Best places to sample traditional foods

Across the western US and Canada’s First Nations, there’s a growing movement that’s revitalizing Indigenous food. From game to foraged berries, chefs are reimagining their ancestors’ traditional foods for everyone to enjoy. Here are 10 places to sample Indigenous cuisine in North America. 

A piece of roasted duck lies on a bed of wild rice and greens on a white plate; Indigenous food
Pueblo Harvest has been making Native Amerian dishes since 1976 © Courtesy of Pueblo Harvest

There’s no one type of Indigenous food – there are hundreds. Each chef’s interpretation is personal, drawing on family histories, tribal traditions, regional ingredients and individual taste. Some use only pre-contact ingredients; whereas, others embrace Indian tacos made from bannock or frybread (unleavened bread made from wheat flour) or mix Indigenous ingredients with global flavors. 

Pueblo Harvest 

Owned and operated by the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, Pueblo Harvest has been serving what it calls ‘Native sourced. Pueblo Inspired’ fare in Albuquerque since 1976. 

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu has changed over the years and includes both pre-contact options – bison carpaccio with pickled squash or amaranth and corn fritters – alongside post-contact ones, like blue corn onion rings.  

Bow & Arrow Brewing Co

For a beer before dinner, or for those who consider beer to be dinner, the Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. located in Albuquerque is the place to go. Shyla Sheppard, from the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, opened it along with Missy Begay, from the Navajo Nation, in 2016. 

Bow & Arrow’s tap menu rotates to feature seasonal brews and includes the likes of the denim tux lager, made with local blue corn and the savage times sour IPA. The brewery also hosts tours, tastings and sells bottles to go. 

A blackboard is covered with several messages. On the front counter, there are wooden bowls, a jar of jam and mortar filled with nuts; Indigenous food
From hazelnut milk chia porridge to roasted salmon, Cafe Ohlone’s menu is filled with good eats © L. Sasha Gora / Lonely Planet

Cafe Ohlone  

Tucked behind a bookstore across from the UC Berkeley campus, Cafe Ohlone offers tea on Tuesdays, lunch on Thursdays, weekend brunches and dinners on Saturday. The set menu changes with the seasons and features acorn flour, foraged berries and greens, San Francisco Bay sea salt and game meats.

Dishes range from hazelnut milk chia porridge with blackberry and bay laurel sauce to roasted salmon with duck fat heirloom potatoes and fiddleheads. 

A pair of green dumplings sit in a plate of vegetables; Indigenous food
Sockeye wrapped in haida gwaii kelp with bannock dumplings is a crowd-pleaser © Courtesy of Salmon ‘N Bannock

Salmon N’Bannock 

Further north up the Pacific coast in Vancouver, British Columbia, Salmon N’ Bannock is the city’s only First Nations restaurant. It serves wild sockeye salmon so fresh and flavorful you’ll question whether all that farmed fish you’ve been eating should be allowed to share the same name.

For a taste of everything, order the salmon and game samplers, alongside a glass of wine from North America’s first Indigenous-owned winery – Nk’Mip Cellars. 

Closeup of a open-faced taco piled high with shredded meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, corn and jalapenos; Indigenous food
The shredded bison Indian taco is always a good choice at Tocabe © Courtesy of Tocabe

Tocabe

Matt Chandra and Ben Jacobs opened Tocabe in Denver, Colorado, in 2008. The American Indian eatery specializes in Indian tacos and wild rice bowls topped with bison or beans, sweet corn, roasted green chilies and housemade salsas.

Many of the recipes are influenced by Osage Nation cuisines and were also used at the Jacobs’ family restaurant – Grayhorse: An American Indian Eatery, which operated in downtown Denver in 1989.   

Closeup of cedar plank salmon at Feast Cafe Bistro
Yes, the cedar plank salmon tastes as good as it looks © Courtesy of Feast Cafe Bistro

Feast Café Bistro 

What began as simple curiosity about Indigenous food eventually blossomed into something greater for Christa Bruneau-Guenther, from the Peguis First Nation.  

In December 2015, Bruneau-Guenther opened Feast Café Bistro in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which serves ‘modern dishes rooted in First Nations foods.’ There’s grass-fed bison sausages and a Saskatoon berry smoothie for breakfast and bison stew or vegan bean chili for lunch or dinner. 

A large chalkboard menu hangs on a wall at Pow Wow Café; Indigenous food
There’s always something good on the menu at Pow Wow Cafe © L. Sasha Gora / Lonely Planet

Pow Wow Café

Shawn Adler made a name for himself serving Indian tacos at music festivals across Ontario and in October 2016, he opened the Pow Wow Café in Toronto’s Kensington Market. 

Beyond Pow Wow food’s greatest hits – Indian tacos, scone dogs with cranberry mustard and sage ketchup and corn soup with smoked duck – Pow Wow Café also offers brunch and homemade cedar soda. 

Kū-kŭm Kitchen

Kū-kŭm Kitchen, located in  Toronto, Canada, reclaims the expression ‘farm-to-table’ and adds forest to the equation. Chef Joseph Shawana, from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Reserve, draws from his childhood memories of eating from the land. 

The upscale menu changes with the seasons, and features the likes of sous vide elk loin with roasted carrot puree, caramelized onions, squash and wine with maple glaze; a barley and squash risotto with parmesan and sweetgrass oil.

Kū-kŭm’s signature dish is seal loin tartar, which sparked an online petition that, in turn, sparked a counter-petition and a much-needed public conversation about Indigenous food sovereignty. Whether or not you decide to try seal, make sure to leave room for the pine needle and citrus sorbet.

A piece of salmon, pierced by a wooden stick with a lemon slice and berries, lies in a bed of rice mixed with berries; Indigenous food
Indulge in some fine cuisine at Nikoski Bistro Pub © L. Sasha Gora / Lonely Planet

Nikoski Bistro Pub  

When crafting her menu, Wapokunie Riel-Lachapelle draws from her Métis heritage, combining French Canadian classics with Indigenous ingredients. The end result are dishes like the Nikosi poutine with BBQ duck confit, cheese curds, dried cranberries and green peppercorn gravy.  

In addition to boasting front-row views of the Gatineau River, Nikosi, located in Wakefield, Quebec, has excellent cocktails. Try the sprucey negroni or the electric pow wow made with blueberry maple kombucha, lime, and rum. 

Migmak Catering Indiegenous Kitchen

From the Algonquin three sister’s casserole with polenta, wild rice with cranberries and bannock to the salmon fish cakes with seaweed relish, it’s no wonder patrons must make a reservation before heading to Migmak Catering Indigenous Kitchen.  

Located in the Montreal borough of Pierrefords, Migmak is the first permanent restaurant dedicated to Indigenous cuisine in the city. Chef Norma Condo, from Gesgapegiag Nation, began her catering company in 2018 and a year later, Condo added a small sit-down restaurant. 

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