Meet the chefs who are honoring Indigenous and Native American culture in creative and delicious ways.
From cafés nestled inside universities and museums, such as the Smithsonian, to stand-alone concepts and restaurants—a growing number of Native American and Indigenous chefs are bringing ancient ingredients to modern cuisine.
This innovation is supported by non-profit organizations like Wild Bearies and I-Collective, which help establish mentorship programs for chefs and encourage the use of traditional ingredients in Native American and Indigenous communities.
“I like to think of food as a vessel that can transport you in time and space,” explains Elena Terry, who is the Executive Chef and Founder of Wild Bearies. From casual to fine dining, here are ten restaurants where Native American and Indigenous chefs are creating menus that pay homage to their ancestral roots.
Chef Brave Heart
WHERE: Rapid City, South Dakota
As a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Kimberly Tilsen Brave Heart and her husband, Brandon (who grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation), honor their Indigenous heritage through creative cuisine. With Chef Brave Heart, you can expect dishes like roasted kale and squash salad with edible flowers or ground corn cake with blackberry wojapi. Beyond food, the husband and wife duo support hyper-local community initiatives such as Sacred Hoops, a group that engages youth through basketball. Their website and social media share news of pop-up events, including pre-ordered charcuterie boxes.
WHERE: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Owamni is a new restaurant inside the five-acre Water Works Park along the Mississippi River. Opened in summer 2021 by Sean Sherman (an Oglala Lakota Nation member) and Dana Thompson, the restaurant notably only uses decolonized ingredients; this means that the Owamni menu has removed ingredients introduced by European colonists, such as wheat flour, cane sugar, and dairy.
Those ingredients are swapped out for others like nixtamalized corn tacos, wild rice, smoked Lake Superior trout, dandelion, bison, and blue corn (prepared as “blue corn mush” with maple and hazelnut), and rabbit. In August, Sherman and Thompson debuted The Sioux Chef, Indigenous Food Lab—a nonprofit training kitchen at the Midtown Global Market with production space for Native foods and Indigenous culinary entrepreneurs.
WHERE: Chandler, Arizona
One of the best examples of fine-dining Native American and Indigenous cuisine is in the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass. Kai—which translates to “seed” in the Pima language—is spear-headed by chef Ryan Swanson, who honors the Pima and Maricopa communities through his cooking. Most of the menu’s produce comes from the Gila River Indian community, where it’s harvested. Entrees include grilled buffalo tenderloin and tea, and sassafras-infused smoked Wisconsin pheasant served with 60-day Pima cornbread, followed by a dessert of chia seed chocolate tarts or squash air cake.
WHERE: Washington, D.C.
On the ground level of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian is this unique casual-dining concept focusing on cuisine from many Indigenous cultures. Mitsitam means “let’s eat’ in the Native language of the Delaware and Piscataway people, and the café highlights traditional Native dishes from throughout the Western hemisphere.
From the Northern Woodlands (a region that spans from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi River) to the Great Plains (an area stretching from Alberta to Texas)—the Mitsitam menu is crafted by Executive Chefs Richard Hetzler and Freddie Bitsoie. Examples of dishes include grilled nopales (cactus) in lime butter, grilled bison loin with caramelized strawberries, smoked whitefish with corn relish, or—for a sweet note—candied bacon empanadas with pineapple puree. The Five Region Sampler Plate features cedar-planked salmon, grilled bison striploin, and a choice of three sides.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re short on time, the museum’s Mitsitam Espresso Bar grinds Tribal Grounds Coffee (beans grown by Indigenous farmers and roasted by the Eastern Band of Cherokee).
Red Oak Steakhouse
WHERE: Quapaw, Oklahoma
Owned and operated by Quapaw Tribe, the Red Oak Steakhouse is a fine-dining restaurant inside the Downstream Casino Resort. The beef used by the restaurant comes from cows that are humanely raised, hormone-free, and sourced locally from the Quapaw Cattle Club. On the menu, expect to find items like Smoked Bison Prime Rib, Grilled Snake River Farms Wagyu Spinalis Cap (alongside blue corn onion rings, chimichurri sauce, and Cotija cheese) and Braised Bison Short Ribs (served with white-cheddar creamy polenta in a red-wine reduction).
Indian Pueblo Kitchen
WHERE: Albuquerque, New Mexico
After viewing exhibits about the state’s 19 pueblos at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, head over to the Indian Pueblo Kitchen, which is focused on Indigenous cuisine education. Executive chef Ray Naranjo (of the Santa Clara Pueblo reservation) operates the kitchen, making dishes like waffles made with ancient grains and piñon topped with berries and maple syrup slow-braised duck leg in a mole sauce with duck-fat fries and puffed quinoa. Frybread and Pueblo oven bread are also baked daily, while, for dessert, you can order Pueblo-style bread pudding folding in currants and cheddar cheese. In addition to the menu, the restaurant hosts a series of culinary events called Intimate Indigenous Experience, where either singing or art demonstrations are paired with a tasting menu.
Off the Rez
WHERE: Seattle, Washington
Off the Rez is a Native American food-focused cafe that has evolved from its food-truck beginnings to a brick-and-mortar inside the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture on the University of Washington’s campus. Co-owner Mark McConnell’s mother grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana and shared her heritage with her children.
At the cafe, there’s a nice balance of sweet and savory options on the menu, such as braised bison Indian taco, fry bread topped with sweetness (such as fruit jams, honey, or lemon curd), and wild-rice bowls. Although Off the Rez has a café open for breakfast, lunch, an dinner, its food truck is still making the rounds. For news on where the truck is parked each day, check out their Facebook page.
Black Sheep Café
WHERE: Provo, Utah
If you’re a fan of art, the Black Sheep will prove your utopia. Co-owner Bleu Adams is a member of the Navajo community and feels it’s important that Native American art and food are showcased under the same roof. This means you can enjoy Navajo tacos while admiring pottery by Native American artists. The Black Sheep Café honors the heritage of its co-owners, Bleu Adams and Jovanna Mason, and harnesses the culinary talent of Chef Mark Daniel Mason. Separate from her culinary career, Adams is also part of the team behind Protect Native Elders, a charitable organization focused on finding relief and supporting Indigenous communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHERE: Denver, Colorado
With a commitment to having every menu item tell a story about American Indian culture through its culinary ingredients, Tocabe has two casual-dining locations in the Denver area: North Denver and the surrounding town of Greenwood Village. Vendors are selected for their ties to Native American and Indigenous communities, such as Rock River Ranches’ bison and Seka Hills’ elderberry balsamic vinegar. For the Posu Bowls, either Ramona Farms wheatberry mix/quinoa or Red Lake Nation wild rice serves as the base, with vegan beans, lettuce, cheddar cheese, and salsa folded in. Indian tacos and bison ribs (cured for 24 hours) are also served, including plenty of gluten-free options.
WHERE: Berkeley, California
Café Ohlone is located on the University of California-Berkeley campus (in the courtyard of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology). The café is founded by Vincent Medina (Chochenyo Ohlone) and Louis Trevino (Rumsen Ohlone). Medina is a cultural leader of the Itmay Cultural Association, while Trevino is a member of the Rumsen Ohlone community and a leader in reviving the Rumsen language.
The Café Ohlone is more than just a restaurant; it is a community where patrons can enjoy open mic nights, community talks, and more. In light of the pandemic, the café pivoted in 2021 to offer Sunday Supper with Café Ohlone. These monthly curated dinner boxes are, just like the menu, focused on the Ohlone tribe’s food heritage and features items like dried rosehip and stinging nettle tea, quail eggs, and hazelnut milk chia porridge.