out the GF guide before you go because it gives a slightly fuller picture of the extent of Native Foods’ gluten-free offerings. However, this of course isn’t essential, and in any case you could always ask an employee for guidance – everyone we dealt with on our visit was pleasant and knowledgeable.

The main menu indicates which items are gluten-free by placing a small “gf” by them, making them very easy to find. In most sections of the menu – “Starters & Sides,” “Entree Salads,” and so on – there is at least one gluten-free option, and thus the gluten-free options are both plentiful and diverse. Moreover, the main menu doesn’t capture just how many dishes at Native Foods can be made gluten-free. As we explained in our previous article, minor adjustments detailed on the GF guide can render the majority of the items on the menu gluten-free. Often, only one ingredient needs to be substituted, and the GF guide even makes a substitution recommendation. (One of the primary ways you can make a non-gluten-free dish to be gluten-free is to substitute tempeh or tofu for seitan, as many of their non-gluten-free dishes are not gluten-free because they use seitan, which is by definition not gluten-free.) It is also worth noting that several of Native Food’s daily soups are gluten-free, although this information isn’t listed on the main menu. Basically, you can think of the main menu as a helpful introduction to Native Food’s gluten-free options, but realize that a vast array of bonus dishes can be had if you look into or ask about them.

Having written about it, we had a rather deep understanding of the gluten-free guide and all the modifications that can be made before we went to Native Foods, but ironically we ended up ordering a regular gluten-free dish right off the main menu: the Bangkok Curry Bowl, which is one of three gluten-free “earth bowls.” (All four of them can be made gluten-free, however, if you know what substitutions to make.) You order your food at a counter and then it is delivered to you, making Native Foods, like many restaurants these days, a hybrid of a sit-down restaurant and a fast food restaurant. However, Native Foods leans toward the sit-down model, not because the food takes a long time to prepare (it doesn’t), but because of the staff’s service. I was asked if my food was prepared to my liking once I had tried it, and my water was refilled even though there is a self-service drink area. Native Foods has the benefits of both types of restaurants.

Fortunately, the food was every bit as good as the service. The Bangkok Curry Bowl we ordered was nicely arranged, with four thick slices of tofu fanned across a heap of steamed vegetables and greens. Underneath the vegetables – which included large pieces of cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and cucumbers, along with diced red peppers – was a layer of brown rice. Laced throughout was the mild taste of cilantro and a curry sauce (more precisely, “ginger-infused coconut milk curry”) that supplied a barely detectable spice. The whole dish was delicious, and all the ingredients, flavors, and textures went well together. However, we are compelled to call special attention to the tofu, which was exceptional. Tofu is an excellent vehicle for flavor, so the merit of a particular type hangs on its texture. The tofu in our bowl was prefect. It was firm, requiring a sustained chewing effort, but it was in no way rubbery. It was, in short, exactly what one hopes for in tofu.

Native Foods is a thoroughly impressive operation, and our eager anticipation of its opening was amply justified. It makes a wonderful addition to the gluten-free options around town. We suspect that it will thrive in Boulder, where the vegan diet is fairly widely practiced and people value healthy, quality food. Customer enthusiasm was evident during even our short visit. We overheard a customer who is a personal trainer declare that she will spread the word of Native Foods’ opening all over town, and everyone in the restaurant seemed to be enjoying themselves and their meals. We highly recommend you check it out, especially if you’re skeptical of a restaurant with an entirely plant-based menu. We can’t imagine that you won’t enjoy yourself.

You can find the Native Foods’ gluten-free guide here (PDF):

Native Foods GF Menu

The restaurant itself can be found here:

1675 29th Street
Suite 1272
Boulder, CO 80301

Note: Many of the places we visit, including Native Foods, merely offer gluten-free options, and hence are not necessarily 100% gluten-free facilities, so if proximal cross-contamination is an issue, call ahead. If you would like us to review a particular restaurant with gluten-free options, send an email to info@glutenfreeinboulder.com. We’ll try our best to check it out!

Read Next Article » Bogey’s Gluten-Free Options Confirmed to be Good
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