New York, New York! Gluten-free, allergy-friendly travel adventures.


I just got home from a long weekend in New York. Yep, that’s me in the photo, relishing in the weird madness of Times Square, my plaid coat swimming in a sea of black jackets. This was my first trip to NYC, and let me tell you, I drank it up. Site-seeing and aimless wandering aside, the main reason for going was my appointment with Dr. Bernard Raxlen, a well-known LLMD who specializes in the treatment of tick-borne illnesses. The appointment was wonderful; the office was private and quiet, and he was supportive and knowledgeable. In short, it was a great relief to finally feel like I have answers to all those questions I had. I realized, once again, that I have a whole lot of stuff going on that I had learned to ignore or write off to “other things”, whatever I thought those things were, who knows. I now have a fist full of prescriptions to fill for antibiotics, thyroid medication, anti-yeast medication to add to my already full pill schedule.  If you want to know more about my treatment, check out my post  on my other blog, The Healing Journal.  It feels amazing to have answers, finally.


But, as the Buddha said, all things in moderation; I also made sure to have lots and lots of fun. It was my first trip to New York, and I completely and totally fell in love.

I ran on adrenalin.

I absorbed New York big time. It is a city of many cities, each neighborhood unique. I was staying with a dear friend who lives near Columbia in the Upper West Side. He was a total darling, and gave me the grand tour. I’m a wanderer when I travel, not a planner, and he has the same approach, so we travelled together swimmingly. We went all over the city, hitting up his painting studio, checking out films in Harlem and Chelsea, hitting up all the tourist wonderment of Times Square and Rockafeller Center, and wandered over to the East Village for vintage shopping. We shared a table with a stranger at dinner, got invited to a party at his apartment that evening, attended the party, and had an amazing time. We wandered Chinatown, Little Italy, saw the South Sea Harbor, the site of the Twin Towers, and the Financial District. We walked through Central Park. I learned to use the public transit system there, even navigating it on my own! I combatted my blood sugar crashes by packing a ton of me-friendly snacks and carrying them around with me on our adventures (an extra big purse beats passing out anyday). I worked around my dietary restrictions by seeking out restaurants with menus I could negotiate (I love Google). I dragged myself up stairs, stairs and more stairs, taking breaks when I needed to (I get winded and totally exhausted with stairs these days…thanks, Lyme Disease). I had fun and felt totally confident with new people at that apartment party without drinking a drop of alcohol (I stopped drinking a couple years ago because it was making me feel terrible). I felt more like my old self again; adventurous, carefree, spontaneous.

Amidst all the fun I fit in my admissions phone interview with the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine.  I will hear this week regarding my acceptance - fingers crossed!!!

Of course, I wanted to provide you a round-up of my gluten free, allergy friendly culinary adventures.  The hardest part about it, honestly, was asking questions at restaurants.  New York has a huge immigrant population, and many of them work in food service - some of my servers and people working at the counters didn't speak English well, and my questions were misunderstood and required a lot of clarification.  New York has tons of great choices for those of us with restrictions, so with a little  homework, you have lots of options.  So here goes, starting with the dinner I packed in my carry-on for the flight there...

Where: Milwaukee Airport (I don't think was is a gluten free, allergy-friendly meal in the entire airport other than mine)
What I ate: some very tasty, very travel friendly chickpea salad, my fallback travel food

 ON THE ROAD CHICKPEA SALAD (gluten free, vegan)
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1 small cucumber, peeled and seeded
handful parsley, chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
pinch dry mint
1/2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
1/2 tsp coriander
splash ume vinegar and olive oil
optional: other veggies, other spices

Mix ingredients together in a bowl, and take with you.  Lasts well unrefrigerated for up to 4-5 hours. Delicious!
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Where: Saga Grill (Vietnamese and Japanese)
Neighborhood: Morningside Heights, 1268 Amsterdam Ave (between 122nd and 123rd st)
What I ate: pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup - broth, rice noodles, beef, with bean sprouts, basil, onion to garnish)
What it set me back: about $8
How GF/allergy-safe was it? To be honest, I was a bit nervous.  Pho should not contain any gluten at all, since it is made with homemade bone stock and uses rice noodles, but to be safe, I asked. The server did not speak English very well and did not understand my question when I asked about gluten or wheat, instead answering that there wasn't any corn starch.   While that was good to know, it sure didn't answer my question.  I decided to go for it, relying on many other positive pho experiences out in the world - it is my fallback food, since most metro areas have at least one quality Vietnamese restaurant.   The food came, and I didn't have any reactions, so it all worked out - but there was definitely an element of risk involved.  The rest of the menu was pretty standard Vietnamese and Japanese faire - broken rice plates, lots of sushi, bento lunches, stir fries, spring rolls.  Many options that seemed like they could be GF (rice plates, sushi, etc), but many options that also probably contain lots of hidden gluten (soy sauce!!!!!), corn starch, and other potential allergens.  This place is risky...unless you're eating the pho!
How did it taste? It was passable.  I've had better tasting pho many places.  But it was warming and rich, and came with lots and lots of very tender beef, which is very important.  The basil was wilty, but the bean sprouts were fresh.  Plus, it was the cheapest meal I ate in NYC, and our green tea was free.  I think it tasted even better because it was only 12* F outside and we were freezing our butts off out there in the cold.



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Where: Chop't (made to order chopped salads)
Neighborhood: Midtown, other locations in NYC as well
What I ate: custom chopped salad of arugula, roasted turkey, peas, snow peas, sunflower seeds, white beans, carrot, and cucumber, with a little olive oil, and a bag of Terra Chips (no potatoes, baby!)
What it set me back: about $13
How GF/allergy-safe was it?  The ingredients are all lined up deli style in the prep area, and there is definitely cross-contamination between some of them - I had to pick some corn out of my peas, for example.  If you are severely nut allergic, there would be some MAJOR risk here.  On the plus side, they use a fresh cutting board with each salad.  Unfortunately, gluten is not called out in the salad dressings. And without calling it out on the menu or asking  me, I was served my salad with a big fat piece of pita bread smashed in on top.  I had them remake my salad, since I wasn't willing to pick it off and just eat.  They obliged apologetically, and I told them they ought to ask customers if they want bread, or put a sign up that bread is included with each salad.  This place had some risky elements.  If you are severely reactive, it may not be the place for you.  If you're okay as long as you don't eat the allergen, I'd totally recommend it.
How did it taste?  Awesome.  The vegetables were very fresh, very flavorful, and the chopped nature of the salad made every bite perfect.  I loved it. I would totally go back.  No reactions either, which is cool.
Side notes: I wanted to go to Just Salad (another salad place with GF callouts on the menu), but came across Chop't first.  Walking 3 more blocks and navigating Rockafellar Center on a busy Saturday just to get a salad when Chop't was right in front of me seemed silly.  but next time, I'm going to try Just Salad; based on their menu, they just seem more GF aware.

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Where: S'Mac | Sarita's Macaroni & Cheese (made-to-order mac and cheese, has a dedicated GF menu)
Neighborhood: East Village
What I ate: custom pasta dish of brown rice macaroni elbows, chicken, broccoli, and roasted garlic
What it set me back: about $13
How GF/allergy-safe was it? Sarita's claims to be very GF friendly.  They have GF brown rice macaroni noodles and GF bread crumbs (rice and corn-based) for an extra cost, and since the pasta dishes are customizable, you can get what works for you and what doesn't.  Since the kitchen is filled with gluten, there is some risk for cross-contamination.  The only oil they have in the kitchen is corn oil, so if you have corn allergies, ask for it to be prepared without oil.  Since everything normally comes with cheese, my cheese-free order got a bit of flack from the young and rather unknowledgeable staff person working at the counter.  However, my order was totally right, completely delicious, and I did not have any reactions.
How did it taste?  Great.  I had dry pasta that was tossed with roasted garlic, steamed broccoli, and chicken, but would have loved some kind of sauce or something.  Regardless, it tasted great, and I had leftovers (I got the Mongo size).  Hooray!  No reactions, no belly ache (other than eating too much...)

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Where: Quantum Leap - East Village (vegetarian, organic, whole foods)
Neighborhood: East Village, another location in the West Village
What I ate: the Salmon Plate (steamed seasonal veggies, brown rice, and broiled salmon ordered without the regular glaze) and a fresh carrot-beet juice
What it set me back: about $18
How GF/allergy-safe was it?  They were very receptive to all of my questions and concerns.  However, the kitchen is teaming with gluten; whole grain pancakes are their claim to fame.  They use the same grill for everything - so I made sure my veggies were steamed and the fish broiled, not grilled.  I felt they were the most knowledgeable and accomadating to my questions and needs.  They offer GF ale on their menu too (I don't drink right now, but it looked tasty!).  My receipt called out no gluten, no sauces, broil, steamed etc - hooray for being clear on the order directions.
How did it taste?  Amazing! The vegetables were perfectly steamed, the rice was tender, and the HUGE filet of salmon melted in my mouth.  It came without any sauces or marinades - just like I ordered - and was hot, straight from the kitchen.  Since it was pretty much plain, whole food, I pulled some wasabi powder from my purse and stirred in a little water, making a tasty wasabi paste to eat with the fish.  Perfect!!!  The carrot beet juice was refreshing and vitamin-packed, just what I needed.  This was a great meal, and I will definitely go back the next time I am in NY.  Then menu was extensive and wonderful; lots of vegan options, and for peopel with a few less allergies than me, you'd have a TON of choices.  They have more items than what is on their menu online.



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Where: Organic Forever (grocery store)
Neighborhood: Harlem
Great little organic grocery store, with a TON of gluten free, vegan, and whole foods options.  I can't believe all the specialty items shoved into such a small space, everything from bulk grains and legumes to Chinese herbs and homeopathics to a nice deli and a whole bunch of packaged foods.  All the basics plus more - perfect!  Their produce was fresh, just basic offerings, but enough to make good meals.  They even had SoDelicious Coconut Milk Ice Cream, Grainnaissance Mochi, local sprouts, and a loads of GF stuff.  Awesome, highly recommended.  My friend Matthew says their coffee is very good.  If you're in the Upper West Side and need a place to grab an energy bar, stuff for a quick meal, a snack, or some herbs, this is a good choice.  I got a bunch of groceries to make a few meals for under $20.

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Where: WestSide Market  (grocery store)
Neighborhood: Morningside Heights, other NYC locations
Great 24/7 market with an amazing deli and hot bar, salad bar, loads of fresh produce, and a huge amount of specialty items and GF grocery offerings.   I got the grilled carrots from the hot bar, and it was amazing.  Other ready-made basics like rice with veggies, roasted asparagus, sweet potatoes, all ready to go.   This is the kind of place you and your friends/family could go to for a quick meal, regardless of who can or can't eat what.  Plus, it was cheap - I got a container of roasted carrots, 1 pound of Brussels Sprouts, and a HUGE zucchini for about $3.30.  This place was incredible, so many speciality items, so many fresh veg, such fresh deli options - AWESOME!

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A few other places I came across that looked time!  
Angelica's Kitchen (vegetarian - some GF options)
Candle Cafe (vegetarian - GF menu)
Pala (pizza & pasta - vegan menu, GF options)
Just Salad (made to order chopped salads - GF menu)
Shake Shack NYC (burgers, shakes - GF menu)
The Organic Grill (vegan - some GF options)
Sacred Chow Vegan Bistro (vegan - some GF options)
Sambuca (Italian - GF menu)
Risotteria Ristorante (Italian - GF menu)
Rice (rice-based dishes)
Rice to Riches  (mix-n-match rice pudding - everything includes dairy and eggs, so it doesn't work for me - but everything looked GF, so if you tolerate eggs and dairy, go go go!)


Great resource for dining in NYC with dietary restrictions: Allergic Girl

There are many many many more restaurants in NYC with GF and allergy-friendly offerings, this is just scratching the surface.  This link has a few additional offerings. Do some research, and see what else you can find!

This post would be remiss without mentioning that I was in the hometown of Babycakes , the ubiquitous bakery that published the self-titled cookbook of mostly GF, mostly agave-sweetened baked goods last year.  They are very transparent about their ingredients, and list the full ingredient and nutritional information for all their basic baked goods on their website.  In a bittersweet turn of events, I found out in my research that they use lots and lots of potato starch and corn starch in their baked goods, as well as xanthan gum, which I try to avoid most of the time (I tolerate it in very small quantities occasionally, but don't make a habit of eating it regularly).  So, no Babycakes for me.  But if you tolerate corn and potato, and want some pretty impressive looking gluten free baked goodies head on over to Babycakes.
Of course, I took along food for snacks, breakfasts, and dinner supplementation.  As someone with dietary restrictions, I always travel with food.  Since i was staying with a friend, I was able to cook in his kitchen for some meals at home; that allowed me to stop at the local markets and get veggies and other things, and cook up wholesome, satisfying meals.  But much of our day was on-the-go - bringing food that could travel during the day with me was key.  I packed more than I needed, but when it comes to travel and GF/allergy-friendly living, I think being over-prepared is best.  Here's some extra stuff I brought along to eat on the airplane and while bopping around NYC:
  • Cashew Cookie LaraBar (dates and cashews - that's it!)
  • Enjoy Life Sunbutter Crunch Bars (these are a bit of a cheat, with both cane juice and xanthan gum...but I seem tolerate them and don't have any reactions, so in cases like this, they are useful)
  • homemade Nut Free Super Food Trail Mix 
  • homemade Power Nuggets, my answer to Chunks of Energy (this recipe will be in my cookbook...stay tuned!)
  • homemade energy bar of quinoa flakes, flax, sunflower seeds, and shredded carrot (I'm working on perfecting this recipe....)
  • raw cashews
  • rice cakes
  • a few homemade muffins (packed them frozen, perfect for breakfasts!)
  • dehydrated split pea soup mixture (mix with hot water, done!)
  • UltraClear Plus protein powder and a small mason jar (put the powder in the jar, throw your bag, and just add water when you want it!)
  • a big bag of me-friendly tea bags
  • cornstarch-free wasabi powder: to make my own for spicy dressings/sauces at restaurants
  • dulse flakes: adds flavor and nutrition on restaurant salads, veggies, etc
  • a bag of baby carrots
  • a bag of snow peas (came in handy on my unexpected flight delay!)
Sounds like a lot, right?  Well, I was there for 4 1/2 days, and knew I'd be walking a lot and would get hungry hungry hungry.   I packed it all in a bag, shoved it in my suitcase, and I was totally well-prepared.  Anytime we were out wandering the city (for 12+ hours per day), I could reach into my bag whenever I felt a little low blood sugar moment, and know I had a safe snack.  It even came in handy for my friend - he loved my Power Nuggets. I also brought along some other stuff to make for breakfasts and have for meals at my friend's apartment - quinoa flakes, kasha, a can of soy-free tuna, split mung dal.   I was totally prepared, and ate a whole lot more of it than I thought - walking all day gave me the serious munchies.


All in all, it was a great success.  I loved New York.  I need to go back in March for a follow up with my doctor, and hope I am feeling well enough at that time to do more site seeing.  I feel my body crashing now from running at such a high velocity for 4 days, but it was worth every second.

I am working on a post about how to travel gluten free and allergy free, so stay tuned!  In the meantime, enjoy a few photos from my trip.  If you want to see more, check out my photostream on Flickr.