By Kristy Alpert
American Indian cuisine is gaining a foothold in the hearts of foodies all across the nation.
In Denver, a trendy urban hot spot serves Indian tacos piled high with authentic ingredients. In Chandler, Arizona, a five-diamond restaurant and resort offering upscale, seasonal Native American specialties with ingredients grown locally by a neighboring tribe. And those are just two of many options.
Once reserved exclusively for private powwows or small family gatherings cooked in home kitchens, Native American cuisine has recently pioneered into new territories as more and more restaurants are opening up to offer groups of diners the chance to taste centuries-old delicacies and indigenous ingredients.
Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery
It was only fitting in December 2008 when Ben Jacobs, whose background combines a deeply rooted Osage Indian lineage with countless hours spent in the culinary scene in Denver, decided to open his American Indian restaurant with his business partner.
“I grew up in the Denver Indian community, and my business partner and I had talked about how there was no availability for our style of cuisine unless it was at home or at a powwow,” said Jacobs, who owns and manages Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery. “Our big goal is to bring those traditional flavors to contemporary taste buds. We kind of take old recipes from my grandmother and my family and friends within the American Indian community, and then we use that as our base and kind of add and re-create with modern flairs, but keep that same authenticity from the original.”
Not only is Tocabe the only Native American restaurant in Denver, but this upscale, fast-casual establishment serves some amazing authentic dishes with a modern flair, like their green chili stew, their bison ribs with a blackberry barbecue sauce and their famous Indian tacos piled high with all the toppings and a choice of six different salsas.
Desert Rain Café
Just 19 miles from the Tohono O’odham Museum and Cultural Center, the Desert Rain Café not only makes a great stop on a tour of the Tohono O’odham Nation, but it also stands alone as one of the most authentic Native American restaurants in the nation. Every recipe served at the Desert Rain Café come from elders and community members; the restaurant features traditional foods, like tepary beans, squash, cholla buds and saguaro seeds, sourced from the restaurant’s own farms or hand harvested by community members.
“We are dedicated to featuring traditional, healthy Tohono O’odham foods, and all our foods are place based and only available at our cafe,” said Brian Hendricks, manager for the Desert Rain Café and a member of the Tohono O’odham and Navajo Nations.
“I enjoy working here and supporting the mission of the cafe to revitalize culture and health through traditional foods. My favorite dish on our menu is the prickly-pear-glazed chicken sandwich, where we grill the chicken on a wood-fired grill using local mesquite wood so the flavor is smoky, and the glaze is sweet and a little bit spicy. It’s a terrific combination.”