I don’t know what it is about this spring, but it just feels different. Maybe because we got bombed with snow all winter long. Or maybe because it is the second spring during the COVID pandemic. Or maybe it is because I am vaccinated and most of my family is getting theirs too. Whatever it is, I am loving this season. It feels like a reawakening and I am feeling a bit more hopeful than last spring.
I am still not traveling but with the days getting longer, my walks are getting longer too. I live near many beautiful parks here in North Brooklyn, so I’ve been exploring near and far (but only as far as Manhattan since I am still not traveling at the moment.) Brooklyn feels almost “normal” with everyone emerging from their winter cocoon. The parks are packed, outdoor dining has resumed, and shops and restaurants that have been closed for a long time are slowly reopening. Everyone seems to be more optimistic.
As you can imagine, post-COVID New York City is quite a different world these days. Stores are closing, people are moving out in droves, and we are basically adjusting to a new normal way of life here. (Although, is it really normal?) I personally haven’t been on the subway in almost 6 months and have only been into Manhattan a handful of times, always driving. I live so close yet feel so far.
Last month, one of my best friends came to San Francisco for work. My friend Kristen and I originally met in the NYC Celiac Meetup group more than 7 years ago (or is it 8?? We always forget!) and have been friends ever since. We both left the east coast at the same time but keep in touch with regular phone dates, texts, and even bumping into each other randomly at an airport in Chicago! Since we both have celiac and we both love to eat, I knew we needed a gluten-free food crawl when she was in town. We met at her hotel and had a fun-filled day eating our way through San Francisco and beyond. Everywhere we ate was 100% gluten-free!
A few weeks ago, I had my very first Brazilian churrascaria experience at Fogo de Chão in San Jose, California. Churrasco is a Spanish and Portuguese term for grilled meat or more commonly barbecue. Many Americans have come to know a churrascaria to be a Brazilian steakhouse. I have to admit, I was very wary at first since American BBQ isn’t always celiac-friendly, but I was interested in learning more about Fogo de Chão and their gluten-free offerings. I also would LOVE to go to Brazil one day, so for the time being this is how I will fulfill that Brazilian food fantasy!
After moving to California from NYC (a gluten-free mecca) last year, I’ve been less than impressed with my gluten-free options. It seems that where I live in Santa Cruz it is more of a trend to eat gluten-free than something taken seriously. Of course, this does not apply to every restaurant I have been to but I’ve had many less than impressive gluten-free meals and conversations here. I struggle to get people to take my celiac disease “diet” seriously. Sometimes, I feel like everyone around me is eating gluten-free because it is “cool”.
As I sat down to think about the positive gluten-free experiences I’ve had over the past year, I realized that almost all of my best gluten-free meals have been in San Francisco. San Francisco is not that close to me but I crave city life and I crave good gluten-free food. Another thing that comes with city life is diversity, something seriously lacking in Santa Cruz. We were spoiled with food from around the world in New York City as well as gluten-free options. So every month or so, my man and I jump in the car for a road trip. Destination SF… GF obviously!
Gluten-Free Globetrotter Top 5 Gluten-Free Meals
in San Francisco (So Far!)
Spain: Bask SF “Contemporary, warm restaurant & bar serving traditional Basque Country fare & modern Spanish tapas.”
42 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94111
I went here with my mom and husband and we ate this Spanish feast for hours. I made a reservation using OpenTable.com so the restaurant was aware that I had celiac and a shellfish allergy. When I arrived, they went through the entire menu with me to tell me what I could and could not eat. I was most impressed when they told me to avoid the brussel sprouts. They were listed as gluten-free on the menu but cooked in a shared fryer. Way to be aware about cross-contact. I cannot wait to go back here. Bonus: they had the best sangria I’ve had in my life!
Venezuela: Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen “Arepas & other Venezuelan eats provide the Latin flavors at this casual spot.”
401 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
This 100% gluten-free restaurant is a dream. I think I could live forever eating just arepas, taro chips, plantains, and empanadas. Seriously. Give me all of the savory, starchy carbs! I’ve been here so many times I’ve stopped counting. Every time I go to San Francisco, I try to swing by. Here are some empanadas I bought “to go” although I think they lasted all of ten minutes of my 1.5 hour drive home.
India: Dosa SF “Dosa specialist serving modern takes on Indian cuisine with a focus on local, organic ingredients.”
Dosa on Valencia: 995 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dosa on Fillmore: 1700 Fillmore St.
San Francisco, CA 94115
If you never ate a dosa, you are seriously missing out. I hadn’t had a dosa since moving from NYC and this meal filled a major craving. These larger-than-life dosas are like a crepe or a really thin pancake stuffed with delicious fillings. Dosas are traditionally made from chickpea or lentil flour, but beware. Some restaurants try to cut their batter with regular flour, but that is NOT what Dosa SF does and their dosas and uttapams are gluten-free! They have a very clearly marked menu and will walk you through all ingredients, toppings, sauces, and everything else on the menu. There are also some really funky cocktails at Dosa SF, but I opted for some wine that day.
Asia: E&O Kitchen and Bar
“Diners sample small & large Asian plates in this modern eatery with soaring ceilings & a trendy bar.”
314 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA 94108
If I eat any type of fish at your restaurant, that is the biggest compliment I can give you because I rarely eat fish. I am talking 2 times a year, tops. This ahi tuna tartare dish was so good that I always mention this place to my husband when we are in San Francisco. This is another restaurant that will walk you through the menu and tell you what to avoid, even on the gluten-free menu. They do not have a dedicated GF fryer and they tell you this right on the menu. Again, major points in my book for even knowing this is an issue for someone with celiac. I MUST go back here!
USA: Mariposa Baking Company “Mariposa’s mission is to create the finest gluten-free baked goods everyone can enjoy!” One Ferry Building, Suite 32
San Francisco, CA 94111 (Note: There is another location in Oakland, CA)
One word: CROISSANTS! Yes, gluten-free croissants do exist and you need to go out of your way to get yourself to Mariposa Baking Company when you are in San Francisco. I usually leave the ferry building with a bag full of carbs after a trip to Mariposa. Baguettes, pretzels, bagels, bread, cookies, muffins, “hot pockets,” and so much more. Go early, they sell out fast! Grab a baguette from Mariposa, a coffee from Blue Bottle, and a table outside and you pretty much have a perfect “meal.”
Honorable mention (just outside of San Francisco)
Mexico: Copita Tequileria y Comida “Brightly decorated modern Mexican restaurant focusing on seasonally driven fare & tequila drinks.”
Sausalito, CA 94965
Just a short drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, which everyone should do even on a foggy day, is Sausalito. This cute seaside town is worth an afternoon trip. There are many restaurants but Copita Tequileria y Comida is the only 100% gluten-free restaurant in town. This Mexican restaurant uses seasonal and fresh ingredients for their lunch and dinner menus. If you don’t have a reservation, go in off-hours to avoid the crowds. The jicama and chili starter is a great way to whet your palate for what’s to come.
Please don’t forget: I have celiac disease and choose to eat at these places with a lot of research and with talking to the staff. I encourage you to always ask questions and do not rely on my reviews alone. Ultimately, it is up to you to choose what you eat and if you are comfortable eating there! Don’t forget that menus, ingredients, and staff change, so your experience might be different than mine!