Navigating Nut-Free New York City

Food bloggers, bakeries and restaurants are responding to the demand for nut-free fare.

by Aaron McDonell Moline and Sophie Murguia

Nut-free cupcakes are hard to find, but Baked Cravings in East Harlem is one of a few bakeries that cater to New Yorkers with severe allergies.

Food allergies are increasing in the United States: A recent study by the nonprofit group Fair Health found that the number of severe allergic reactions to food nearly quadrupled from 2007 to 2016. This means that for a growing number of people, eating a meal at a local restaurant or bakery can be a risky or even potentially fatal undertaking. We took a look at resources in New York City for people who suffer from one of the most common food allergies: nuts.

According to Fair Health, about a quarter of food allergy-related health insurance claims are for peanut allergies, while tree nuts and seeds make up 18 percent of claims. Pistachios, cashews and almonds are a few of the most common tree nuts. Peanuts are in a separate category, because they’re legumes.

Otto’s Tacos, Greenwich Village

Food blogger Juliet Bader has trouble eating out with her severe nut allergies, but she feels safe eating at Otto’s Tacos.

Eating out can be tricky for people with nut allergies, because even if they aren’t listed on the menu, nuts might be hidden in breads, sauces or desserts. Contamination is also an issue: If the food doesn’t come from a nut-free facility, allergy sufferers may be at risk.

Like most restaurants, Otto’s Tacos in Greenwich Village doesn’t provide any online information about allergens in the kitchen. But Juliet Bader, a 21-year-old with serious tree nut allergies, has researched the food preparation practices at Otto’s and decided she feels comfortable eating there. In 2016, Bader posted about the taco joint on her website Nut Free New York, a guide to eating with nut allergies in New York City.

Listen to Bader discuss her experience founding the website over lunch at Otto’s:

Bader has developed a thorough process for vetting restaurants. First, she looks through websites like Eater and Grub Street to find highly-rated eateries in the city. She then pulls up all of their menus online and saves the ones that look like they might not have tree nuts. After that, Bader will email a handful of restaurants that look promising to ask about how they prepare their food. She says sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the restaurant has thoroughly checked their allergy practices, or if they’re just telling her what she wants to hear.

It’s especially hard at Chinese restaurants: Bader says many people in the nut allergy community have given up eating at Chinese restaurants altogether, because the dishes so often contain nuts as unlisted ingredients. But Bader recently went on a quest to find Chinese restaurants that are safe for her, and after much persistence she succeeded. She posted the results on her website, and she jokes that it’s her “only truly original contribution to this world.”

Baked Cravings, East Harlem

Bader’s favorite nut-free bakery is Baked Cravings in East Harlem. With an immaculate, freshly painted storefront and bakery on premises, this new source of frosted fare was founded by Craig Watson, Rui Kojima and Edwin Figueroa. Their goal was to create and maintain a nut-free baking facility specifically so children with nut allergies could have a place to indulge. For their cakes, which come in regular, cupcake or stuffed in a jar with frosting and sprinkles, Baked Cravings relies on certified nut-free vendors and follows strict packing procedures to ensure there is no contamination. This is especially important for Watson, who must contend with his children’s food allergies every day.

The Donut Pub, 14th and 7th

A light, airy French Cruller awaits consumption at the Donut Pub.

For late night allergy-conscious baked goods, there is the Donut Pub on 14th Street and 7th Avenue, just north of Greenwich Village. Open 24 hours and featuring donuts, cronuts, French crullers and cinnamon rolls, the Donut Pub looks like a Dunkin’ Donuts grafted onto a classic, bar-only diner. The Donut Pub describes itself as “nut aware,” which means they try hard not to have nuts anywhere near their baked goods, but can’t make any guarantees… So bring your EpiPen, just in case.

Don’t go to the Donut Pub looking for brews or booze, but you can still park yourself at the bar for some baked goods.