There seems to be no end to new restaurant concepts in Southern California. But since no one, as of yet, has endeavored to open an entirely gluten free restaurant, those seeking tasty but casual gluten free meals often need to do some recon work. Don’t worry–I’ve got you covered.
Being gluten free for nearly five years, I’ve seen many restaurants around L.A. (slowly) adjusting their menus to reflect the increasing numbers of gluten free guests. Given that many of these requests are due to medical need, chances of them going away are unlikely.
Erik Oberholtzer, co-founder of Tender Greens, concurs. “Customers are asking for gluten free and vegan-friendly options either for health reasons or because they want to eat healthier, less processed foods,” Oberholtzer says. “In fact, we have more of these requests now than ever before.”
The majority of the menu at Tender Greens is naturally gluten free (if you skip the grilled baguette) and the staff seems to be well versed in what’s safe and what’s not. While those with Celiac Disease may think twice due to a shared prep area, there are a number of restaurants that go the extra mile by dedicating a prep area and process to ensure there’s no cross contamination. These include Pitfire Pizza–which has a dedicated pizza oven in some of their locations–and Kye’s, a new grab-and-go healthy wrap restaurant in Santa Monica.
Here are some of the best casual (and delicious!) gluten free restaurants in and around L.A.
Touting a 'burger for every diet,' The Counter began offering gluten free buns for their burgers in 2012. While their popular pickle chips and onion rings are off limits, the fries--including their infamously delicious sweet potato fries--are a safe bet.
Billed as "creative construction," The Counter lets you fulfill your burger craving any way you want by picking your choice of meat, toppings and sauces atop a gluten free bun or fresh greens. And what goes best with a burger? A gluten free beer, of course. Or, for a non alcoholic beverage, try something from the extensive craft milkshake menu. (310/399-8383)
M Cafe de Chaya
If you eat so cleanly that, in addition to going gluten free, you've eliminated refined sugars, eggs, dairy, red meat and poultry then you might be hard up to find a restaurant to pop into for a light bite. But M Café de Chaya, which bills itself as contemporary macrobiotic cuisine, can fill that gap. Nearly all of their meals and smoothies can be made gluten free--if they aren't already--and they stock a wide selection of gluten free desserts. They also serve fish, so it's not entirely vegan. M Cafe has three locations: Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Melrose where, apparently, all the clean eaters hang out. (310/207-1122)
The Luggage Room
This pizza shop housed in the old Del Mar train station (actually it's former luggage room) is one of the few restaurants that offers a pizza with a crust made on site. While it does increase the potential for cross contamination, it's nice to have the option of ordering a crust that doesn't taste exactly like those served at other restaurants with gluten free pizzas. Not only that, but they offer some mouth watering topping combos, such as the Avocado Festival (avocado, tomato, basil and lemon zest), the Fallen Angel (house made Italian sausage, shaved fennel and roasted peppers) and the Padre (prosciutto, dates, blue cheese and arugula). You can also pop over to the adjacent La Grande Orange Cafe, also in the station, for a more extensive American menu. (626/356-4440)
Pitfire Artisan Pizza
Pitfire's acclaimed artisan pizza has gained a loyal following, not just because visitors love their gluten-filled crusts but also because the menu offers unusual gourmet topping combinations. Now that those combos can be ordered on a gluten free crust that are prepared in a separate prep area, gluten free pizza lovers are flocking to the place. Some of their signature pies include the Burrata Pie (tomato sauce, caramelized onions, hazelnuts, Burrata cheese, wild arugula and pesto) and the Big Sur (marinated wild shrimp, four cheese, roasted garlic, marinated tomato, parsley and red chili flakes). Don't worry, there's also a killer margarita pizza for the traditionalists, salads, seasonal lemonades, and wine and beer. (424-835-4088)
Smack dab in the heart of West Hollywood, this hip Mexican restaurant just around the corner from Gracias Madre offers a long list of options for gluten free diners, all noted with a GF symbol on their menu. Rumor has it the owner has celiac disease which would explain why the staff seem to be educated about what's safe. There are some good deals available during Happy Hour, including the yummy ceviche with citrus-marinated swordfish, rock shrimp, avocado, cucumber, cilantro, fresh lime juice, and mango salsa. Mmmm. For dinner, try the Pork Chop Al Pastor or the Tequila Coriander Hanger Steak. (310/657-9888)
Kabuki Japanese Restaurant - Hollywood
One of the last places one might expect to find gluten (wheat, specifically) is in soy sauce. But it's there, making a traditional sushi experience a bit challenging. But don't dismay sushi lovers! Kabuki is on it. Not only do they offer wheat free (tamari) soy sauce, but the menu also includes a section dedicated entirely to gluten free menu items--from sashimi, sushi rolls and salads to a veggie ramen made with rice noodles. After stuffing myself with my favorite Philadelphia roll, I always get the crunchy and satisfying kale salad. With 13 locations through Southern California, it's a reasonably-priced drop in option for the gluten-challenged. (323/464-6003)
The chefs at Gracias Madres don't get many gluten free requests from customers and that's because gluten has already been stripped from nearly everything on the menu, along with meat and dairy. This sister restaurant to Café Gratitude focuses on healthy, local, sustainable Mexican-based vegan dishes. But don't be mistaken thinking it's all "healthier than thou." The flavors and textures are authentic, satisfying and delicious. And they are not afraid to use the deep fryer (try the kicky Coliflor Frito) and spicy peppers. Staffing the bar with a top notch mixologist who creates some of West Hollywood's best cocktails doesn't hurt either. (323/978-2170)
From marinated steaks and herb brushed albacore to grilled and roasted vegetables, the majority of Tender Greens menu items are gluten free (or "gluten friendly" as they like to say) if you skip the crostini. Pick your protein (fish, chicken, beef) and opt for it as a salad or as a plate with mashed potatoes and salad. Each farm-to-table location has a dedicated chef keeping things fresh and seasonal with daily specials noted on the dry erase board near the entrance. Not only that, but they also have dedicated pastry chefs who make at least one gluten free item a day such as honey lavender panna cotta or goat cheesecake with blood orange marmalade. (310/587-2777)
As if Santa Monica didn't already have some great healthy restaurants, this new addition on trendy Montana Avenue has taken them over the top. Why? Not just because so many of Kye's menu options are healthy (and gluten free) but because they have introduced a new super food wrap concept to the dining scene. The burrito-like wraps, which owner Jeanne Cheng calls the "kyerito" (her son's name is Kye), consist of an outer layer of either nori, romaine or collard greens stuffed with any number of healthy combinations. Some of their most popular include the Sweet Chicken (organic chicken with a den miso glaze and broccoli, goji berries and white rice/quinoa blend) and The Macro (seared wild salmon, wasabi dressing, macro-pressed vegetables, lotus root, woodear, black sesame seeds and brown rice). They also have a number of gluten free desserts including chocolate chip cookies and black bean brownies. (310/395-5937)
Just off Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, this hotspot for 20- and 30-somethings is home to a secret stash of gluten free deliciousness. Along with dishes made with fresh produce from the Santa Monica farmers' market, The Misfit has one of the best (if not most caloric) gluten free mac 'n' cheese this side of the Mississippi--or at least west of the 405. It's worth braving the westside traffic and the boisterous (i.e. loud) crowd. In fact, on a recent visit I overheard a diner at a neighboring table declare: "I'd move here for this restaurant." If I didn't already live here, I might concur. (310/656-9800)
About Wendy O'Dea
Born and raised in western New York, Wendy O’Dea moved to Los Angeles to attend the USC School of Journalism and stayed for the innovative and creative lifestyle the city offers. Other than traffic and the drought, there’s not much about California she doesn’t love.
A foodie with wanderlust, Wendy didn’t let her daughter’s diagnosis of Celiac Disease clip her wings but set out to become an expert on gluten free dining and travel. She passed the travel bug on to her daughter who, at age seven, was incensed that she hadn’t yet been to Europe. They live in Santa Monica.
Read more about Wendy O'Dea here.
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