22 Cheap Eats in New York City

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. I wanted to post my own gluten free in NYC guide for those who wanted to do the same.

Updated Gluten Free Cheap Eats New York List – Aug 2016

Where to eat gluten free in NYC: my opinionated list

In a city of this size, it’s always helpful to have a list of someone else’s preferences to stuff your face ;)

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 for celiacs.

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.

After a visit in summer 2016, I’ve updated my picks for celiacs and non-celiacs alike in New York. See the end of the post please!

Gluten Free in NYC – My Fave Cheap Eats


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.

Rainy days call for elote.

A photo posted by Jodi Ettenberg (@legalnomads) on

2. 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.


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.


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.

Jodi dreams of chirashi.

A photo posted by Jodi Ettenberg (@legalnomads) on

5. 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 15 of the best Oyster Happy Hours in New York, as of summer 2016.

Yesterday’s oyster-filled happy hour with @blacktreenyc. A photo posted by Jodi Ettenberg (@legalnomads) on


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)


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, in all it’s fermented brick-y goodness. Another staple in NYC, this time from Cha An.

A photo posted by Jodi Ettenberg (@legalnomads) on

Additional Resources for Eating Gluten Free in NYC

  • 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.
  • 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.

Thus concludes the “what I ate in July” edition of Legal Nomads.

Summer 2016 Cheap Eats NYC Additions

  1. Great Vietnamese food, with quality ingredients and delicious combinations, at newly-opened Bricolage on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn. I got the grilled shrimp vermicelli bowl, and a friend tried the banh xeo sizzling rice pancake. Both were delicious.
  2. Wild opened an outpost in Park Slope for great gluten-free pizzas. They’ve also got gluten-free pastas on offer.
  3. Great Turkish & Mediterranean food at Istanbul Park (their adana skewers = great stuff). Also in Park Slope.
  4. Healthy protein bowls, local ingredients, delicious dressings. Sweet Green has locations all over NYC and if one is nearby, it’s worth a stop for a quick lunch.
  5. The Ace Hotel’s John Dory oyster bar has a happy hour, with 1/2 off glasses of wine and $2 oysters, 5-7pm Monday through Friday.
  6. Brunch at Littleneck is reasonably-priced and they even have poutine! (The poutine isn’t GF, sorry celiacs). I went to the 3rd ave location.
  7. Corn arepas with a variety of stuffings and some fried plantains to boot. Great options at the Arepa Factory in the East Village.
  8. Cheap, vegetarian and delicious South Indian food at Temple Canteen in Flushing, and their menu clearly marks which dishes are GF. Dosa to die for. Worth the trip!
  9. Midtown Lebanese joint Souk & Sandwich has char-grilled meats, dips, and lots of salads. If you’re celiac make sure you mention no tabouli nor any pita; I brought my own crackers for dipping.
  10. Spring Bone Kitchen has slow cooked meat, paleo bowls, and heaps of delicious, flavorful options for lunch and dinner. A bit kitschy on the concept but bone broth is superbly healthy and we’re the country that’s late to the game. Delicious.
  11. Senza Gluten has 100% gluten-free menu. I usually dine at places for both celiacs and non-celiacs, since most of my friends eat their gluten. But if you’re particularly worried or you’ve got more than one GF eater in tow, this is a good bet.
If you’re looking for more gluten-free information, please see my Gluten Free Travel page for other city guides and advice 

Hope everyone is having a great summer,