A Gluten-free Guide to Philadelphia
I was elated to head to Pennsylvania and check off another state I’d yet to visit. The stars aligned perfectly for me to spend a weekend in Philadelphia. I knew there’d be plenty of gluten-free opportunities awaiting me. Did I envision everything from Chinese food to funnel cakes and even a legit Philly pretzel? Nope. But it was the icing on the cake of a delicious trip.
There are still many places for me to get my gluten-free on in Philadelphia. Yet these are the spots that were my introductions. Stay tuned for more in-depth stories on some of the restaurants featured.
Gluten-free in Philadelphia
How often can someone gluten-free enjoy Chinese food? The closest I’ve found that’s often celiac-friendly is Thai dishes. Authentic Chinese fare is usually off-limits. Imagine my delight when I stepped into EMei Restaurant in Philadelphia’s gorgeous Chinatown. As I glanced over the menu, my eyes grew wider that nearly the entire menu was filled to the brim with genuine Sichuan plates. All with symbols indicating the items are gluten-free or can be prepared.
This is all thanks to owner and chef, Dan Tsao. Tsao himself is gluten-free and understands the importance of making Sichuan items available to all no matter the restrictions.
Their Chongqing spicy chicken, a signature dish, is fried in cornstarch. The crispy walnut shrimp tasted identical to what I loved as a child (which was loaded with wheat gluten). If diners are meat-free, EMei has plenty to keep everyone happy. They’re hyper-aware of allergen concerns and happy to accommodate.
Chongqing spicy chicken at EMei. (c) Mary Farah
EMei’s crispy walnut shrimp. (c) Mary Farah
P.S. & Co.
P.S. & Co. is situated in the heart of upper-class Rittenhouse Square. As I walked the neighborhood I felt back in New York’s Upper West Side. The beautiful nook serves up 100% gluten-free, vegan, organic, and kosher foods that serve as medicine. Never in my life have I felt that eating a slice of cake was as nourishing for my body as my soul but P.S. & Co. is proving that you can have your cake and eat it, too.
I enjoyed a hearty bowl of porridge adorned with in-season fruit, strawberry jam, Brazil nut milk, and spices. They boast a four-page menu that includes cold-pressed juices, smoothies, coffees, and teas in addition to sweet treats and entrees. Artificial sweeteners, corn syrups, and the like have no home here. I’m still dreaming about my maté latte I sipped and savored throughout my morning.
P.S. & Co offers grab-and-go from eight to 10 a.m. Monday to Friday, dine-in from 10 a.m. to four p.m. Monday to Saturday, until five p.m. on Sunday, and dinner on Friday and Saturday from six to nine p.m.
Protein porridge bowl at P.S. & Co. (c) Mary Farah
Maté latte courtesy of P.S. & Co. (c) Mary Farah
The Olde Bar
I don’t usually think “bar” screams “gluten-free.” But, at the Olde Bar, I was proven wrong. Here, I was joined by Binh Nguyen from Visit Philadelphia and the creator of Philly Sushi for a wonderful Happy Hour of drinks and gluten-free delights.
The Olde Bar resides in the historic Old Original Bookbinder’s building. If only the walls could talk. To the right of the host’s desk is their elegant dining room and to the left is the gorgeous bar. Ideal for their Happy Hour or to catch up with friends, old or new.
No visit is complete without ordering a few of their two buck shuck oysters. From there, we nibbled on buffalo cauliflower, shrimp cocktail, and my personal favorite, shrimp fries. They have a dedicated fryer for their French fries which means no possibility of cross-contamination.
As I perused the signature cocktail list, I decided on the siesta. Being the tequila girl I am, this libation features it paired with Campari, citrus, and angostura. How’d I enjoy it? Let’s just say I didn’t stop at just one.
Drinks at the Olde Bar. (c) Mary Farah
Olde Bar’s shrimp fries. (c) Mary Farah
Gluten-free at Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market
The Reading Terminal Market is a pretty special spot in downtown Philadelphia. It was the very first street market in the nation. Paving the way for Los Angeles’ Original Farmers Market and Seattle’s Pike Place. It has over 80 diverse merchants and many include or are completely gluten-free.
The two I made a beeline to were Fox and Son Fair Foods and Sparrow’s Gourmet Snacks. Fox and Son is all about bringing the classic carnival treats to you but gluten-free. I’m sure my husband is shaking his head. I didn’t order a corn dog (bleh) but instead went for the vegan banana funnel cake. It’s made to order with a dust of powdered sugar. Was it legendary? Unfortunately, it was not. It certainly tasted sweet and had banana flavor but it was also very doughy and left me underwhelmed.
Next door to Fox and Son was Sparrow’s. Here is where I fell in love. Another gluten-free shop, I went ape crazy that they offer warm baked pretzels. I wish I’d bought more than one. It was salty and baked to perfection. They offer you mustard and you’re good to go. I’ll be going back to this gluten-free gem whenever I return to Philadelphia.
Funnel cake from Fox and Son. (c) Mary Farah
Taking a bite out of my pretzel from Sparrow’s. (c) Mary Farah
Campo’s Philly Cheesesteaks
I know this is a crime. But, I didn’t have time to squeeze in a Philly cheesesteak. Given I’m not a big meat person, it’s OK but I know it’s a “must” when in Philadelphia. Next time I’m in town I’ll know where to check out and it’s Campo’s. This city favorite was voted the second-best ballpark food in America by USA Today. Since a Philly cheesesteak would usually be a “no go” for gluten-free travelers, Campo’s is making it happen with a gluten-free bun.
They also have a plethora of vegetarian and vegan options so there’s truly something for everyone.