Gluten-Free Cheap Eats in NYC (aka “What I Ate in July”)

Categories Food, Gluten Free, United States

I’ve just left New York, and as cities go, it will always feel like home regardless of where my life takes me. It’s been a whirlwind July of meetings and speaking, reader meetups and catch-ups with friends.  The reader meetup in New York took the form of a big Vietnamese dinner, which was a real treat. Productive? No, I have not been writing very much at all. But I have enjoyed eating my way around town.

Back in 2009, I gathered my favourite inexpensive dishes in New York for a post. I enjoyed tracking down cheap and delicious eats during my years of lawyering in town, since I was also saving to travel. I updated that list in 2012, but thought that I would post a separate 2013 edition, specifically gluten-free.

I rarely wrote about having celiac disease when I started this site, as the focus was not food. Now that food figures prominently,  I get more and more questions about travel with food restrictions. It’s part of why I dedicated a full chapter to food allergies in my book. I’ve noted in my gluten-free Italy post that as time has gone by, I’ve gotten more and more sensitive to wheat, barely and rye. The things I ate at the beginning of this trip — dumplings and soy-based dishes — couldn’t be consumed now. At this point, contamination is a real concern; if I even use oil that has fried breaded products, I will be sick.

Consequently, the way I eat in New York has also changed. No more dim sum for me.  I’ve been staying in the East Village, so most of this list are in Manhattan since my wanders didn’t take me too far afield. Most importantly: none of the following eats glutened me.

July Eats & Further Resources


Name: La Esquina
What to order: Carnitas tacos (below), chicken tinga tacos, elote.
Where: 114 Kenmare, near Centre Street.
Notes: Go on a nice day. Order from the takeout window (prices are very different for their seated cafe) and sit across the street in the park. Warning: you might need to fight off pigeons whilst eating.

Carnitas tacos from La Esquina

Carnitas tacos from La Esquina


Name: Black Tree NYC
What to order: Black kale caesar salad with fried egg (below). For those eating sandwiches, the short rib looked insanely good and my non-celiac friends confirm it tasted fabulous too.
Where: 131 Orchard Street, near Delancey.
Notes: Happy hour special most afternoons, with cheaper wines on tap and well beers. Chef and co-owner Sandy will turn any sandwich into a salad for those with celiac disease. Specials change frequently but it’s all local, organic food from farms in the region.

Black tree NYC

Black tree kale salad.


Name: Pho Bang
What to order:  Great banh cuon (steamed rice crepe with wood ear mushrooms and pork), cha gio (fried springrolls wrapped in rice paper) and bo luc lac (“shaking beef”, beef cubes with lemon and garlic, served with lettuce for wrapping). Photo below.
Where: 175 Mott Street, near Grand.

Pho bang NYC

Pho Bang feast.


Name: Kotobuki
What to order:  Lunch special sushi platter — it comes with the usual sushi plus their delicious riceless UFO roll (below).
Where: 105 E. 9th Street (near 4th Avenue).
Note: Tell your waiter or waitress that you are celiac and they will bring you gluten-free soy sauce. FYI, their spicy mayo also has a bit of soy so for those who have the disease, it should also be avoided.

Kotobuki Sushi

Kotobuki’s UFO roll & sushi.


Name:  Mermaid Inn 
What to orderOysters, obviously. Happy hour menu (daily from 5pm-7pm, including weekends) has $1 oysters and a variety of bar snacks. Sadly the bar snacks are all breaded, but that just means more oysters for you.
Where: One of their 3 locations in the city.
Notes: Not a new establishment but their happy hour oysterfest is always fun. If this doesn’t do it for you, here is a list of 2013 Oyster Happy Hours in New York.

Mermaid Inn's oysters during happy hour.

Mermaid Inn’s oysters during happy hour.


Name: Hu Kitchen
What to order: I couldn’t decide between the Hu bowl and the Thai chicken, so I asked for half and half. While it took some convincing (“wait, you want BOTH?”)…success! And a great combination with a quinoa base and topped with almonds and cilantro.
Where: 78 Fifth Avenue (near 13th Street)


Name: ‘Smac
What to order:  Gluten free 4-cheese macaroni
Where: 345 East 12th Street, between 1st and 2nd avenues
Notes: Not the healthiest but I know that I can’t be the only one missing super creamy macaroni and cheese. Or, as we call it in the Canada, Kraft Dinner or just the shortened KD. (When I first moved to the US in 2003, any reference to KD was met with blank stares, upon which I would say “it’s KRAFT. You guys must know this!”.)


Name: Friedman’s Lunch
What to order: BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato sandwich on gluten-free bread)
Where: Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Ave New York, NY 10011
Notes: They can remove the bacon for the vegetarians among you. Also not to be missed: roasted brussels sprouts. Best ordered as take-out and then moving onto the High Line for a picnic.


Name: Ngam Thai
What to order: Their green curry fried rice and their pad Thai were both fabulous.
Where: 99 Third Avenue, New York (near 14th street)

Ngam Thai NYC

Ngam’s kitchen near Union Square.


Name: Cha An Teahouse
What to Order: Pu’er tea  (below – the brick, not the leaves), and black sesame creme brulee.
Where: 230 East 9th Street
Notes: Just tell them you’re gluten-free and they’ll remove the wafer that comes with the dessert. Let me reiterate that while not a dessert person, the black sesame creme brulee is perhaps the single best dessert I’ve ever had in NYC. I’m not a chocolate person, so if you are you might not agree. But it’s creamy and sesame-infused and topped with black sesame ice cream and perfectly bruleed on top. It’s fabulously good.

Pu'er tea at Cha An

Pu’er tea at Cha An

 Additional Eats and Resources

  • Elote at Cafe Habana is a must. Don’t believe me? Take a look.
  • Pala has a full gluten-free menu and if you’re like me and prefer thin-crust pizza, this is your place.
  • Reader Deborah swears by G-Free NYC, a shop with gluten free goods and freshly baked GF breads.
  • Bareburger will make any of its burgers on a GF bun.
  • One of the first gluten-free restaurants in the city, Risotteria, is still up and running.
  • Lilli and Loo has a full gluten-free Chinese food menu, including pork dumplings.
  • Tu-Lus bakery has more cupcakes than you can handle. Babycakes is another option for those with a sweet tooth — I love their mint cupcakes.
  • For everything else under the sun, see this insanely comprehensive map put together by the Gluten-Free Globetrotter, listing hundreds of grocery and dining options.

Thus concludes the “what I ate in July” edition of Legal Nomads. I’m currently exploring San Francisco for the first time and will be here for a month. A big thanks to those who gave me suggestions for food here; I’m building them into a spreadsheet and will happily share when I’m done.

This weekend I’ll be at Book Passage conference, where I submitted a story that will mostly likely be ripped apart and rebuilt by the instructors — this is why I am going after all, to work on my writing. Later in the month, I’ll be hosting a reader meetup, speaking at the Apple store here about career transitions (more about that in a later post) and I’ll be spending my birthday here next week with friends. Yay!

For those in San Francisco: I will be posting these upcoming events on the Facebook page and also in my “Links I Loved” newsletter.

Hope everyone is having a great summer,


56 comments to Gluten-Free Cheap Eats in NYC (aka “What I Ate in July”)

  1. I’m headed to NYC this weekend and will have to try out some of these gluten-free eats. My sister and I both have celiac disease so we’re constantly on the lookout for good new restaurants that cater to us. Our favorite in NYC has always been the Risotteria!! Hopefully we’ll have a chance to try out the others =)

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time!

    • That’s so great to hear! Glad that it came at such a fortuitous time. Please do leave a note if you find others you enjoy and I”ll add them to my list for the next visit. Enjoy!

      • Hey, I’ve got a question, are there any shops in the US ( especially in New York ) that has organic food ( without GMO ) to sell? If so, what are the costs?

        Please let me know.


  2. Yummy! Will try and test some myself when I’m in NY to create a City Guide. Looks delicious. Anne

  3. I was really excited about the tacos until you mentioned the brussels sprouts at Friedman’s Lunch. Yes please! And a picnic? You’ve got this cheap eats recommendation thing down to an art.

  4. Great resource guide! I have a few friends who are gluten-free so I’ll pass this along to them. :)

  5. Thanks for this Jodi! Just sent it on to my celiac pal as I did with the last one (Italy). She really appreciates them!

  6. Great post. Brings back memories of the great food in general in NYC when I last visited

  7. Although I’ve no problem eating gluten, I do tend to stay away from it (just makes me feel too full!) Next time I’m in NYC, I’ll check a few of these out. As a vegetarian, that Black Tree Kale Caesar Salad looks incredible! And the Black Sesame Creme Brulee sound delicious too. Thanks for sharing these, Jodi!

  8. I think even though celiac disease really limits what you can eat, you found some awesome places to get food. Seriously, they look delicious. And I think it’s great there’s many options. :)

  9. This is fabulous, Jodi, thanks so much! Having these awesome places to check out makes me want to get back to NYC even more …

  10. Hi Jodi,

    LOVE the post! As a fellow foodie having celiac disease it always makes me happy to find more gluten free hidden gems in NYC. I recently started my own blog, which focuses on finding easily accessible, affordable and great tasting gluten-friendly restaurants in NYC. Who says you have to sacrifice quality and taste when eating GF?!

    I’ve been to HU Kitchen and loved it but I will also have to try out the others on this list. Risotteria is also a favorite :) If I am craving gluten free pizza and breadsticks it’s my go-to!

    Look forward to more posts :)

  11. I’m curious about your opinion of Pho Bang compared to what you’ve had in Vietnam (or elsewhere). I’ve always found Vietnamese food in NYC to be lacking.

  12. I’m not into gluten-free diet but this post made me crave for these foods. Got to try them soon.

  13. This is pure gold! I’m headed to NYC in December with a celiac friend and I’m pretty sure she’ll make me visit every single one of the spots you mentioned.

  14. I have some issues with food as well (I tested negative for celiac disease but I still have a pretty sensitive stomach) and it’s really encouraging that you’ve been able to eat so much delicious food while traveling. Have any areas you’ve visited been more difficult when trying to find gluten-free food?

  15. Your guide is making me miss New York so badly, Jodi. Now that you have been to Vietnam, how do you feel about Pho Bang? :) Oh and Cafe Habana, isn’t it awesome? Brunch is always so packed that you can hardly get a table.

  16. Our gluten free stomachs are heading for New York City in early November. Your suggestions will come in handy, thanks!

  17. happy you posted this!! i have a gluten-free friend visiting the city this month who i just forwarded this to!

  18. I’ve just eaten, but looking at these photos has made me want a second dinner! Wow!

  19. We are headed to NYC to visit friends next month. I am always & forever researching places to eat for my GF & dairy free son. Thanks for some great ideas!

  20. This looks so yummy!!! Great tips and pictures, Jodi – now I need to get to NYC ;)

  21. I’m a native NYer and didn’t know half of these places had GF menus. You get used to working around things- looking at everyone else’s great food, and eating salad out. Thanks for all the testing and tasting and this great list

  22. Last year I was in NYC on a conference trip and only had the pleasure of a few venues outside of the conference food. When I head up there this year I plan on sampling some of these places. Thanks for the list of places the food looks delicious. The Pho Bang feast is something I would like to try!

  23. Bookmarked! Haven’t been g-f in NYC yet, but I’m sure to be back there in the coming months. Good to know that I won’t go hungry (not that I was worried…)

  24. Oh my good, those foods look very delicious and tempting.

  25. Great finds! I will need to try some of these. Black Tree sounds like my dream (will do anything with kale), and Baby Cakes on Delancey Street have gluten free vegan cupcakes too. Also, Battersby in Carroll Gardens Brooklyn is something of a newbie dream—the line to wait is long but the kale and kohlrabi salad is serious foodporn with a capital F. Sad to have missed you in NYC!

  26. Great post! All the photos look delicious.
    You write cheap eats… where is the price limit here?

    Will definitely print that article for my next NYC trip!
    Thanks Jodi!

  27. How can everything look so delicious!? I just had a meal and I’m already craving all of these. I envy you so much for having the chance to taste everything! Surely next time I’m in NYC..

  28. Every city needs one of these articles.

  29. These places are noted, we’ll try to find them by December on our NY-CT trip! :)

  30. One of the most difficult things I’ve faced, in experimenting with giving up wheat/barley/rye and trying to fix my health issues, is giving up dessert. So when I discovered ‘Pip’s Place’ bakery here in NYC a few weeks ago, I was bowled over. Most especially because the desserts taste almost better than those that do have gluten.

    Thanks for making, and sharing, this list Jodi!

  31. Thanks for your post on Italy and this one on NYC. As a NYC resident I wanted to chime in on Babycakes and Tu-Lu’s.
    They both have Gluten free deserts, Tu-Lu’s are sweeter, Babycakes are less sweet. So if you like you sweets super sweet go to Tu-Lu’s (my fav), if you like agave sweeten type deserts go to Babycakes (my old fav).

  32. Thank you so much for this! We will be in NYC for the first time in a couple hours, and now we have places we know we can eat at without feeling ill. I can’t wait to try some of these places! :-)

  33. Looking forward to checking a few of these out on my next trip to NYC! Yum.

  34. This is one of the best gluten free lists for NYC that I’ve seen. There are a ton on here I didn’t know about.

    Thank you so kindly!

    - Alexandra

  35. La Esquina, the upstairs joint, is one of my FAVORITE places in the city. Coincidentally, it was one of the first places I went back to after my year of travel! That is… after a bagel (sorry, I know those are off limits..)

  36. I’m heading to NYC this weekend, and its the first time I’ve traveling internationally since I’ve gone GF. I’m also a foodie that was feeling very sorry for myself…until now :) Thanks for the recommendations, everything looks so great! Looks like NYC is very GF friendly!

  37. You should definitely book one of my Gluten Free tours! It’s your chance to enjoy delicious food while learning to navigate the city the Gluten Free way!

  38. Jennifers Way Bakery is not only gluten free but dairy soy refined sugar and peanut free. Many vegan options AND BAGELS! All organic! Yes I said bagels! Crispy gorgeous bagels and Italian bread! Donuts and delicious carrot cake! Best place that takes gluten free seriously. Nutritious ingredients yet amazing taste. In east village

  39. On my first trip to NYC in years (and since going to gluten free) this past June, I ate at Risotteria and was pretty impressed. The next day I ate across the street at Keste Pizza ( and was completely blown away. I didn’t sit where I could see the prep area and I’m not very sensitive to cross-contamination, so I can’t comment on how “clean” it is, but it was DEFINITELY the best GF pizza I have ever had anywhere ever. I even managed to fold the slice in half. Because of my husband’s job I will be going to NYC a couple times a year and I will be eating at Keste every time. Also, just down Bleecker is a macaron (naturally gluten free!) boutique – Bisous Ciao ( I walked by, but didn’t go inside because I’m sure I would eat every cookie in the place.

    Thanks for a great blog!!

  40. On March 19, 2014 at 7:56 am Jeannette Bisschoff said:

    This is fantastic!! I will be in NYC in Sept 2014 – I was really anxious about eating – but now I am overwhelmed with the choices. Thank you very much!! :D


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