Gluten-free eating in Honolulu, Hawaii

On the challenges of going gluten-free in Honolulu.

Gluten and I aren’t friends.

I don’t have Celiac Disease, but eating anything with gluten—breads, pastas, even shoyu—is a surefire recipe for debilitating stomach pain.

Learning to eat gluten-free has been a rough process. I used to eat everything, with abandon and in mass quantities. Now I walk into a grocery store or a restaurant knowing that most of the food there isn’t for me.

It has been getting easier, now that gluten-free food became a booming billion-dollar business, but all too often, eating out in Honolulu is an exercise in frustration, with servers giving me a baffled look of total ignorance like they’ve never heard the word gluten in their life. Even if they know what gluten is, they often don’t take the issue seriously. I ate at the Italian spot Sabrina’s once and asked that my shrimp be grilled and not breaded. When they came out, you guessed it, breaded, the owner told me it was OK because they make their own breadcrumbs. How about that Lebanese restaurant Good and Healthy, with the rice pilaf? I asked if the rice contained pasta and the owner told me it’s just angel hair and didn’t know if it contained wheat. She joked it was made of angels. I didn’t laugh.

It’s not all bad. There are plenty of accommodating, gluten-knowledgeable restaurants here, such as Town in Kaimuki, most Thai, Mexican and Mediterranean spots and even big chains such as P.F. Changs, which offer gluten-free menus. Many Italian places also have gluten-free pasta options now. At the grocery store, mainstream brands like General Mills, Frito-Lay and Duncan Hines offer up clearly-marked gluten-free foods, and I even spied a variety of gluten-free cake mixes on a recent trip to T.J. Maxx.

Where to eat gluten-free in Honolulu

Whole Foods
Eating gluten-free isn’t cheap. This pricey store still has the widest selection of gluten-free groceries. Its prepared foods are also clearly marked for common allergens.

llustration by Dana Paresa

llustration by Dana Paresa

Phuket Thai
I love Thai food because there are so many fresh gluten-free and dairy-free foods. I’m also a fan of the desserts, especially rice and tapioca puddings.

The Counter

4211 Waialae Ave. E-1, 739-5100,

The Counter website features an amazingly thorough diagram of allergen information. I eat a turkey burger on a gluten-free bun here at least once a week. It’s no Love’s Bakery bun, but it does the trick.

llustration by Dana Paresa

Menchies Frozen Yogurt
When you’re looking for something sweet and safe, all of the flavors here are gluten-free. Just be careful, because not all of the toppings are. Menchies also offers dairy-free flavors for the lactose intolerant.

llustration by Dana Paresa