With gluten-friendly fare in big demand, San Diego’s hippest restaurants are quickly educating themselves and developing delicious options. “Gluten friendly” has become a growing demand as approximately 1 in 133 people are said to have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten which requires eliminating wheat, barley and rye from the diet and it takes creativity to establish menu items without these ingredients.
Celiac disease is the proper term for someone with an allergy to gluten. After being diagnosed all is not lost in the quest for great tasting food, especially in the ever-expanding “foodie” metropolis of San Diego. There are many restaurants that are beginning to offer options and a handful of great eateries that deserve honorable mentions.
The first restaurant of note is Azul, located on the breathtaking La Jolla coast. This fine-dining restaurant is on the expensive side but is well worth every penny for those with or without a gluten allergy. The interior design is completely centered around the expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. Floor to ceiling windows provide all the eye candy that’s needed while enjoying a beautifully prepared meal.
After speaking with chef Orion Balliet it was clear that everyone at Azul is very educated and aware on the needs of gluten-free diners. He spoke last year at a “Living Healthy Gluten-Free” workshop and prides himself on catering to the needs of those with this allergy.
Balliet claims that his restaurant provides these food choices as “more of a service” than having a separate menu because there can be so many variations. One of his favorite dishes to modify is grilled salmon with a marinated glaze and wasabi mashed potatoes. Other dishes that have been altered to gluten free are the macadamia crusted mahi-mahi with red Thai curry sauce or roasted lemon rosemary chicken breast with garlic cream reduction. It is always safer to call ahead of time so the kitchen can be prepared with your particular requests, but not necessary.
The next restaurant worthy of visiting is hidden in a strip mall in Pacific Beach but is one of the greatest Greek discoveries in the San Diego area. Café Athena is a Mediterranean treasure with its white washed walls and simple décor. The restaurant transports you to the Greek islands with their pictures of the beautiful Grecian coast and laid back vacation vibe. Their prices are very reasonable and the staff is always upbeat.
Manager of the restaurant, Sal Baglione is very helpful with the needs of someone with a gluten allergy as well as those with allergies to nuts, soy, dairy, MSG, garlic, corn oil, and eggs. My favorite delicious gluten free menu items include the Skordalia dip, a pungent fresh garlic potato spread adorned with sweet Anaheim peppers and grilled zucchini, the Fassolatha soup, a hearty baby lima bean and vegetable soup, the Greek salad with chicken and artichoke hearts, the Imam Byaldi, Italian eggplant stuffed with raisins, walnuts and tomatoes served with a fluffy rice pilaf, and the Cretan Salmon, a moist, fresh, oven broiled salmon served with Spanaki lemonato and Skordalia. Be sure to ask to hold the pita bread with all of your dishes as some of them come with it on the side. Keep in mind these are not all the menu items that could be altered. Café Athena’s fresh entrée’s are sure to satisfy your hunger and palette regardless of a gluten allergy.
An up and coming San Diego restaurant that is a must for those with Celiac is Pizza Fusion. Pizza Fusion is a chain of socially responsible eateries created by Michael Gordon and Vaughan Lazar in 2006. These restaurateurs pride themselves in using a new type of business model. They base their businesses upon social responsibility not profitability. Their restaurants are as environmentally friendly as one can get by using hybrid vehicles for deliveries, building their restaurants according to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), offsetting 100% of their energy usage with the purchase of renewable wind energy certificates, using all environmentally friendly interior design elements and products, and they’ll even give you a discount if you return your pizza box to recycle. They are truly on the forefront of running a business in a sustainable way.
On top of all of this they have also created a delectable menu of organic, healthy food with gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and lactose friendly items. Most people with Celiac have to refuse pizza because of the crust and the risk of cross-contamination. At Pizza Fusion you can have a wheat-free and diary-free crust that is full of flavor and satisfying.
The crust is made of a mixture of garbanzo beans, fava bean and rice flour. They prevent cross-contamination of their crusts by preparing them in a “dedicated gluten free facility.” Plus, all pizza toppings are gluten-free, except the barbeque sauce and sausage. Other items that are gluten-free include the organic salads and salad dressings and the moist, rich chocolate, gluten-free brownies. People with or without Celiac fight over the last bite! Wash all this down with a gluten-free beer (made with sorghum instead of barley) for a complete meal in which no one has to miss out.
What and Where:
Azul (1250 Prospect St, La Jolla; 858-454-9616)
Café Athena (1846 Garnet Ave, San Diego; 858-274-1140)
Pizza Fusion (3827 5th Avenue, San Diego; 619-278-0057)
Additional San Diego restaurants to check out:
Andres Cuban Restaurant (1249 Morena Blvd, San Diego; 619-523-1199)
* They have a separate menu in which items containing gluten are noted
Barolo Ristorante Italiano (8935 Towne Centre Dr, San Diego; 858-622-1202)
Dining in San Diego restaurants offers a wide selection of cuisines and features some well-known chefs at reasonable prices.
More info on Celiac Disease: Not being properly diagnosed can result in major or minor ailments from stunted growth to indigestion. Some with this allergy may not even have symptoms and require a blood test to be diagnosed. It is approximated that 97% of people with this allergy do not know they have it. When untreated, the body’s immune system continues to attack the villi in the small intestine which are responsible for absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream. It is important to be tested early in life as Celiac disease can lead to diseases including cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes Type 1, thyroid problems and reproductive health issues.
Nicole Marre is a graduate student and aspiring novelist living in San Diego California. She has worked as an editor and enjoys writing articles for lifestyle magazines. Between writing about topics such as travel, culture and food she travels the world for inspiration. She has been delighted by the sites of Asia, Europe, Central and South America as well as the undiscovered haunts in her own backyard.