Where are all of the Native American restaurants?

I recently had the opportunity to drive through Oklahoma and in passing through various Indian Reservations it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve never come across a restaurant devoted to the cuisine of the native tribes of North America.

My question - Where can I find a restaurant devoted to Native American cuisine, and why are there so few restaurants devoted to this cuisine… if there are any?

It seems increasingly easy to find restaurants devoted to the cuisines of so many different cultures and nationalities - but why this glaring omission?

Upon reflection, I seem to remember seeing signs for Navajo bread while driving in Arizona once, but I’m still surprised by the lack of this cuisine when the cuisine of countless other nations are available to me.

To some extent, Native American cuisine is American cuisine. Ever had corn on the cob? Hot chocolate? A baked potato?

In the southwest, I think fry bread “tacos” are about as main stream as you’re going to get in that department. Not much to establish a restaurant around.

There’s Mitsitam in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. That’s the only one that comes to mind, though.

Here are three of them:




On Tamiami Trail, real close to the entrance to the Shark Valley entrance of the Everglades National Park, there’s a Miccosukee Indian restaurant. On the menu are things like alligator bites, catfish and Indian hamburgers (fry bread and ground beef…yum).

There used to be an excellent restaurant in Vancouver called Liliget Feast House, owned and operated by a really amazing Gitksan woman. I believe it’s closed now, though, or so I hear? Anyway, it served only Aboriginal foods, mostly Coast Salish. I still remember the whipped sopalali berries. It was pretty cool.

Plank cooking and that is done in many places at festivals and fairs. So that is somewhat of Native American cuisine, but it would a great venture I’d like to know other NA dishes.

This is a question that has come up before a long time ago, I am 1/8th Native American myself and I think I have the right to speak for my tribes even though I am about as white as they come.

The short answer is that Native Americans are not one group in the least. You have have tribes ranging from the Inuit to the South American rain forest-tribes. They are completely scattered in geography and environment so there is no way to have an ‘authentic’ Native American meal. The tribes on the coastal Northeast ate a lot of seafood because it was easy to get while the central tribes ate buffalo and whatever else they could find on the prarie.

However, there is some Native American food that is common. It is called Mexican even if there are many variations on that. Some people claim that you can’t have ‘authentic’ Mexican foods in the U.S. in places like Texas or California because they aren’t currently a part of Mexico. That is the dumbest answer you can possibly give because they were Mexican up until fairly recent history and still have a huge influence from the culinary styles from corn based tortillas to burritos. That is about as Native American as you can get without faking it.

There is a huge misconception that food preferences are longstanding across any cultures when that isn’t true at all. Most of them last less than 50 years even in longstanding cultures and even archetypal foods in Europe are rather recent. For example, both the potato and tomato were only introduced to Europe after the New World voyages and yet they transformed the culinary style of both Ireland and Italy among many others.

You wouldn’t want to pay for a generic authentic Native American meal in a restaurant. It would be really bland. Most of the tribes didn’t use many spices at all so it would just taste like BBQ meat with nothing added or whatever they could gather in the form of berries or nuts.

Well, Mexican food is Native American food, albeit after they’d been influenced by the Spanish (hence all the rice).

And there’s plenty of Hawaiian food places.

As robert colombia says, a lot of native foods were co-opted by incoming settlers (corn, potatoes, chocolate, BBQ) and so aren’t really seen as ethnic today. Also, I suspect in the present day continental US, all the internal dislocations due to wars and being moved to reservations where the ingredients they were used to eating weren’t available would’ve caused a rupture in Native American food culture, which is perhaps why US reservations don’t feature many eateries billing themselves as ethnic food.

Moderator Action

Since this is about food and restaurants, let’s move it over to Cafe Society.

Moving thread from General Questions to Cafe Society.

No one has mentioned a Chesapeake crab cake? How 'bout a new England clam and lobster bake?

There was sort of a trendy such place on the UWS of Manhattan (Columbus @ 68th) in the late 1980’s. Bisonburgers are all I recall from the menu (bison had largely recovered from near-extinction by then. Or maybe they’ve slid back, and that’s why the restaurant isn’t around anymore). Anyway, Madonna used to be seen there, and Kevin Spacey, and I noticed David Brenner once myself. The newspaper review they had in the window was titled “Indians discover Columbus”.

I’ve been spending a lot of time driving around the West and Northwest lately and every rural gas station seems to sell some kind of buffalo jerky, so there’s that…

Maybe I’ll take a hit for the team and stay in a reservation casino to see what kind of buffet and floor show they offer.

The Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel used to have a Seneca-themed restaurant that also featured other types of traditional foods. Interesting, but rather limited in its selections. Long gone now.

I agree with the others on this. You can’t maintain a style of native cookery when you are pushed into reservations thousands of miles from your homes. Indians were forceably told for decades to abandon their culture and adopt white culture instead. Raw foodstuffs by themselves don’t make a cuisine; it’s all in the application.

Contrast this to Mexican (or even Tex-Mex) cuisine, where continuity has been present. Night and day.

I don’t know where you live, but here in the DC area even our Diners have some great selections. http://www.silverdiner.com/menu/chefselections Just on this page you’ve got Oaxaca omelette, Sedona salmon (Isn’t Sedona in AZ?!?) Santa Fe roasted veggies, and Cinnamon chipotle steak.

That’s not even including all the buffalo choices available on the Locavore menu.

I came in here just to mention that one. It’s got some good stuff.

It’s bundled in with Southwestern or Mexican cooking, and BTW, fry bread is SOOOOO good. I’ll never forget the lunch I had at the Gallup, NM flea market, which was fry bread with mutton and a green onion. So simple, and so yummy (and filling, too).

I couldn’t imagine, say, a Chippewa or a Cherokee or a Modoc restaurant.

That’s what makes Mexican food in the Southwest so unique. It’s the best in the world IMHO, worlds better than that bland Tex-Mex crap. The food in the Southwest is a blend with the local native cuisine. That’s one thing that mad living in Albuquerque such a joy for me, the restaurants there and up into the Santa Fe and Taos area.

However, if you look at accounts of the foods of North American native cultures at first contact, as Shagnasty says they would still have been rather basic: various cornmeal preparations, beans, squash, grilled or stewed meats and fish. Most North American cultures didn’t go in for elaborate preparation of food, or use many spices or condiments.

In contrast native Mexican and Caribbean cookery (the basis of Jamaican cuisine) used chiles and many other spices.

Despite the presence of many immigrants from Scandinavian countries in the US, you won’t fine many Scandinavian restaurants outside a few areas where these nationalities are concentrated. Scandinavian cuisine beyond Swedish meatballs has never become popular with the wider culture, perhaps because it’s also generally bland.