Diners were lining up to try Lawrence West’s Indian tacos for more than a year before the chef opened up his restaurant on West Madison Street in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Watecha Bowl started out as a roving food truck serving the kind of comfort food that West grew up eating as a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Watecha means “leftovers,” but is often used colloquially to simply refer to food. In an interview with SiouxFalls Business, West attributed all of his cooking skills to his “mom’s kitchen.” Made with a mountain of seasoned ground beef, cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, salsa, and sour cream cradled in a round of frybread, West’s Indian tacos quickly earned him a reputation and the funds to set up a brick-and-mortar.
Since settling into more permanent digs, West has expanded the menu to include specials such as a nine-hour smoked buffalo roast. The main draw here, however, is still the frybread, which West pairs with everything from buffalo burgers to wojapi, a warm, jammy berry compote.
Frybread has a complicated history for members of the Native Nations. Although its origins are debated, one commonly held theory is that it was created as a means of subsisting on meager U.S. government rations during the forced Navajo migration from Arizona to New Mexico. With little more than flour and lard, resourceful cooks found a way to create a filling, if not exactly nutritional, foodstuff in order to survive. For some Native Americans, it represents oppression, while others, including author Sherman Alexie, have called it part of “our story of survival.” At Watecha bowl, the frybread is unambiguously celebrated. Even when working within the narrow confines of his food-truck kitchen, West insisted on frying his dough to order so that it retained its airy, weightless texture.
Despite its somewhat fraught roots, frybread in all of its many forms has become a staple at Native American gatherings across the American Southwest. When fried at just the right temperature, it develops a blistered, satisfyingly chewy crust encasing pockets of steam. It’s a delicious embodiment of both the cultural history and celebratory vibe that West wanted to bring to his restaurant. Watecha Bowl, by West’s description, channels a “carnival flair,” complete with Powwow Lemonade and stunt-worthy dishes like The Challenge Taco, which comes loaded with a full five pounds of toppings.
Know Before You Go
Be sure to check the restaurant's Facebook page for daily specials and off-menu special additions before you go. Also, since West's food truck is still in operation, fans can also sample his frybread at various events and locations around town.