travel

Native American cuisine is having a moment

By Ashley M. Biggers

Published September 6, 2018

Courtesy Hotel Chaco/Level 5

Fry bread is the most recognizable Native American food in the United States, synonymous with feast days, powwows and fairs.

Courtesy jeffreyw/Creative Commons/Flickr

But Native American cuisine doesn't start or end with fry bread. Native cuisine includes the foods of 566 recognized US tribes -- all based on their intimate knowledge of nourishment grown and hunted where they lived.

Courtesy jeffreyw/Creative Commons/Flickr

Native American cuisine is having a revival. Here are six of the hottest restaurants featuring Native cuisine:

Courtesy Phillip Greenberg/Mitsitam Café

Mitsitam Native Foods Café, Washington D.C.

Chef Freddie Bitsoie (Diné) became the first Native American chef of Mitsitam Native Foods Café, the restaurant at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, in 2016. Visitors sample dishes from the Great Plains, Mesoamerica, Northern Woodlands, Northwest Coast and South America.

Courtesy Phillip Greenberg/Mitsitam Café

Courtesy Phillip Greenberg/Mitsitam Café

Tocabe, Denver, Colorado

With its food-court-style counter, Tocabe aims to bring Native American food off the reservations to the public. Tocabe co-owner Ben Jacobs (Osage Nation) followed his family into the restaurant business and calls upon his heritage with his tribe's take on chowder, meats and fry bread.

Courtesy Adam Larkey/Tocabe

Courtesy Adam Larkey/Tocabe

Black Sheep Café, Provo, Utah

Chef Mark Mason (who shares Diné and Hidatsa heritage) worked in French, Italian and progressive American restaurants before returning to his heritage with Black Sheep Café in 2011. He creates contemporary dishes inspired by his heritage.

Courtesy Christian Santiago/Black Sheep Café

Courtesy Christian Santiago/Black Sheep Café

Pueblo Harvest Café, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The dishes of New Mexico's 19 pueblos, which collectively own the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center where this restaurant is housed, inspire Chef Brent Moore's creations. The café spotlights dishes Native Americans ate before European contact, such as elk, quail, pine nuts and wild spinach.

Courtesy Caitlin Cano/Pueblo Harvest Café

Courtesy Caitlin Cano/Pueblo Harvest Café

Kai, Phoenix, Arizona

Chef de Cuisine Ryan Swanson adapts Pima and Maricopa tribal foods to modern taste buds. Industrious local tribes weren't picky eaters, but they were prickly eaters, harvesting native cactus (sans spines) for generations. Swanson transforms desert ingredients into stunning dishes.

Courtesy Evan Johnson/Kai

Courtesy Evan Johnson/Kai

Level 5, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Housed in a hotel inspired by the Pueblo great houses of northwest New Mexico's Chaco Canyon, Level 5 serves a microregional menu. "We want to stay true to the ingredients of the region," says Level 5 chef Patrick Mohn. The restaurant modifies familiar steak strips by using buffalo chuck for its tenders, frying in blue-corn meal and serving with vegetable-ash aioli.

Courtesy Hotel Chaco/Level 5

Courtesy Hotel Chaco/Level 5