NYC Real Food Restaurant Guide
Right before Thanksgiving, I headed to New York to visit and hang out with my little sister. Of course, the most important way to spend time in New York is to eat your way through it! However, eating my way through the city was a lot easier before I was gluten-free and dairy-free. Much to my chagrin, my favorite treat in all of NYC is a waffle from Wafels and Dinges smothered in speculoos cookie butter. Yes…nectar of the gods…but a major no-no for me. What to do?
Unfortunately, I found a lack of NYC real-food, paleo-ish restaurant guides online, so I did a lot of research before I left, made a big to-eat list, and checked off as many as time (and tummy space) allowed! Yes, folks, I ate my way through the city so I could share my findings with you. I know…so selfless!
I’m sharing where I went, what I thought, as well as a list of promising places I didn’t quite get to. Eating strictly paleo while traveling is tough…I don’t often eat grains or sugar, but vacation…right? However, the places and food choices below are all gluten and dairy free (with the exception of butter), with some sugar and grain splurges here and there.
Here’s a peek at my food journey through the Big Apple, complete with descriptions and scores. And just a note…I’m a tough grader (aka, I don’t give a 10 until literal angels descend upon me and sing the hallelujah chorus!)
Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Paleo-ish NYC Food Guide
Let's get started!
Sweetgreen – Hungry and tired after getting off the plane, my sister and I walked to a nearby Sweetgreen, which is a great “fast casual” (don’t you just love that term??) chain around town. You basically build your own grain or salad bowl, Chipotle-style. You can add or substitute any ingredients you’d like. I opted for the Harvest Grain Bowl which is topped with kale, apples, sweet potatoes, roast chicken, and toasted almonds. I switched out the rice for quinoa, held the goat cheese, and added brussels sprouts and avo. Delish and enough for two meals! Score: 7/10
De Maria – At the recommendation of a friend, we tried De Maria, which is a super cute gem in the East Village. Like most places on this list, they only have a few things on the menu that work with my dietary choices, but there are options! I started with their gluten-free banana bread (with flaxseed, coconut, ginger). It was okay…a little dry…but hey, it’s gluten-free! I asked them for a big slab of butter to put on top, which helped. For the main brunch-course, I was going between the Autumn Dragon Bowl (coconut grains (rice), turmeric-poached eggs, autumn veggies, heirloom beans, tarragon tahini) and the Tiger Bowl (coconut grains, house-cured salmon, avocado, hijiki, black sesame, leche de tigre). I went with the Tiger Bowl and probably should have gone with the Autumn Bowl (I’m just not a huge raw-ish salmon fan…it’s the texture!) but the bowl was full of flavor and anyone who loves sushi-ish flavors would love it. Score: 6/10
By the Way Bakery – Friends and countrymen…lend me your ears! This little bakery on the Upper East Side was the HIGHLIGHT of my trip and it’s a perfect stop after a walk through Central Park. This place is dangerous. Their bakery is entirely gluten-free, dairy-free and kosher…mind you, they do have a sign that says “We are not magicians, we are bakers. We use eggs and sugar!” Often times gluten-free bakeries are also vegan…and when you remove eggs…I dunno…the results just aren’t the same. I’m always skeptical of gluten-free baked goods, so we started with a small order. At the baker’s suggestion, I tried one of their sour cherry mini-cakes along with one of their famous almond cookies. My skeptical gluten-loving sister tried one of the chocolate chip mini bundt cakes as well as an almond cookie. The cakes were both very good and undetectably gluten-free…but then…we each bit into the almond cookies and our lives were instantly changed!!! We agreed they were the best thing we had stuffed in our faces all year! We quickly finished them and ran back in to buy a 6-pack to go! My goal in life for the next year is to try and figure out their recipe. They are no doubt packed with sugar…so they should probably be a once-in-a-blue-moon treat, but...holy cookie balls…they’re amazing! Score: 9/10
Adoro Lei – When in NYC, pizza is a must, amiright?? I was on the hunt for a place that offered good GF crust as well as high-quality standard crust for my sis. We settled on Adoro Lei because I saw they have cauliflower crust (better for me than typical GF crusts which usually contain corn, which my body hates). Unfortunately, the server told me that their cauli-crust is held together with cheese, so that made it a no-go. I decided to take a chance on the standard GF-crust and ordered the Pietro which is topped with marinated cherry tomatoes, basil, arugula, prosciutto, and truffle oil. It was a little on the dry side without any sauce, but still pretty tasty. However, the BEST part about this place was the DJ who was ON POINT. I promise he reached into the depths of my soul and played every song our hearts could have desired. I almost ordered dessert so we didn’t have to leave! Score: 5/10 … DJ Score: 11/10
Hu Kitchen – I’ve heard all sorts of glorious endorsements of this place. It’s like a paleo wonderland…the sign over the door reads “Food for Humans” and their motto is “It’s time to get back to the way humans ate before industry ruined food.” Preach! I was in the mood for breakfast and they had just switched to the lunch menu, so I didn’t stay to eat, but I did snag some of their amazing paleo chocolate, sweetened with only coconut sugar and without any added emulsifiers, etc. Just real food ingredients. I tried the Crunchy Mint, Almond Butter + Puffed Quinoa, and my absolute fave…the Hazelnut Butter. Reminded me of the chocolate I used to binge on when I lived in Switzerland…and that’s hard to live up to! Can’t score the whole restaurant…but the chocolate? 8/10
Dig Inn – Dig Inn is another chipotle-esque “fast casual” establishment. You pick a base for your bowl (either rice, greens or farro (not GF), then you choose your meat, and veggie add-ons. I picked the rice, lemon chicken, charred brussels sprouts, roasted sweet potato, some avo (gotta have that fat!) and picked pesto as my sauce (which I didn’t need). The bowl was simple, flavorful, super satisfying, huge and only $10! Pretty great deal for NYC. I would definitely be a regular if I lived in town. Score: 7/10
The Fat Radish – I met up with a nutritional therapist friend on Friday night who also happened in town. A few of her friends and I all met up at The Fat Radish…a place I’ve heard lots about. The restaurant is definitely all about veggies with a side of meat…just the way I like it! I did try a bite of the Shaved Cauliflower with Walnuts in Brown Butter Vinaigrette…pretty tasty but not mind-blowing. The main event was my entrée…the Short Ribs over parsnip puree with roasted parsnips, prunes and pine nuts. Dear gracious, this short rib all but dissolved the second it hit my tongue. It was so amazing, I had to keep myself from licking the plate. Not sure about everything else on the menu (it all looked good), but that short rib... Score: 9/10
Erin McKenna’s Bakery – Who wouldn’t want to grab a late-night gluten-free, vegan donut? I mean…like I said earlier, I’m not usually a fan of vegan baked goods (eggs please!) and this place was definitely no By The Way Bakery…BUT…GF donuts are hard to find, so I was happy to visit this place a couple times on my trip. Turns out it’s pretty hit or miss. The Vanilla Sprinkle Donut and the Cinnamon Sugar donut were pretty darn tasty…and my friends like their cupcakes. However, on my return visit we ordered a scone, a pumpkin whoopie pie and a pumpkin donut…none of which were very good, and all of the pumpkin items tasted artificial in some weird way. So, hit or miss…but the good stuff is pretty decent! Score: 5/10
Brodo – The next morning we were walking to breakfast and passed Brodo, one of a few to-go bone broth establishments in NYC. It was a chilly morning, I felt like I was on the verge of fighting a cold, so it was a no brainer. I ordered the basic chicken bone broth. $6 plus tip for a small to-go cup with a lid…but the warmth and salty goodness was worth every penny. They have all sorts of add-ins plus beef and veggie broth. I’d definitely go back. Score: 7/10
The Butcher’s Daughter – Bone broth in hand, we continued on to brunch at The Butcher’s Daughter in the West Village. I’ve heard a lot about this plant-based hotspot. The décor was adorable, the place was packed and the staff were frantic but friendly. (Although they weren’t wild about me bringing my Brodo cup inside and asked me to pour it into a coffee cup! Ha!) My eyes were bigger than my stomach, as per usual. I ordered the Coconut Yogurt Parfait topped with berries and kiwi (hold the papaya because tropical fruits are not my jam), almond-goji granola, and a maple drizz. It was okay. The coconut yogurt had a weird consistency…thin and almost like it had some sort of gum added to it…it didn’t taste like the coconut yogurt I know and love. I also ordered the Purple Cauliflower Grits, topped with poached eggs, yellow beets, white turnips, adzuki bean bacon, and micro greens. It was…okay. Not as flavorful as I’d hoped. And let me just say one thing…you can KEEP your adzuki bean bacon! If it ain’t bacon, don’t call it bacon. It tasted like nothing and pretty much dissolved into a mushy mess in my bowl. The purple grits were fun to look at, though. Also, they hook you with their yummy-smelling candles in the bathroom and then tell you they are $65! Eek. Score: 5/10
Bareburger – Late that night, the sis and I were wandering around Midtown, visiting Christmas markets and watching awkward adult ice-skaters try to stay on their feet. Such good entertainment! :) When our tums began to growl, we wanted something quick and easy. I’d heard good things about the grass-fed beef burgers at Bareburger, so we decided to give it a try, forsaking our Shake Shack instincts. Okay…so…yes, they do use grass-fed (but grain-finished) beef. But that’s where the sort-of benefits end. My collard wrapped burger was cold with cold toppings, my sweet potato fries were limp and mushy, and my sister’s meal was no better. To top it off, they use canola oil for all their frying, which was a bummer for a restaurant claiming to be health-forward. Needless to say, this was one of the few places we went that felt like a waste of money. I recommend avoiding it. Sorry, Bareburger! Score: 3/10
Hole in the Wall – The next morning my sister and I walked to a little hole in the wall restaurant near her ‘hood. And yes, it’s literally called Hole in the Wall. This little gem is owned and staffed by Aussies (there are so many Aussies in NYC!). The décor is sparse and white (just like I like it), the staff are friendly and the accents are dreamy. We only ordered Acai bowls (I ordered mine gluten-free sans granola) with a side of bacon. It wasn’t the best Acai bowl ever…a little thin and lacking flavor…but I appreciated that it didn’t taste chock-full of sugar. Bacon was tasty…as always. Everything else on the menu looked super yummy, but most of it gluten-filled. However, our waitress had Celiac's, so they definitely get it and work to accommodate! Just based on what I had… Score: 6/10
Café Katja – Okay, you guys…this is my favorite restaurant in all of Manhattan. In the Lower East Side, I discovered it on my first trip to NYC. At the time, it was a tiny gem owned and run by an Austrian girl named Katja. The place was packed full of german-speakers laughing and chatting in German and living it up. If you didn’t know, my mom was born in Austria and moved here when she was young…these were my people! From the elderflower margarita to my Emmenthaler-filled sausage with spaetzle and red cabbage salad, I was hooked. Fast forward 7 years and Katja has tripled the size of her restaurant and I no longer eat cheese and spaetzle. Yay! And boo. However! My sister and I were celebrating an early Thanksgiving together (since neither of us would be home for the holidays) and we knew there was only one place that felt like home away from home. I splurged on my only alcoholic drink of the trip (Katja’s Margarita…to die…) and asked them for advice on how to eat gluten-free. There were quite a few options! The Austrians get ancestral food…I mean, they have liverwurst on the menu! So…okay…you guys. You guys. OMG. I started with their Red Cabbage Salad with lingonberry, apples and walnuts. Then I ordered their Goulash (definite childhood fave) and instead of spaetzle, they brought me their Parsley Potatoes. Seriously…meet the king of potatoes. They poach them in butter until they turn into utterly ridiculous melty potato goodness. I could eat at this place every. day. Thanks again, Katja! Score: 9/10
Jack’s Wife Freda – So sad…my last morning in NYC. My sister had been wanting to try Jack’s Wife Freda and I’d heard great things, so we went for it! This place is cute as a postage stamp. It’s like the 1950’s collided with the Mediterranean in the very best way! Their sugar packets even have cute slogans on them like, “You are my sunshine” and “Hey there, hot-tea.” The gluten-free options were a bit limited, but I figured it out and oh dannnng was it worth it. First of all, I ordered a side of House Cured Duck Bacon. DUCK BACON, PEOPLE! I mean…pork bacon will always be king…but this duck bacon is winning on a whole ‘notha tasty level. Unlike anything I’ve had before. It looked weird, but tasted like baby angels riding unicorns. Onto the main event, I ordered their Maya’s Grain Bowl…red quinoa, seasonal vegetables, and a poached egg…to which I added another egg and some avo. Now, when I asked the waiter if it was gluten-free, he responded, “Is quinoa gluten-free?” I said, “Yes” and he said, “Then it is!” Needless to say…not very well-versed in all things GF, but everything was super tasty. My sister loved her order as well and said it was definitely a place she’d revisit. Score: 7/10
That was all I had time for! But here’s a list of places I wanted to try that seemed promising and had options for real foodies:
Sit Down Restaurants:
- Russ and Daughters
- Little Beet Table
- Spring Natural Kitchen
- Fette Sau BBQ
- Banter (another cute Aussie breaky spot)
“Fast-Casual” and Order-at-the-Counter:
- Springbone Kitchen
- Barney’s Bone Broth
- The Little Beet
- Roast Kitchens
- The Meatball Shop (they apparently have a paleo, GF meatball option)
- Gingersnap’s Organics
- Tompkins Square Bagels (GF bagels!)
- Van Leeuwen Ice Cream
- Pressed Juicery
- Chloe’s Soft Serve
- Raaka Chocolate
Have you tried any of these places? What do you think? Are there any other real-food or paleo-ish spots in NYC you recommend?
Hope this guide makes your trip easier and tastier!