There comes a time in every gluten-intolerant's life when they must dine out with wheat-eaters. These insensitives will eye you with disdain as you have the server pick apart the menu to make sure you order the one thing that won't completely mess up your digestive system. The whole process is a total tummy ache, which is why knowing what you're getting before you go is crucial.
As founder of NOBREAD.com, I find the best gluten-free (GF) eats in NYC restaurants so you don't have to. Here are 11 of my favorites:
Best gluten-free grilled cheese: Melt Shop
If you’ve resigned yourself to a life of dense, soggy grilled cheeses made with inadequate gluten-free substitutes, it’s time to reevaluate. With a grill sear that’s totally unprecedented on GF bread (provided by Brooklyn’s own Free Bread), the creative sandwiches here, like the Truffle Melt -- havarti, truffle oil, and arugula -- are up there with the best of ‘em.
Best gluten-free bagel: Tompkins Square
165 Avenue A, East Village
Gluten-free varieties are limited to everything, cinnamon raisin, and plain, but the avocado and/or bacon add-ons and specialty spreads are the real reason you’re here. Combinations like peanut butter cream cheese and banana on cinnamon raisin may be too novel for the bagel-with-lox purist, but this line is still out the door on weekends for a reason -- mostly because legions of young NYC ladies love to Instagram the pink birthday cake cream cheese with rainbow sprinkles.
Best gluten-free pasta: Del Posto
85 10th Ave, Chelsea
Six years ago when I first acquiesced to this lifestyle, it was extremely rare for a restaurant to carry one store-bought gluten-free pasta, much less make multiple varieties in-house. But Mario Batali is totally on our side. Find a GF version of every pasta on the regular menu -- gnocchi, lasagna, and a next-level chestnut ravioli with porcini ragu included.
Best gluten-free bakery: Erin McKenna’s Bakery (Babycakes NYC)
248 Broome St, Lower East Side
The first GF bakery to arrive on the scene way back in 2005, Erin McKenna’s Bakery, aka Babycakes NYC, serves up sweets that are totally vegan, and free of refined sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, egg, and wheat. Which may sound like a total snooze, but somehow, someway, these treats are pretty damn comparable to those that come from regular bakeries.
Best gluten-free tacos: Otto’s Tacos
141 2nd Ave, East Village
Order easy as all the tacos on this dinner menu (except the carnitas), are made with corn and rice flour tortillas, and are completely fair-game for a gluten-free eater. Masa fries are the move if you can handle stuff that’s been cooked in a shared fryer.
Best gluten-free breakfast sandwich: Egg Shop
151 Elizabeth St, Nolita
Gluten-free eating options have certainly come a long way, but it’ll probably be awhile before your corner bodega is slinging any kind of digestible breakfast sandwich. Until then, come here for a classic bacon, egg, and cheese, or try something a little more adventurous, like The Beast with pulled pork carnitas, a sunny up egg, cilantro, pickled onion, and chipotle bourbon ketchup. Both are available on Glutino-provided English muffins.
Best gluten-free Italian: Rubirosa
235 Mulberry St, Nolita
Eat big at this lil’ dimly lit Italian gem, because with an extensive gluten-free menu that mirrors the regular one, almost nothing is off-limits. The pizza -- particularly the vodka slice with fresh mozzarella and vodka sauce -- is an excellent option, so long as it’s preceded by fried calamari, but classic chicken parm or spaghetti and meatballs (made with gluten-free breadcrumbs) shouldn’t be overlooked.
Best gluten-free dessert: Chloe's Soft Serve
25 E 17th St, Union Square
This dairy-free, real fruit soft-serve is probably the healthiest dessert in NYC second only to, like, an apple, but if that’s not a selling point, the outrageously delicious taste sure is.
Best gluten-free meatballs: Meatball Shop
So here’s the thing: the beef, spicy pork, and veggie balls are all a no-go for the gluten-free guild. BUT, when you pair the GF chicken meatballs with a fried egg, bacon, classic tomato sauce and sides of polenta and sauteed veggies, you won’t know, nor care, about what you’re missing.
Best gluten-free falafel: Taim
The totally gluten-free chickpea fritters (some of the best in NYC!) at this hot, hot lunch spot are super tasty regardless of dietary restrictions. Choose from three flavor of balls: traditional green (parsley, cilantro, mint), yellow (harissa), or red (roasted red pepper) or opt for the mixed falafel platter, which includes a sampling of ‘em all, plus hummus, s’rug hot sauce, amba (mango chutney), and Israeli pickles. Avoid the totally not gluten-free pita and tabouli salad and you’re good to go.
Best gluten-free brunch: Rosemary’s
18 Greenwich Ave, West Village
Eschewing the typical loaded pancake and French toast brunch affair, Executive Chef Wade Moises loads up his Italian menu with raw seafood and vegetable dishes that are highlighted by seasonal herbs and produce from his rooftop farm. Make your go-to the loaded Chopped Salad Siciliana (escarole, artichoke, olives, caper berries, sun-dried tomatoes, crispy chickpeas, raisins, ricotta salata, and sunflower seeds), because with so many fresh options (and excellent cocktails!), no one will be able to make fun of you for eating a salad for brunch.
1. Melt Shop601 Lexington Ave, New York
2. Tompkins Square Bagels165 Avenue A, New York
3. Del Posto85 10th Ave, New York
4. Erin McKenna's Bakery248 Broome St, New York
5. Otto's Tacos141 2nd Ave, New York
6. Egg Shop151 Elizabeth St, New York
7. Rubirosa235 Mulberry St, New York
8. Chloe's Soft Serve Fruit Co.25 E 17th St, New York
9. The Meatball Shop64 Greenwich Ave, New York
10. Taïm222 Waverly Pl, New York
11. Rosemary’s18 Greenwich Ave, New York
This Midtown joint serves up the American cheesy classic, from a traditional grilled cheese to pork-stuffed variations, the Melt Shop's got a good thing going. House-made milkshakes are also offered in seasonal flavors.
Right by Tompkins Square Park, this Alphabet City bagel shop has a ton of unique homemade cream cheeses (bacon scallion, chocolate chip cookie dough, birthday cake, chipotle avocado, etc). The plump and chewy bagels range in flavor from plain, sesame, and poppy to French toast, pumpkin, and spelt. The line typically goes out the door on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and note: it's cash-only.
Brought to you by infamous restaurateurs and chefs Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich, and Mark Ladner, Del Posto is arguably one of the best Italian fine-dining spots in the city. The elegant interior features lots of black, red, and gold decor, as well as a candle-lit marble staircase in the center of the room, and the menu is a gold-mine, featuring delicious house-made pastas, salads, and beautiful cuts of meat.
In 2005, Erin McKenna set out to do the impossible: found a vegan bakery that doesn't totally suck. She succeeded, and now it's gluten-free as well. Yup. All of it. The list of ingredients that aren't in the baked goods is longer than the list of things that are: no refined sugar, dairy, wheat, soy, or eggs. So what's in those delectable donuts and brilliant brownies? Go find out. Just because your dietary restrictions are difficult doesn't mean dessert has to be.
Otto's Tacos offers a distilled menu of five taco choices (carne asada, chicken, shrimp, mushroom, and carnitas) in a grab-and-go space. The corn tortillas are housemade, and meals can be had with your choice of Modelo or horchata. And while the options are pared down, masa fries and an off-menu deep-fried soft taco keep things exciting.
This small NoLita shop reimagines the simple egg in a variety of sandwich, meat, and salad combinations, breaking the humble ingredient out of its breakfast-only role. The menu is seriously creative -- with dishes like "The Beast," which pairs sunny side-up eggs with pulled pork, pickled onion, chipotle bourbon ketchup, and cilantro -- and is well-balanced with rich sides like deep-fried hash browns. Though the shop is open all day, we recommend stopping by during daylight hours, when the open-front facade lets you enjoy your sunny side-up in sunny peace.
This family-run pizzeria has history on its side, with a thin-crust pizza recipe that has been winning over locals for the past 56 years -- especially when featured as the base for the fresh mozzarella-topped Vodka slice. Rubirosa also boasts other Italian classics, like a killer chicken Parm and housemade spaghetti and meatballs.
Just because you’re a butterfat-shunning health fiend, that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice the joys of soft-serve. At Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co., it’s made from just water, a hint of organic cane sugar, and fresh fruits like banana, mango, or blueberry. Yes, it’s light and zingy, but you’ll still think it’s soft-serve.
Michael Chernow and Daniel Holzman's meatball mini-chain has nailed down the concept of the build-it-yourself menu. The speciality is of course, meatballs, but you choose the type (beef, pork, chicken, or veggie), sauce (classic tomato, spicy meat, pesto, etc), and presentation (slider, hero, naked with a side of bread). Dessert is also customizable, and the ice cream sandwiches made with your choice of cookie and ice cream are a must.
This West Village counter-serve makes crave-worthy falafel that should definitely be part of your weekly lunch repertoire if you work nearby. The three varieties of falafel -- traditional, harissa, and roasted red pepper -- are served as sandwiches or platters, and are complemented by healthy sides like Israeli salad, spicy Moroccan carrots, and marinated red beets. Taim is quick and cheap (most sandwiches are under $10) but the food isn't greasy or fast-food like at all.
Rosemary's is a bright, airy trattoria in the Greenwich Village offering refined and rustic Italian eats in a palatial indoor/outdoor space. The regularly updated menu largely consists of seasonal fare, including vegetable dishes supplemented with herbs from the restaurant's own rooftop garden.