Celebrate the vibrant culinary traditions at these California restaurants in November and beyond.

A spread of dishes from Wahpepah's Kitchen in Oakland

Thomas J. Story

A spread of dishes from Wahpepah's Kitchen in Oakland

November is Native American Heritage Month, a time dedicated to celebrating the rich cultures, traditions, and histories of Native people. And this year it’s easier than ever to gain a greater appreciation for native foodways thanks to a host of new indigenous-owned restaurants and culinary activations in California.

With 574 federally recognized Indian Nations in the United States, indigenous foodways are as diverse as the many regions that make up our country. But only in recent years have a handful of restaurants like Café Ohlone and Wahpepah’s Kitchen opened here in the West, meaning it’s just the beginning of an inspiring movement of culinary resilience and creativity.

Though the ingredients and dishes vary between places, tribes, and individual chefs, the common tie is something every cook and land steward can appreciate: a reverence for tending nature and a gratitude for those we break bread with, including ancestors who may not physically be with us, but are always present in spirit.

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Below are a few places to experience these distinct and delicious native cuisines right here in California.

Smoked trout, quail eggs, and chia at Cafe Ohlone
Smoked trout, quail eggs, and California chia at Cafe Ohlone

Thomas J. Story

Oṭṭoy: A Collaboration Between Café Ohlone and the Hearst Museum at UC Berkeley

Oṭṭoy translates to “repair” in the Ohlone language of Chochenyo, and that’s just what co-founders Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino aim to do through their series of culinary experiences at mak-‘aham. Walking into their natural oasis on the bustling Berkeley campus is a transportive experience; birdsong gently plays over the speakers, ever-so-often punctuated by the voices of ancestors rhythmically speaking in the native tongue. Seated amongst sycamore trees, guests experience a beautiful meal that’s equal parts delicious, thought provoking, and highly specific to the East Bay. Think perfectly prepared cold smoked trout paired with quail eggs and a gathered green salad dressed with local berries and California bay laurel coulis. Here, you might find yourself seated next to anthropology student, a fellow traveler, or a teacher of native plant medicine. One thing is always constant, though: elders from the tribe always are welcome to take a seat at the head of the table free of charge. And the takeaway is always of profound resiliency, recognizing that not only are the Ohlone still here, but they are thriving.

Crystal Wahpepah of Wahpepah's Kitchen in Oakland
Crystal Wahpepah of Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland

Thomas J. Story

Wahpepah’s Kitchen

At Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland, you’ll find a notably different approach to native cooking, where chef Crystal Wahpepah highlights the myriad ingredients from various tribes, including her own, the Kickapoo of Oklahoma. Born and raised in Oakland, Wahpepah has created a cozy cafe that includes an open pantry for guests to explore ingredients, many of which you’ll find in her delicious cooking. Breathe in the soothing aroma of freshly toasting blue corn while you sip on a glass of prickly pear tea, which a gorgeous hue that millennial pink would definitely be jealous of. Then enjoy a hearty bowl comprised of what’s known as the three sisters—a combination of corn, squash and beans that are planted together so each plant can support and nourish each other. It’s a big, warm hug from Mother Earth herself.

Three of California's important native ingredients: bay laurel leaves, pine nuts, and bay nuts
Three of California’s important native ingredients: bay laurel leaves, pine nuts, and bay nuts at Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland

Thomas J. Story

Pyet’s Plate

Chef Pyet Despain was the first winner of Gordon Ramsay’s Next Level Chef, and is passionate about both cooking and teaching the food of her Native American and Mexican heritage. Pyet’s passion is to uplift indigenous culture and traditions via storytelling, traveling, and cooking, and she hosts regular pop-ups and cooking classes out of her Los Angeles home that celebrates the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Tribe. She even recently made her way across the pond to London to cook with Ramsay, and will be popping up at the Smorgasburg festival in Los Angeles in January.

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