Where to Try Native American Cuisine in the U.S.—and Why You Really Should Now

Contemporary restaurants led by Native chefs are reimagining what “American” food means.

A dish from Phoenix's Kai restaurant decorated with vibrant fruits and vegetables.

Kai, a highly acclaimed Native American restaurant in the Phoenix area, serves contemporary dishes influenced by Arizona’s indigenous Pima and Maricopa tribes.

Courtesy of Kai Restaurant

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, many children in the United States learn stories about that famous first 17th-century feast—the turkey, squash, and venison shared by the English colonists and the Indigenous people who originally occupied the land. However, mainstream understanding of Native American cuisine hasn’t expanded much further than that until recent years, as Indigenous chefs across the country have started to increasingly spotlight Native foods and recipes.

Today, there are more than 570 federally recognized Native American tribes across the United States, each with their own distinct food traditions and flavor palettes. Many Native chefs across the country are reviving or paying homage to the centuries-old techniques of their communities and creating dishes that showcase vegetables native to the Americas, such as beans, squash, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, and corn, as well as proteins like buffalo and salmon. For these contemporary chefs, serving Native dishes is all about showing that the cuisine isn’t “survival food” but rather rich, diverse, and contemporary. And it’s also about supporting local communities that are often overlooked by the American mainstream. For chef Sean Sherman, founder of the Sioux Chef, uplifting local Native communities is one of his top priorities in his work.

“We prioritize purchasing from Indigenous producers—first locally, and then nationally—and then we support our local food system as much as we can,” Sherman told AFAR in a 2022 interview.

Here are 11 standout Native American restaurants across the country that are worth a visit:

1. Kai

Chandler, Arizona
At Kai, the only restaurant in Arizona to earn both AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star ratings, chef Ryan Swanson creates an upscale menu using ingredients from the Gila River Indian Community, as well as influences from the Pima and Maricopa tribes. The name of this fine-dining establishment (the marquee restaurant at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass) means “seed” in the Pima language. For one special entrée, servers burn sage and lavender in a bouquet above a dish of goose and rabbit. Another features grilled buffalo tenderloin served with cholla cactus buds and saguaro-blossom syrup, a sweet and savory elixir made from a Sonoran desert cactus.

Cured bison ribs from Tocabe on the grill.

Bison ribs are cured for 24 hours before they’re glazed with a sweet berry barbecue sauce at Tocabe in Denver.

Courtesy of Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery

2. Tocabe

Denver, Colorado
This fast-casual spot in Denver updates traditional recipes from co-owner Ben Jacobs’s grandmother, a tribal member of the Osage Nation. The menu at Tocabe features “Posu Bowls’’ served with wild rice; a choice of bison, beef, chicken, or beans and vegetables; and a variety of Native ingredients and toppings such as Osage hominy (made from dried maize), sweet corn, and a signature maple vinaigrette. The “Tocabe Favorite” includes bison ribs cured for 24 hours before they’re glazed with a berry barbecue sauce and served with a side of fry bread—a flat, fried dough that’s a staple of Native American cuisine.

“Our goal is to create an understanding of what Native food is,” says Jacobs, who opened the eatery in 2008 with his former Denver University classmate Matt Chandra. Tocabe claims the title of Denver’s only “American Indian owned and operated” restaurant, and now there are two locations: one in North Denver and the other in Greenwood Village.

3. Black Sheep Cafe

Provo, Utah
Chef Mark Daniel Mason, who is half Navajo and half Hidatsa, mixes Southwestern and Navajo foodways to come up with crowd-pleasing dishes at Black Sheep Cafe, which doubles as a local gallery for Native American artists in Provo (about 45 miles south of Salt Lake City). Black Sheep’s rotating menu includes dishes such as grilled pork chop with roasted poblano chiles wrapped in traditional nanniskadii (Navajo bread) or “Navajo Tacos” topped with green chiles. Mason says there are no rules in his cooking, but he does abide by one principle: to always use the “three sisters” of Native food—corn, beans, and squash.

4. Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe

Washington, D.C.
Seasonal food is served cafeteria-style at Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe, a casual dining spot inside the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in the U.S. capital. Mitsitam, which means “let’s eat” in the Piscataway and Delaware languages, is led by executive chefs Richard Hetzler and Freddie Bitsoie. Keep an eye on them: Bitsoie was named as “a rising star in the constellation of young chefs” by Native Peoples magazine in 2011.

Diners will get a tour of cuisines from across the Western Hemisphere, including North America’s Northern Woodlands and Northwest Coast, plus South America and Mesoamerica (which extends to Mexico and Central America). But they can also dive deeply into region-specific dishes, such as a pulled buffalo sandwich with chayote squash slaw that takes its cues from the people of the Great Plains.

5. Café Ohlone

Berkeley, California

Berkeley may be the Bay Area’s hippie seat but the city itself is Ohlone territory. The original inhabitants of the Bay Area were once numerous and lived entirely off and in concert with the land. There are about 5,000 existing tribe members—including Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino, partners and founders of Café Ohlone, who want to revive those ancient ways. The duo offer seasonal menus based on ancestral recipes and pre-Columbian times (there’s no gluten, dairy, pork, legumes, or alcohol to be found) and sourced entirely from the Bay Area. Guests can look forward to dishes like tan oak acorn bisque, crispy duck breast seasoned with bay laurel, and desserts like yerba buena flavored sorbet.

6. Indian Pueblo Kitchen

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Formerly known as Pueblo Harvest, this restaurant in Albuquerque’s Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is undergoing a transformation that will add a teaching kitchen, business incubator, and hospitality training programs—all aimed at expanding awareness of Indigenous cuisine. At the center, travelers can dine on buffalo short ribs and white corn and sumac porridge at the restaurant run by chef Ray Naranjo (Santa Clara Pueblo, Odawa), as well as join in cooking classes and wine-pairing dinners. Naranjo says he wants to share food that “mirrors the present-day food culture, but is also inclusive of the ingredients from the Ancestral Puebloans and the ingredients that would have been available via trade routes from tribes from the south.”

7. Bison Coffeehouse

Portland, Oregon

Portland’s first (and only) Native-owned coffeehouse, Bison serves beans from Native roasters across the United States. The coffeehouse is a longtime dream for Loretta Guzman, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes of Fort Hall, Idaho, who visualized the idea for a community space representing her ancestry while battling stage four cancer. The café’s namesake icon, a massive bison, occupies one wall of the shop, a “symbol of resilience” to the Shoshone-Bannock tribe—and to Guzman, who made a full recovery. In addition to serving expertly prepared lattes and her signature biscuits, Guzman uses her space—filled with Native American art—to raise awareness (and funds) for dozens of causes, including wild bison preservation and the water crisis at Warm Springs Reservation.

At Rez, Native American fry bread is used as a "tortilla."

At Off the Rez, fry bread is the ultimate taco vehicle.

Courtesy of the Burke Museum

8. Off the Rez

Seattle, Washington

Mark McConnell grew up eating the crispy, honey-laced fry bread prepared by his mother, a member of the Blackfeet tribe of Montana. McConnell took those childhood memories and channeled them into Off the Rez, a food truck that launched more than a decade ago and has since settled into a brick-and-mortar Native American restaurant at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Run by McConnell and his partner, Cecilia Rikard, the restaurant offers fry bread, yes (customizable with either sweet or savory toppings, from jam to chicken chili), but also Native-inspired food like wild rice with braised bison or seasonal vegetables.

9. Red Oak Steakhouse

Quapaw, Oklahoma

Occupying a full floor of the Downstream Casino, owned by the Quapaw Nation of Oklahoma, is one of the finest steakhouses in the middle of the country. Renovated in 2019, the Red Oak Steakhouse features a well-lit cabinet in which dry-aged beef hangs—diners can choose their cut, which is then placed on a cherry-wood-fired grill and cooked to their preference. Even better, all the hormone-free beef—and many of the ingredients served at the restaurant—were raised on-site, part of the Quapaw Nation’s commitment to centuries-old Native connections with the land. (In recent years, they’ve added bison management, beehives, and a coffee-roasting facility to their operations.) Round out a meal with the Craft House Kolsch, made at the on-site brewery, and a stroll to the five greenhouses nearby, where herbs and other produce are grown.

10. Owamni by the Sioux Chef

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Owamni by the Sioux Chef—an Indigenous, full-service restaurant in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area—began as a catering company and bloomed into brick and mortar in 2021 and serves Dakota and Ojibwe dishes. Diners order off of a completely “decolonized” menu, which only uses ingredients that were found in North America prior to European colonization. Owamni was founded by chef Sean Sherman, who authored The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen (University of Minnesota Press, 2017), which won the James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook in 2018. He’s been lauded across the industry for his efforts in making modern Indigenous cuisine more mainstream. At Owamni, guests can expect modern Indigenous fare like elk choginyapi (an open-faced sandwich) served with sweet potatoes and pepitas and bison tacos wrapped with tortillas made from heirloom corn.

11. Wahpepah’s Kitchen

Oakland, California

This vibrantly decorated restaurant located near the Fruitvale BART Station opened in November 2022 and is run by Crystal Wahpepah, the first Native American chef to have been featured on the Food Network’s Chopped. A member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, Wahpepah was born and raised in the Bay Area and ran a catering business for 12 years, preparing food for tech companies like Google and Twitter, before opening her restaurant. At Wahpepah’s Kitchen, patrons can expect standout dishes like Kickapoo chili with bison and blue cornbread (perfect for the foggy, chilly Bay Area weather) and bison and blue corn meatballs, served with a turnip slaw. Expect to see lots of proteins like bison, salmon, and venison—all native to the region and selected by Wahpepah to honor the Ohlone people, the original inhabitants of the Bay Area, and their diet.

This article originally ran online in November 2015; it was updated February 19, 2021 and on October 31, 2022, to include current information.


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