Sarah’s Rap: For those with allergies to gluten or dairy or those following a Paleo diet/lifestyle, New York City is the place for you. It is definitely the place for me. My family vacation last week was my first trip back since food intolerances have limited what I can eat. It was easy to find restaurants to accommodate my Paleo diet as well as my son’s dairy allergy.
Being active, having fun and getting enough rest are equally important to my health as eating well. I used to spend vacations eating until I could burst, staying up all hours and running myself ragged trying to fit everything in, but by the time I’d get back home I
would be sick, tired, stressed and needing another vacation. And this was before my health issues! Nowadays, travelling is a time to pamper myself, have fun and just be present where I am. I prefer to pick a handful of sights to see every day, but save time for relaxation and exercise.
NYC is a great place to nourish one’s body in ways other than eating. To start, all one has to do is just get out and walk. Sure there are cabs and subways that might be faster and at times I do take them, but I prefer to walk and soak in the beauty of the city up close. To me, the most wonderful parts of the city are not the fancy stores or bright lights, but rather the interesting people bustling past, the cute dogs wearing fancy coats, the souls of the historical buildings, the aroma of food and the labyrinth of trails cutting through Central Park. We took multiple trips through the park to play on the playgrounds, fly an RC helicopter that a friend gave us, remember John Lennon with a visit to Strawberry Fields and just enjoy the natural wonder that is Central Park. For me, a trip to NYC is not complete without a visit to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. I’m not normally a museum fan, but these two are not your regular run of the mill museums. I could spend hours in both, as could my kids, which is every parent’s dream! The museums are almost directly across the park from each other, so it’s a perfect day trip to visit one museum, have some lunch, walk through the park past Belvedere Castle, then wrap up with a visit to the other museum. Below I suggest restaurants on both sides of the park so take your pick!
Winter is my favorite time of year to visit as I love to breathe in the crisp winter air and immerse myself in holiday festivities. A carriage ride through the park is a special treat and checking out Macy’s store windows are fun. I also recommend ice skating and the outdoor market stalls at Bryant Park. The Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall will put anyone in the holiday spirit and you only have to cross the street to see the brightly lit Christmas tree and watch ice skaters at Rockefeller Center. If you’re in NYC at a time other than the holidays, these places are all still super fun to go to, not to mention warmer if that’s what you prefer. Yoga, massages and meditation studios abound if you need a little extra self-TLC. A pedicure and 20-minute chair massage with a friend did wonders for me after a busy week of sight-seeing.
Here are my restaurant recommendations:
These dining options won’t leave you feeling sick and guilty for eating something you shouldn’t, nor starving and stressed because you can’t find anything on the menu to eat. Even if you don’t follow a special diet, they’re great places to check out. NYC a big place and there are probably lots of good options outside of Manhattan, but that is where my recommendations are from
Lunch and Dinner:
Hu Kitchen – This was my #1 restaurant find for Paleo meals. They have a location on the Upper East Side which I went to, not from from The Met, as well as a Union Square location. I seriously wanted to move into this for about a week and I am sad that I cannot go now that I am back home. If only they’d open a Seattle location I’d never have to cook for myself again! My meal of mashed cauliflower topped with chicken pot pie on one side and Hu Joe, a Paleo sloppy joe, was delicious sprinkled with cilantro and chopped shallots and served alongside grain-free focaccia (Hu Bread). My friend ate meatloaf, roasted sweet potatoes and roasted broccoli, which was all Paleo as well. The meatloaf was a bit heavy, but still a great meal. Our favorite was the Hu Joe on Cauliflower Mash. I grabbed more Hu Bread, Paleo Caesar Salad and Paleo Baked Chicken Tenders to go for the plane ride back and loved that as well. How they got celery, kale, carrot, sunflower/flax seeds, egg, onion and garlic to all mash up and somehow taste like a whole wheat crouton I have no idea, but they were yummy. They have a Mash Bar full of goodness which I wish I had tried – chia pudding, cashew cream, berries and grain-free granola are just some of the items you can combine for a tasty sweet treat. My kids would have been a little harder to feed here due to their pickiness, but I think that there are things I could have found to satisfy them if they’d been with me, including the chicken tenders, smooothies, Mash Bar, rotisserie chicken and Hu Bread. I’d go back to NYC just to eat at this restaurant every day without having to cook.
Bareburger – This place is a close second next to Hu Kitchen for having so many items that I could eat. They have a drool-worthy selection of organic vegetables and salads, grass-fed beef burgers, wild game burgers (elk, wild boar, bison), free-range poultry and more. My son had his dairy-free shake that he loved made with chocolate, peanut butter, coconut cream and hemp milk. There are tons of locations, even some outside of NY. We ate at the W 46th Street location in NYC, which was located in Hell’s Kitchen and it was so delicious. This place is a meal-customizers dream. I probably could eat there every day for a year and still not have had every combination of items. The best part is, I wouldn’t likely be tired of it either! During my one visit, I enjoyed an Elk Burger with onion, greens and paprika all tightly wrapped up in a steamed collard green leaf. I had not had an Elk Burger before. I think I prefer beef or bison, and wish I had tried the Wild Boar, but it was good particularly with the toppings. Yes, I ate a couple of my son’s fries, which are cooked in non-GMO canola oil, but my main side was an order of Crispy Brussel Sprouts appetizer with a squeeze of lemon. They come with manchego cheese on top, which I opted to skip. These were like crack and although I shared with my husband, I ate 2/3 of this large portion all by myself. Yum. I already miss this place!
Isabella’s – This is different from the others in that it does not have a focus on organic, paleo or dairy-free, but it had several options that my son and I could eat and is conveniently located near the Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. They have a large selecton of vegetable sides and they serve fish, free-range eggs and chicken. It offers a fancier meal option that the whole family can enjoy. We ate a tasty appetizer of tender char-grilled octopus over arugula and endive with toasted pine nuts (replacing vinaigrette with olive oil and lemon juice). I enjoyed a special entree for dinner of pan-seared grouper with carrots and parsnips, alongside roasted brussel sprouts (yes, I do love these little morsels of goodness and ate them for multiple meals). They easily accommodated my request to saute the grouper in olive oil instead of butter, and they were very good about marking allergies on the order. They have a typical kid’s menu, but the fact that it’s a nice restaurant with a kid’s menu at all was a bonus. My son with the dairy allergy ordered a cheeseless burger and a side of steamed broccoli. The burger was sadly not grass-fed, but he claimed it as his favorite this trip.
Chopt – I was not able to try this place, but I think it is a great salad option for those with food intolerances as they have a huge selection of toppings, they let you build your own salad and their allergen info is listed online for you to browse before you go. The salad dressings are always the hardest at a salad place, but Chopt dressings are all gluten-free and they have an option for olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Ingredient sourcing is important to Chopt and they list on their site which ingredients are locally sourced. For meat options, they have grass-fed steak, Niman Ranch bacon and FreeBird chicken. For those that are just dairy-free and gluten-free, but not Paleo, there are gluten-free grain bowl options for a more filling meal.
Organic Avenue – This is a great place for snacks, fresh-pressed juices and date or maple-sweetened, grain-free desserts. I ate a scrumptious Cacao Maca Cream Sandwich cookie which was Paleo-compliant. They even have maple-sweetened coconut yogurt! That is hard to find, even in stores! Snacks of all kinds abound so stock up while you’re there. Multiple locations are scattered across Manhattan so there should be something close to most places you need to go. I visited the location on the Upper East Side.
The Juice Shop – This is another place I did not get to visit, but which was on my list. They have fresh juices, smoothies snacks and some to-go meal options that are gluten-free, dairy-free and/or Paleo. Like Organic Avenue, they have locations spread around the city, so it’s a convenient place to stop for a quick nosh break.There is one near the Flat Iron Building and Empire State Building.
Fresh fruit and vegetables from sidewalk vendors – One of my favorite parts of Manhattan are all the fruit and vegetable stands scattered throughout the city. Some of them offer organic produce, so check them out while you’re walking around the city!
For Dessert and Breakfast on the Upper West Side:
One thing I did to treat my kids on our last day in town was to do a walking bakery tour where we picked up a few treats at each of the first three places listed below. They ate one thing each for breakfast, then that night we sampled from a smorgasbord of sweet treats. These are all very close to each other, and not far from Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History, Strawberry Fields and Belvedere Castle. I asked each person that ate them what their favorite item was and their answers are listed below.
By The Way Bakery – This was such a wonderful bakery. No Paleo options that I could find, but the entire place is gluten-free and dairy-free so my son was in heaven. We picked up a gingersnap cookie, a deep chocolate cookie and a small triple-chocolate bundt cake called “The Schnibbles”. This was my favorite spot out of the three for ambiance and selection and three #1 votes came from here (one for each item we purchased). They even have gluten-free, dairy-free Challah Bread and holiday cakes that look incredible! There are 2 locations in the Manhattan, one on the Upper East Side and one on the Upper West Side which we went to.
Blossom Café – This restaurant is vegan and a sit-down establishment, but we were able to order some desserts to go. I am not a fan of fake meats, so would not be likely to eat here for a full meal, but they have lots of GF options and if one is vegan this would be a great place for them. I wasn’t going to mention it because the Paleo raw pecan pie pudding I got was not worth the money I paid for it, but I hear the Tiramisu was incredible. My husband voted it his favorite and he has no food restrictions whatsoever. He did not notice the lack of dairy in the whipped coconut mascarpone at all. The tiramisu was not gluten-free, but they have a GF chocolate ganache, creme brulee and quinoa pancakes topped with the yummy mascarpone and maple syrup.There are also a couple of starters that sound good, so I think this place would also be a good option for drinks and snacks. There are two locations and we ate at the “Blossom on Columbus” location.
Peacefood Café – Last but not least is the Peacefood Cafe, another vegan establishment on the Upper West Side (they also have a Downtown location). We stopped in and picked up some pastries to go. They have several gluten-free choices and since they’re vegan everything is dairy-free. They even had some Paleo options listed on their menu, but I did not try them as I have a tough time with eating any sugars, even those from dates, and I
had already eaten something sweet at Organic Avenue that day. There is a raw cacao mousse pie sweetened with dates which I would have liked to try though. One of my sons loved the cinnamon roll for breakfast and the other enjoyed a Boston Cream Doughnut decorated with a cute cat face. To go we took a GF chocolate chip cookie which was okay, but did not win a #1 vote. There are other GF options that looked good though, including cheesecakes and a grasshopper cookie (not the bug variety, but the chocolate and mint combination that strangely is referred to as “Grasshopper”). To round out breakfast options, there are also juices and smoothies.
Hu Kitchen and Organic Avenue, mentioned above, are also great for both breakfast and dessert!
Even restaurants that were not strictly dairy/grain-free were easily able to accommodate substitutions (olive oil in place of butter, salad instead of fries, etc), so don’t be afraid to ask. As always, be sure to mention when it’s an allergy involved so they take extra care!
If you have any favorite places to nourish body or soul in the Big Apple, please share!