Ask the Editor: Which Boston Restaurants Best Accomodate Allergies?
This diner is wondering which chefs are reliable cooks for dairy-, gluten-, and nightshade-free dining.
Welcome to Ask the Editor, Boston magazine’s new dining advice column. Need a restaurant recommendation? Ask a pro.
My husband can’t eat gluten, dairy or nightshades. Which are the more accommodating chefs in the Boston area?
Making guests feel comfortable while dining out is arguably the main tenet of hospitality. While not every chef can anticipate every type of dining restriction they’ll encounter, it’s important for restaurants to educate their staffs on how to handle requests like this—and for the record, a great many do.
I probably do not have to tell you this, L.T., as you and your husband live this dietary restriction reality every day. But for readers who have a newly discovered food sensitivity, or are new to dining out, let’s start with a few best practices.
If possible, consider calling ahead if you plan to visit a restaurant and have a dietary restriction. At his outstanding Bay Village Italian restaurant Erbaluce, for example, chef Charles Draghi has been known to make allergy-friendly stocks and breads if given a heads up about a diner’s request. Tony Maws has made allergy-friendly tasting menus specific to diners’ needs at his award-winning bistro, Craigie on Main. At the very least, remember to inform your server about any allergies or sensitivities before you start ordering.
And finally, please do not overstate dietary restrictions. People who are averse to certain ingredients should certainly communicate that to their server. But in that case, a kitchen team would take different precautionary steps than they would facing a life-threatening allergy. Honesty is always the best policy, and chefs and servers want you to have a great meal. Help them help you.
Back to your inquiry, L.T.
Ming Tsai literally wrote the book on allergy awareness. A national spokesperson for the Food Allergy Research & Education organization FARE, Tsai first introduced his Food Allergy Reference Book at his now-shuttered Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley in 1998. The so-called “bible” remains in use at his Fort Point restaurant, Blue Dragon, and will be at the celebrity chef’s forthcoming fast-casual brand, ChowStirs, too. In 2009, Tsai helped draft a Massachusetts law requiring restaurants to comply with food allergy awareness guidelines. (Blue Dragon, 324 A St., Fort Point, Boston, 617-338-8585, bluedragonbos.com)
Joanne Chang, Boston’s patron saint of dumplings and croissants, is also reliably accommodating for diners with dietary restrictions. Gluten- and dairy-free items are clearly labeled in the pastry cases at her Flour Bakery and Café locations, and she offers specific menus for a number of allergies at her Chinese-American restaurant, Myers + Chang. Nightshade-free—looking at a family of plants including peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes—is not one of those readily available menus, but “we can and have accommodated diners with nightshade allergies,” Chang says. Welcoming guests with dietary restrictions will continue under the leadership of new co-executive chefs Veo Robert and Ashley Lujares when they take the helm in the kitchen beginning this weekend, Chang adds. (1145 Washington St., South End, Boston, 617-542-5200, myersandchang.com)
All of the sashimi, nearly all of the Japanese small plates, and even the tempura batter at Momi Nonmi are entirely gluten-free, inspired by chef-owner Chris Chung’s dining preferences. Much of his menu is naturally dairy- and nightshade-free, too. (1128 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-945-7328, mominonmi.com)
Now for some non-Asian-influenced ideas. Aqua Pazza, a 2017 addition to Frank DePasquale’s portfolio of North End Italian spots, could become a new go-to. Co-owner Mike Paquette is well-versed in food allergy protocol—his wife has celiac disease, one of his children can’t eat dairy and another has a peanut allergy—so he promises no cross-contamination. The menu here is entirely gluten-free, if you consider gluten-free pasta options. (135 Richmond St., North End, Boston, 857-350-3105, aquapazza-boston.com)
A great fast-casual option is Whole Heart Provisions. Chef Rebecca Arnold’s menu is fully vegan, which means it’s always dairy-free; and only one item (the bun for the falafel dog) contains gluten. Other common allergens can be avoided—both Whole Heart locations have a nightshade-free, modified menu on display. “We also have this for soy, sesame, tree nuts, peanuts, sugar, and oil so that we can accommodate a variety of allergies and diets,” Arnold says. (487 Cambridge St., Allston, 617-202-5041; 298 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, wholeheartprovisions.com)
When your husband is craving New American fare, consider visiting Will Gilson at Puritan & Co. The chef has a “food allergy matrix” hanging up in the kitchen, clearly showing his staff what substitutions can be made for diners avoiding gluten, dairy, and nightshades, as well as other common allergens like nuts and shellfish. (1166 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-615-6195, puritancambridge.com)
Many larger, local chains also have good reputations for accommodating to dietary restrictions. Legal Sea Foods, Burton’s Grill, Not Your Average Joe’s, and Bertucci’s come to mind.
Here’s hoping some of these suggestions are new to you and your husband, and that you continue to safely and comfortably enjoy dining out on the Boston scene.