Native Foods Cafe brings plant-based fast-casual to Glendale

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Native Foods Cafe is a plant-based chain that originated in Palm Springs, California, and has since expanded to several more California cities, as well as Chicago, Boulder and, as of last month, Glendale, where it's in the CitySet development. And it didn't take long for this all-vegan restaurant to garner admirers; when we stopped by on a recent Saturday, a handful of people were waiting for the doors to unlock at 11 a.m. sharp -- and within half an hour, the dining room was almost entirely full with plenty of regulars popping in for to-go food, too.

See also: Pickled vegetables at City, O' City: My favorite dish of 2011

Still, tables turn quickly at this fast-casual eatery -- even though the staffers do not stint on service. We were surprised to find them so attentive, stopping by to refill a beverage, deliver an extra set of silverware, offer a full ramekin of sauce and then a to-go box or two.

Pictured above is the Super Italian Meatball Sub; Native Foods makes its own meat replacements, and these "meatballs" are created with the kitchen's seitan covered with marinara sauce, caramelized onions and roasted sweet peppers. A grilled baguette is slathered in pumpkin-seed pesto and dairy-free ranch dressing and parmesan before getting loaded with meatballs; the sub is served on a plate, messy and impossible to eat with your hands (despite being featured on the "handhelds" menu) -- just as nature intended for a meatball sub.

Greens are one of the several side options, cooked until tender and served with more dairy-free parmesan and some tomato garnish. The Greek Gyro Bowl brings more Native Foods seitan -- peppered this time, thinly sliced and sauteed with shallots -- served over quinoa, steamed vegetables and kale with lemon garlic sauce and hummus. The bowl comes with grilled flatbread, too, and is a protein-laden extravaganza guaranteed to fill you up. True Foods eatery also offers a number of ridiculously tasty appetizers, including the two seasonal plates we tried: the Sicilian Caponata Crostini and the Butternut Polenta Bites. Above is the crostini, which features roasted eggplant, tomatoes, caramelized onions and red peppers in a balsamic reduction with fresh basil, capers and currants served up on garlic crostini. Stop by Native Foods before this seasonal dish rotates off the menu -- it was fantastic. If you're a fan of butternut squash, don't miss the polenta bites. The gluten-free dish features pesto-baked polenta topped with squash, caramelized onions and toasted pumpkin seeds, and served with more balsamic and some arugula, too.

The menu at Native Foods includes traditional American items as well as some Mexican and European flavors -- and everything we tasted was divine. Chain or no chain, this is definitely one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the city; we can only hope its popularity in Glendale leads to lots more locations in the metro area. Visit nativefoods.com to see the full menu.

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