Santa Monica restaurants and chefs have done a particularly good job of catering to diners with sensitivities or allergies. Many local businesses mark their menus when dishes are gluten-free or vegan and offer dairy-free, nut-free, and soy-free items. Just because chefs place restrictions on dishes doesn’t mean that diners are missing out. Their substitutes are often plenty flavorful and just as satisfying. Learn about 10 restaurants and cafes taking allergy-inclusive approaches.
It’s hard to imagine any allergy-sensitive person who wouldn’t be able to enjoy a full dinner at the modern restaurant Jeremy Fox runs with the Rustic Canyon Family next to Bergamot Station. Many items at Birdie G’s qualify as vegetarian, available vegetarian, gluten-free or available vegan, as the menu key explains. Particularly allergy-friendly dishes include wood-grilled corned beef & cabbage kebabs with beets & berries sauce. A deluxe relish tray out of a vivid 1950s daydream features fresh, pickled, fermented & marinated market vegetables ringing five-onion dip. Rice pudding & passion fruit parfait with cashew crema & mint is just one must-order dessert that would bring most sensitive diners joy.
Go Get Em Tiger
Kyle Glanville’s innovative L.A. coffee bar chain recently opened on Main Street in front of the Sea Shore Motel. The small white coffee bar’s menu accommodates some key food allergies, featuring drinks made with alternative milks and pastries baked with alternative grains. Allergy-friendly options include a chickpea frittata and chewy lemon mochi muffin made with glutinous rice flour, candied Nicholas Family Farms lemons and brown butter. Their almond macadamia milk latte had The New York Times writer Oliver Strand asking whether this is the “best iced latte in America?” Go Get Em Tiger also created a bold decaf drink with the same almond mac nut milk that co-stars ginger, honey, turmeric and cracked black pepper.
This Fox Restaurant Concepts outpost near the Third Street Promenade features a mezzanine and towering ceiling, peace sign mural made from painted flowers, and a goal of “healthy food for a happy world.” At Flower Child, a menu designates vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, many inherently fitting those descriptions. Allergy friendly items include a “glow bowl” with sweet potato noodles, coconut milk and sunflower butter; yuzu Brussels sprouts; and Thai dye wrap with spicy tofu.
Erin McKenna’s Bakery
This bakery originated in New York City in 2005 with a mission to let people with gluten, dairy, egg and soy sensitivities indulge. Erin McKenna’s Bakery expanded to Montana Avenue in 2019 with a location that touts wall-to-wall pink. Pillow-soft baked donuts in flavors like coffee crumb and red velvet are the main draw. As the counterman said, “That’s the reason I work here.” An animated neon sign on the east wall depicts a hand dipping a donut in coffee. McKenna substitutes garbanzo bean flour and brown rice for flour in most creations, though oats also factor into savory baked goods. Erin McKenna also offers fairly robust breakfast, lunch and dinner menus featuring allergy-friendly options like avocado toast on house-baked bread and coconut yogurt with fresh fruit and granola.
The Misfit Restaurant + Bar
Chefs Max Anderson and Joe Siepler currently steer this stylish restaurant and bar near the Third Street Promenade from Santa Monica based LGO Hospitality. The duo coats gluten-free fried chicken breast with cornstarch and three flours – rice, tapioca, and potato – serving the results on a sandwich co-starring fennel slaw, sweet tart Granny Smith apple and spicy mayo. The Misfit also serves gluten-free mac and cheese, several allergy-sensitive items “from the market,” and vegan breads. Peanuts are also strictly forbidden at the restaurant. As their mission statement says, “Our chefs have worked to create a menu that is accessible and allows you to enjoy many items that are frequently off-limits.”
Jeanne Cheng named her Montana Avenue restaurant for son Kye. Depending on the language, the name translates to English as ocean, “to expand” or food, and is designed to nourish people with assorted food sensitivities. At Kye’s airy corner space with a yellow sunburst logo and plants aplenty, the menu highlights items that can be gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free, and soy-free. Paleo and keto are also possible in many cases. Kyeritos, their unique play on burritos, come wrapped with either nori (dried seaweed) or crisp iceberg lettuce. Nori n Lox is of the most inspired kyeritos, featuring smoked salmon, green eggs (blended with pureed spinach), arugula, tomato, scallion aioli and a white rice and quinoa blend. They also riff on burgers, tacos and Reubens. Allergy-friendly sweets include black bean brownies and chewy carrot cake.
This Colorado Avenue juice bar and superfood cafe from John Su and Charles Wong has been open since 2007 at the base of AO Santa Monica Apartments. They serve soy milk smoothies and acai bowls blended with fresh fruit and sweetened with agave nectar instead of sugar. Popular options at Renovo include tropical Mango Rush blended with mango and banana and Hawaiian Summer with peach, pineapple, and guava juices. A blackboard panel menu also lets customers craft their own juices from mix-and-match ingredients. For example, vegetable juice is an option with choices like beet, kale, and spinach. Renovo also serves fresh-squeezed OJ “shots” with wheatgrass and spirulina.
KazuNori: The Original Hand Roll Bar
Sushi is often gluten-free, and Sugarfish’s fashionable hand roll concept featuring market-fresh seafood near Third Street Promenade also lets diners specify up to 14 different food allergies when ordering through mobile apps (or in-person). KazuNori can eliminate everything from shellfish to soy, sesame, shrimp, and citrus. The location near Third Street Promenade added a light strung, wood framed patio to their cozy counter, providing more space to enjoy nori-wrapped rolls filled with proteins like toro (tuna belly), salmon, crab, and sea bream.
Viet Noodle Bar
Most of Viet Tran’s menu at his eastern Santa Monica restaurant revolves around gluten-free rice and rice vermicelli noodles (bún). Options at Viet Noodle Bar include turmeric fish with dill and crispy shallots; and pho, noodle soup featuring beef, chicken or fish. Their rice noodle omelet is a novel preparation that nestles stir-fried noodles and white button mushrooms within a thin organic egg wrapper, garnished with scallions, julienne daikon and carrots, and crispy shallots. Viet also serves vegan jackfruit salad with rice crackers and dairy-free Vietnamese coffee sorbet.
This “all vegan organic” cafe near Santa Monica High School grew out of a sauce business. The owners switched focus to food service, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a white brick structure with succulent filled planters out front. AVO Café serves far more than avocado, including pizzas on cauliflower crusts and breakfast burritos with scrambled tofu, tempeh bäcon, spinach, avocado, salsa, and plant-based “Chëse” in a sprouted wheat wrap. Their hearty “banquet” burger features a house-made mung bean, sweet potato & quinoa patty, sprouted tofu bäcon, melted Chëse, lettuce, onion, and tomato on a sprouted bun. Substitute a gluten-free cauli bun made with cauliflower and garbanzo bean if that better suits you.