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

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 order: Oysters, 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,


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