Monthly Archives: June 2016

Dos Toros Taqueria (or, That Time I Was Really, Really Wrong)

A carnitas bowl from Dos Toros

All right. Let’s say you’re like me, and you’ve eaten at Chipotle too many times in the past month to count, and you’re starting to feel a little ashamed. You still want Chipotle, but shouldn’t you…you know, eat something else? The answer is yes. Yes, you obviously should eat something else. And Dos Toros is your key to doing so—but, you know, without ever having to actually eat anything else.

Dos Toros is remarkably similar to Chipotle, though die-hard fans of either will probably try to convince you that they’re, like, totally different, dude. But the fact remains: they’re both Mexican-ish fast-casual chains that offer customizable burritos (and bowls and tacos, too). And like Chipotle, Dos Toros is pretty much nut-free. According to their online menu: “There are zero nuts in anything at DT. There is however sesame oil in our smokey hot sauce and our salad dressing.”

With regard to potential cross contaminants, a Dos Toros representative told me the following via email: “I just talked to one of the founders and it’s probably not fair to say we ensure that there are no contaminants, but we assume something like onions or peppers is not being grown next to peanuts.” Some may not be satisfied with that answer, but it was enough for me, so to Dos Toros I went.

The first time I went (to the Union Square location, in late February), I ordered a carne asada burrito with rice, corn, cheese, and sour cream—and to be honest, I absolutely hated it. It was soggy and bland, with mushy rice and funky-tasting steak, and I promised myself I’d never return. Come summer, though, I read that a brand new Dos Toros location was having a a Friends and Family event—basically a free food day—in celebration of their June 13th grand opening. If I was ever going to give the place another chance, it had to be then.

Fast forward to Sunday, June 12th. The Dos Toros in question was the chain’s 11th restaurant, located at 52 West 52nd Street, between 5th and 6th. The Puerto Rican Day Parade was in full swing (and only half a block away, at that), and Dos Toros #11 was crowded. Like, snaking-line, no-tables crowded. No surprise there, I guess. There’s a lot of hype surrounding Dos Toros—and who doesn’t love discounted food?

I figured I should switch it up, so when my turn came, I ordered a carnitas burrito with rice, peppers and onions, tomato salsa, corn, verde sauce, guacamole, and sour cream—and, of course, some chips and guac (why not?). As promised, everything was free. And the employees were absurdly friendly. With my last Dos Toros experience still fresh in my mind, I was ready as ever to hate everything about the place—but I couldn’t. Everything was perfect.

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I’ll just say it: My burrito was better than anything I’ve ever eaten at Chipotle—including those meals I’ve eaten when Chipotle was at its peak, which it certainly is not anymore. (Have you tasted their steak lately? It’s pretty terrible these days.)

My burrito wasn’t bland. It wasn’t soggy. Nothing tasted funky. All the ingredients were fresh-as-could-be, and the burrito as a whole was flavorful and cohesive, without any of the mushy homogeneity of my first Dos Toros meal. Above all, it was good. Great, even. So: I’m sorry, Dos Toros. I misjudged you.

I maintain, though, that their rice sucks. (I’m sorry. Maybe I suck. But I just don’t like it.) It is mushy and bland—but it definitely isn’t as offensive as I’d originally thought. And while I liked the carnitas better than the carne asada, I must admit that both were pretty boring. But I remain convinced: Overall, Dos Toros is pretty damn good.

Perhaps my first burrito was only so bad because of my own poor choices, made in the interest of saving money and emulating my favorite Chipotle meals. Or perhaps my second burrito was only so good because it was opening week, and all the ingredients were extra fresh (and the employees extra motivated).

Either way, I look forward to finding out just where your average Dos Toros burrito lies on the spectrum between my first and second experiences. And I’ve certainly learned my lesson—there’ll be no more cheaping out on additional ingredients for me.

[Note: Pictured in the two photos above is not a Dos Toros burrito; it’s a carnitas plato that I ate a few days after writing this post. I’d been wanting to try something other than a burrito—and a plato was way easier to photograph, anyway—so I figured I might as well. Forgive me.]

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Stern’s Bakery

A few slices of a Stern's seven-layer cake

In the time I’ve spent on this blog, I’ve had a lot of luck finding nut-free kosher bakeries. For some reason, there’s a (relative) abundance of them in and around the city, so I wasn’t exactly surprised when I found out about Stern’s. There’s no such thing as too many when it comes to nut-free bakeries (or nut-free anythings, for that matter)—so of course, I had to give Stern’s a try.

There isn’t much information about Stern’s to be found online. Their factory, located in the very Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park, is wholesale-only, but their Yelp page led me to believe they had a retail storefront, too. When I went, though, it was nowhere to be found, no matter how many people I asked for directions. Maybe I’m crazy, or maybe it doesn’t exist; either way, though, pretty much every market in the area had a wide array of Stern’s products, so I still managed to make it home with a sizable haul of baked goods—all with the words “made in a nut-free facility” on the packaging.

The first thing I tried (on my train ride home, of course) was a single-serving Confetti Brownie, which looks a whole lot like a Little Debbie’s Cosmic Brownie. At first bite, I didn’t really like it—it was too sweet, and the chocolate tasted too artificial—but the texture won me over, and by the end, I was wishing I had more. The chocolate danish, though, was worlds better. It was moist and thick, with plenty of far-less-artificial-tasting chocolate, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Finally: the black and white seven layer cake (pictured above). Somehow, I actually managed to wait until I got home before digging into this one. Honestly, though, it wasn’t very good. It smelled exactly like a Hostess CupCake, and it didn’t taste much better. It was far too sweet, though I think there’s a good chance the regular seven layer cake would have been better, as it doesn’t seem to have as many layers of frosting (or whatever that stuff is—I’m not sure).

Still, Stern’s is a solid option for (nut-free!) packaged baked goods. Their products are better (and probably safer) than anything made by Hostess, Drake’s, or Little Debbie—and though I like Green’s better, Stern’s is certainly a company I’m willing to throw my very inconsequential weight behind.

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Gerbs Allergen Friendly Foods

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I’ll just come right out and say it: Gerbs is a pretty awesome company. Everything they sell is entirely free from the top 8 allergens (plus sesame and mustard, too). It’s all vegan, kosher, and non-GMO, and it’s all free from sulphur dioxide, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, nitrates/nitrites, MSG, and trans fats. Truthfully, I couldn’t possibly care less about any of that—but I do care a whole lot about nut-free seeds, granolas, and dried fruits. As many people seem to be incapable of understanding, seeds are not nuts; they’re seeds, and I can eat them, as can everyone else who’s (just) allergic to nuts. Often, though, seeds come cross-contaminated—especially if they’re shelled—so it can be a real pain to find safe ones.

The same goes for dried fruits. For some reason, they’re almost always made by companies that handle lots of nuts. I tend to really like dried fruits, though, so I’ve been searching—really, really searching—for a safe and reliable source for a while now. Trader Joe’s has some options that work for me, sure…but they don’t have my personal favorite: pineapple rings (the sweetened kind, because I am a child).

Enter Gerbs, the solution to all (well, some) of my problems.

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Gerbs carries chocolate products, coffee beans, dried fruits, seeds, grains, granolas, rice, oats, and various snack mixes, all free from the junk (and allergens) mentioned above—so basically, they sell a whole bunch of stuff that’s tough to find. And though their products aren’t available in stores, they are available online, and at (somewhat) reasonable prices, too. [That first link is to Amazon, where a whole bunch of Gerbs products are Prime-eligible. Game-changing, really, for those of us who straight-up refuse to (a) order in bulk or (b) pay for shipping.]

It wasn’t until last week that I finally got around to ordering some of this stuff. I got a pound of lightly salted sunflower kernels ($3.99), and—of course—a pound of sweetened pineapple slices ($7.99). And since my order only weighed 2 lbs, I only had to pay $5.99 for shipping, which would’ve otherwise gone up to $12.99. (Only. As if. Obviously, I placed this order before finding out about the whole Gerbs-is-Prime-eligible thing. Live and learn, I guess.)

To my surprise, the box arrived within two days—and fortunately, I have very little to say, other than that products I received were perfectly fine. The sunflower kernels taste like sunflower kernels—though I’m not sure I’d have labeled them as lightly salted—and the pineapple rings are just what I’ve been wanting. My only (cliché) complaint is that they disappeared far too quickly. I think I’m good on sunflower seeds for a while, though. Apparently, a pound is quite a few servings. (Just in: My eyes are way bigger than my stomach. Who knew? Guess I have some sunflower-seed pesto in my near future.)

Anyway, Gerbs is most definitely a company worth supporting—and their products are definitely worth eating, too. Find them, as I’ve said, on both Amazon (Prime!) and the Gerbs website.

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Sushi Ganso

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[Edit: As of October 4th, 2016, Ganso Yaki and Sushi Ganso are both gone-so. I happened to have been at Yaki on October 3rd, and they gave no indication whatsoever of their imminent closing. They’d just redone their menu, too. So heartbroken.]

Right next to Ganso Yaki is Sushi Ganso, which serves—you guessed it—a whole bunch of sushi. Now, I don’t love this place as much as I love Ganso Yaki, but it certainly isn’t bad, and I do believe it deserves a post of its own. So: Sushi Ganso. Here goes.

I’ve only been to (read: sat within the technical walls of) Sushi Ganso once, but I’m pretty familiar with their food, as I’ve ordered off their menu from next door quite a few times. Actually, I much prefer to do just that (eat at Ganso Yaki and order a few things off Sushi Ganso’s menu, that is), but this post is about eating at Sushi Ganso, so I suppose I’ll have to focus on doing that for now.

Now, I’m about to say some moderately negative things about Sushi Ganso, so I want to put some of its positives out there first: They have a nice selection of fish. Their food is true to what it should be, and there isn’t any of that weird whose-idea-was-this bullshit on the menu. It’s a small and relatively quiet restaurant, but it doesn’t feel cramped, and the atmosphere’s pleasant and laid-back. It’s easy to get to, it’s rarely crowded, and the service is good.

Okay, moving on.

When I went, I tried the hirame usuzukuri (thin-sliced fluke with ponzu sauce) and two specials recommended to us by our server: the tuna tataki and the soft-shell crab. I also ordered a bunch of sushi (by the piece) and rolls, too, hoping all that would be enough to food to satisfy three hungry people.

The tuna tataki and the soft-shell crab came out first. Neither was all that memorable, but I definitely preferred the crab to the tuna, which was ice-cold and unimpressive, flavor-wise. I did like the usuzukuri, though—but it’s worth noting that I’ve never disliked anything that’s been dipped in ponzu sauce. In all, though, these three dishes were unremarkable; they weren’t bad, but they didn’t exactly leave me wishing for more, either.

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10 minutes later, I’d forgotten all about our appetizers—the giant plates of fish had arrived, and it was time to ogle. We’d ordered otoro (fatty tuna), uni (sea urchin), salmon, mackerel, ikura (salmon roe), and ika (squid), and my personal favorite thing in existence: a negi-toro roll (fatty tuna with scallions). Unfortunately, though, Sushi Ganso is no Hatsuhana, and while I enjoyed every bite of fish, I can’t quite say the sushi was worth the price.

The otoro (pictured in the foreground of the first photo above) was particularly disappointing. It was fatty and delicious, sure—but nowhere near as delicious as I’ve come to expect a $10 piece of sushi to be. Plus, the coloring was a little off-putting; it almost looked as if it’d been cooked. The uni was all right, though bland and too cold, and the ikura reminded me of Mr. Clean. The squid was good, though—not too tough, as squid often is—and I enjoyed the salmon, but it wasn’t anything special.

I will say, though, that the rolls are pretty good, especially if ordered as a supplement to a Ganso Yaki meal. I’m partial to both salmon and negi-toro, but you can’t really go wrong with Sushi Ganso’s rolls. (It’s not as if they have Philadelphia rolls or anything.) The only way to go wrong, really, is to try to fill up on their sushi alone. It’ll cost you a hell of a lot, and the food, while decent, won’t be worth what you’ll pay. By all means, though: Dine next-door, and sample widely—from both restaurant’s menus.

Find Sushi Ganso at 31 3rd Avenue, between Atlantic Avenue and State Street. (Keep an eye out, too—a write-up on Ganso Ramen is coming soonish.)

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Ganso Yaki

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[Edit: As of October 4th, 2016, Ganso Yaki and Sushi Ganso are both gone-so. I happened to have been at Yaki on October 3rd, and they gave no indication whatsoever of their imminent closing. They’d just redone their menu, too. So heartbroken.]

Ganso Yaki was on my radar for a while before I finally made my way to Brooklyn to give it a try. “Japanese soul food” in a super-casual setting? It sounded pretty good to me. Little did I know that Sushi Ganso had recently opened right next door—or that there’s been a Ganso Ramen a few blocks away for a while now, too.

The best part, though, is the news I recently received from Ganso Yaki co-owner Harris Salat. I’d sent him a few questions about nuts and cross-contamination, and his reply was as follows: “I checked with our chefs, we do not use tree nuts in any of our kitchens at Ganso Ramen, Ganso Yaki and Sushi Ganso.” Good news. Great news. Three new safe Japanese restaurants? The best news, really.

Ganso Yaki, located in Boerum Hill, only a few blocks from Atlantic Terminal, serves up what’s basically elevated Japanese street food. (I hate that word. “Elevated.” Ugh.) They have tempura and ramen, too—and you can order off Sushi Ganso’s menu, if you’re so inclined—but the most interesting of their dishes are those that come off the grill.

One dish that really caught my eye was the Japanese Squid (pictured above, and in the header on Ganso Yaki’s website). It’s a whole grilled squid, served in a ginger-soy marinade—and it’s pretty decent. Really, it’s more fun to look at than it is to eat, but that’s not to say it’s bad. It’s not all that flavorful (its most prominent flavor is char, actually), but the squid’s texture is good, as are its aesthetics. (I mean—it’s a whole squid, legs and all. It’s super weird looking.) It isn’t something I’d order over and over, but it isn’t something I regretted getting, either.

My favorite dish (by far) is the Salmon Chan Chan—not because I dislike any of the others, but because this one’s absurdly good. The menu describes it as “Sapporo-style miso-grilled salmon, topped with salmon roe and shiso,” which doesn’t sound all that exciting, but I assure you: this hunk of fish is not to be doubted. I don’t usually like cooked salmon (in fact, I only ordered this dish because I’m a sucker for roe). But it was everything but the roe that hooked me.

The fish was cooked perfectly, and the sauce was sweet and miso-heavy—oh, and did I mention the entire dish was still sizzling when it arrived? For whatever reason, I couldn’t get a good photo of it, but it’d feel silly to publish this write-up without a picture of my favorite dish, so here’s one of my attempts:

Ganso Yaki's salmon chan-chan

[Since publishing this post, I’ve eaten at Ganso Yaki a few more times, and I’d like to revise what I said above. Very often, the sauce on the Salmon Chan Chan is just too strong (and too abundant!). On such off days, the dishsort of sucks, so…I’d like to name a new favorite dish: the Hamachi Kama (yellowtail collar), also from the grill. It’s consistently delicious, and there’s no sauce to worry about, which is a nice plus.]

I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed the Yaki Shumai (pan-fried pork dumplings), the Kamo Kushiyaki (glazed duck on a skewer), and the Sapporo Ramen—though the latter reminded me a bit too much of chicken noodle soup, and was definitely my least favorite of the bunch. The shumai are delicious—though they do arrive in a scalding pan, which makes me nervous—and the duck is tender and sweet, if a bit boring.

Overall, Ganso Yaki is a solid restaurant. It’s one of those places where you can order freely without having to worry about ending up with something bad. Plus, the ambiance is pleasant—usually, it isn’t too loud, and usually, the music’s good—and the servers are friendly, which never hurts. The prices aren’t low, but they aren’t high, either—and if you’re dining between 5 and 7pm, a few dishes are discounted to $5, and select rolls (from next-door) to $4.

Find Ganso Yaki at 515 Atlantic Avenue, on the corner of Atlantic and 3rd. And stay tuned—because Sushi Ganso’s up next.

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Fruit Slices

SweetGourmet fruit slices

I used to eat these jelly-based fruit slices all the time as a kid. Who knew they’d be so hard to come by for those who can’t eat nuts? Lots of supermarkets buy them in bulk and repackage them for sale—but they do the same with nuts, so more often than not, the fruit slices you’ll find at Fairway et al. come with “may contain” warnings. Shame. But I’ve really been craving these, so I had to make it happen.

Now, SweetGourmet definitely sells nuts; in fact, they have a whole category on their site devoted to nuts and seeds. But fruit slices aren’t all that easy to find, and I was pretty desperate to get my hands on some—and (for some reason!) I didn’t want to order them from nuts.com, so I decided to give these a try. Their ingredients are as follows:

Sugar, glucose, agar, citric acid, cottonseed oil, egg albumen, natural and artificial flavors, artificial colors (red 40, blue 1, yellow 5 & 6). **Contains: Egg Ingredients. Product information/materials may change.

Not the ideal company for someone with a nut allergy, but hey, fruit slices. So far, I’m around 75% of the way through my box, and I’ve had no issues. I got them off of Amazon, but they’re available straight from SweetGourmet, too. I ordered the middle size (20 oz.), and they arrived within a few days, packaged in a large box with sheets of wax paper separating the layers of fruit slices.

Anyway, they’re pretty good, if you’re into fruit slices (is anybody?). My only complaint is that the assortment is a little lacking. (I’m told it’s very inconsistent and varies a lot by box.) My box had mostly greens, reds, oranges, and yellows—which is unfortunate, because the watermelons and the blue raspberries are the real stars.

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Han Dynasty

Pork lo mein from Han Dynasty

For a while there, bagels were my holy grail. They just seemed to be the one thing I couldn’t even come close to finding, and for a while there, they were the food I wanted most, too. Since finding a workable bagel place, though, I’ve realized (remembered, really) that there are plenty of foods that are much harder to safely source—and at the top of that list is Chinese.

Takeout Chinese food (authentic, inauthentic, and everything in between) is hard not to love. But Chinese restaurants seem to all use nuts, and the nature of wok cooking is such that cross-contamination is a very real possibility. A restaurant would need to be nut-free in order for me to feel safe—but in all the time I’ve spent on this planet, I’ve never so much as heard of a nut-free Chinese restaurant. Google searches lead almost exclusively to recipes, unanswered questions, and questions with unhelpful answers. So basically, I figured the situation was hopeless.

I used to eat Chinese takeout pretty often, but I stopped when I got old enough to understand the risks involved. By now, it’s been years (and years) since I’ve dug into some spring rolls, chicken with broccoli, or my favorite: pork lo mein—and naturally, my craving has been building since then. I’m getting tired of abstaining, though, so I figured it was time for me to start combing through menus, sending emails, and making calls.

One of the (very) many restaurants I looked into was Han Dynasty, a Sichuan mini-chain with two New York City locations: one in the East Village, and one the Upper West Side. I’d sent them an email, but got impatient while waiting to hear back, so last Friday afternoon, I decided to give Han Dynasty a call. The man I spoke with understood my question—which is uncommon, no matter what type of restaurant I’m calling—and sounded confident when he assured me that they didn’t use any tree nuts in anything. He even double-checked on whether I could eat peanuts and sesame seeds, which was a good sign.

His apparent competence, combined with my absolute desperation for Chinese food, sent me (and my equally desperate boyfriend) running to Han Dynasty that same day. To be honest, though, this restaurant isn’t quite what I was looking for. I’m not really into spicy food, so Sichuan cuisine and I tend not to get along. But Han Dynasty does have a few dishes I’ve been known to lust after, even if those dishes aren’t the ones owner Han Chiang recommends. Still, I figured the place was worth a try, at the very least. After all, I’m hardly in a position to be choosy.

When we arrived, the guy who took my order reassured me that they don’t use any tree nuts or tree nut products in any of their dishes. They do use plenty of peanuts, though—and I figured it’d be best to try to avoid any dishes that explicitly contained peanuts so as to avoid any potential cross-contamination on that front. (It’s notoriously difficult to find peanuts free from tree nut cross-contamination, and I figured Han Dynasty was unlikely to be using a supplier that’d be safe for me. Better safe than sorry!)

Anyway, in an attempt to avoid both mouth-numbing spice and potentially-contaminated peanuts, I ordered something I’ve been specifically craving for a while now: pork lo mein (pictured above). Lo mein isn’t Han Dynasty’s speciality (they’re known for their dan dan noodles, actually) but I wanted to give it a try. Sure, it’s on the section of the menu marked “Kids & Baby Adults”—but I’m both, so perhaps the lo mein would be perfect for me.

I also ordered the Taiwan pork belly buns, not expecting them to be filled with crushed peanuts (though I should’ve known, because gua bao usually are). As soon as Sam bit into one, though, he told me there was something nut-like and crunchy in it, so I decided it’d probably be best for me to stay away.

I did eat the lo mein, though, and it wasn’t half bad. It wasn’t the best lo mein I’ve ever had, but I certainly did enjoy it. Pork lo mein is pork lo mein; rarely is it ever intolerable, and I took this helping down without issue, despite its oversized vegetable chunks. It was certainly on the bland side, and the pork itself was a bit too starchy—but hey, safe Chinese food. There’s only so much I can bring myself to complain about.

Pork lo mein from Han Dynasty

I’ve since tried the scallion pancakes, too—another dish that isn’t quite recommended—and though I have very little to compare them to, I can confidently say that I liked these a whole lot. They’re crispy, greasy, and satisfying, and though they aren’t the most flavorful thing in the world, they do hit the spot.

So…while I didn’t try anything I should’ve tried, and while my opinion is probably heavily tainted by desperation, I’m more-or-less satisfied with Han Dynasty. Maybe (hopefully!) someone out there will read this and put this place to better use than I ever will. But for now, I’m going to go order some more lo mein and continue my search—with a little less desperation, fortunately.

Find Han Dynasty at 90 3rd Avenue, between 12th and 13th, or at 215 West 85th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam. Of course, they also deliver—and if you, like me, live too far away, their food’s also available through Doordash, Postmates, and Caviar.

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Los Tacos No. 1

Two carne asada tacos from Los Tacos No. 1

I really didn’t think I needed another taqueria…until I ate at Los Tacos No. 1. I’d read good review after good review, and I’d heard their kitchen was pretty much nut-free, so I felt like I’d be cheating myself if I didn’t at least give the place a chance—and I’m so very glad I did.

This particular taqueria is located in the heart of Chelsea Market, Chelsea’s perpetually overcrowded, tourist-filled shopping mall. I was really hoping I’d hate Los Tacos just so I wouldn’t have to start wanting to make regular trips to such an out-of-the-way hellhole, but I just couldn’t bring myself to form a negative thought about the place. It’s that good.

First things first, though. I didn’t see anything that looked like it’d contain any nuts on the menu, but to be safe, I did send Los Tacos an email. Within a day, I received the following (very brief) reply: “Los Tacos No. 1 is completely safe for anyone with nut allergies.” I would’ve appreciated some more information, but I suppose that was all I really needed to hear. (Still, I’ve categorized them as “technically not nut-free,” as I don’t think they require allergen statements from their vendors, nor do they advertise themselves as a nut-free restaurant.)

When I arrived, the woman who took my order confirmed what I’d been told via email: no nuts in anything. I ended up getting two tacos—one carne asada taco and one adobada (marinated pork)—and both were absolutely delicious. The carne asada (pictured at the top of this post) comes topped with cilantro, onion, salsa, and an avocado-based cream sauce, and overall, it’s pretty damn good. The beef itself is soft and juicy, and the creaminess of the avocado complements the smokiness of the meat wonderfully.

But as good as the carne asada tacos are, I prefer mine with adobada. The pork itself—which comes topped with cilantro, onion, salsa, and pineapple—is always freshly-carved, and though it’s a little spicier than the beef, I love it just as much. The first time I ate at Los Tacos, the pineapple actually caught me off guard; I wasn’t expecting to bite into anything sweet, but goddamn, those slivers were good, especially as a break from the heat of the pork and the salsa. I had trouble getting a decent photo amid all the Chelsea Market hubbub, but this post wouldn’t be complete without some sort of image of my favorite Los Tacos offering, so here’s (evidently) the best I could do:

Two adobada tacos from Los Tacos No. 1

Despite the location, I can’t stay away from Los Tacos—and fortunately, it never disappoints. Their chips and guacamole are absolutely perfect, and the quesadillas aren’t half bad, either. Though it reminds me a little too much of a Taco Bell Chalupa, I particularly like the the pork especial, which is a lot like a fried quesadilla. (It comes with pineapple, so matter how much resemblance it bears to a Chalupa—ugh—I just don’t stand much of a chance against it.)

If it isn’t sufficiently obvious: I really, really, really recommend Los Tacos. These people sell some of this city’s absolute best tacos, and you’ll be doing yourself an enormous disservice if you let the horrors of Chelsea Market scare you off.

Find Los Tacos No. 1 in section B of Chelsea Market, which is located at 75 9th Avenue, between 15th and 16th. (And as a bonus: Los Tacos is a 30-second walk from Eleni’s, one of New York City’s only nut-free bakeries. [Note from the future: Eleni’s no longer has a Chelsea Market storefront.])

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Baz Bagel & Restaurant: An absolute godsend

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[Edit: As of October, 2017—or maybe earlier, I have no idea—Baz has started to offer gluten-free bagels made with almond flour. As all the equipment’s shared, I’m no longer comfortable (in the slightest) with Baz, so I’ve gone ahead and taken them off my list. I’ll leave the post up as a record, but if you’re allergic to almonds, I can’t any longer recommend you go to Baz.]

It’s no secret that I love bagels. I have an entire category dedicated to bagels on this blog, and I think I’ve made it clear that I’ll do almost anything for a good one. But safe bagels are really, really tough to find. Bagels themselves almost never contain nuts, sure—but try finding a bagel store that doesn’t do pastries and/or nut-based spreads, too. (Alternatively, don’t bother. I’ve spent hours and hours trying, and it’s pretty much impossible.)

Now, Baz does sell pastries—though you won’t find them on their online menu—but they aren’t made in house, so I’ve been assured that cross-contamination is essentially a non-issue. (I’m not sure—and neither was the woman I spoke with—whether any of the pastries Baz sells actually contain nuts. All she said was that she couldn’t quite guarantee that they were safe, as she didn’t have much information about their baker’s facility. Fair enough.)

Pastries aside, though, I was told via email that “the only thing with tree nuts is almond milk for the coffee. Otherwise, all clear!” To me, this isn’t a huge deal, as almond milk is pretty self-contained. Still, comfort is subjective—so if you’re considering eating at Baz, please be sure to do your own research and only proceed if you feel comfortable doing so.

In any case, felt comfortable enough with the information I’d collected on Baz. (Plus, with food like theirs, how could I resist?) So early last Sunday morning, I made my way over to Grand Street to get myself a long-awaited bagel. For my first Baz experience, I kept it simple: an everything bagel with Nova lox and plain cream cheese—and it certainly satisfied my craving. The bagel itself was fine (not the world’s best, but fine), and the lox was…well, it was lox. Delicious.

An everything bagel with lox, scallion cream cheese, and chives from Baz Bagel

I’ve been back a few times since—I wasn’t kidding about loving bagels—and so far, everything I’ve tried has been wonderful. My two favorites are probably the Mooch (Scottish salmon, sable, cream cheese, tomato, onion, and chives) and the BAZ (Nova, scallion cream cheese, tomato, and onion). If I had to choose, though, I’d probably go with the Mooch, because a) sable’s awesome, b) I prefer the Scottish salmon to the Nova, and c) the chives make a huge difference. I do have one complaint concerning these two sandwiches, though: The tomato sucks. Tomatoes are out of season right now, though—so maybe that’ll improve. [Edit from the future: There was no improvement.]

I’m also a huge fan of the wasabi tobiko cream cheese (even though I generally don’t like the flavor of wasabi). The flavor isn’t too harsh, and the tobiko itself adds a great texture to the bagel-and-cream-cheese combo. The whitefish salad’s good, too (if a bit sweet), and the Nova and chive cream cheese is Nova-heavy and pretty much perfect. Honestly, nearly every spread or spread-like thing I’ve tried at Baz has been decent or better (but maybe that’s just because I know better than to go for some of their stupider offerings—I’m looking at you, blueberry cream cheese).

You can also dine in, if you’re so inclined—though I wouldn’t quite recommend doing so, as the service is (in my experience) painfully slow, and they tend to bring out a complimentary dessert toward the end of the meal, which isn’t ideal for those who are concerned about allergens. No big deal, though; Baz does counter service, too—and they’ll deliver to you (for free!) if you live between Worth and 10th Streets on the north-south axis and 6th Avenue and Essex Street on the east-west axis. (For the rest of us, I suppose there’s always Postmates and Amazon Prime Now.)

Is Baz perfect? No. Cheap? Not at all. Are their bagels the city’s best? Definitely not. But are they the safest bagel place I’ve been able to find in a few years of searching? Well, they certainly seem to be. And hey, their food is pretty damn good. So if you’re as into bagels as I am—or even if you aren’t—I’d certainly say Baz is worth a try. I, for one, am very ready to become a regular.

Anyway, if Baz’s handling of allergens seems like it’d meet your standards, you can find them and their bagels at 181 Grand Street, between Baxter and Mulberry. Beware, though: They get pretty busy around lunchtime, and they close at 4pm.

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See’s Lollypops

A box of See's Lollypops

I used to eat See’s lollipops (I’m sorry—I’m not going to use their spelling) on occasion as a kid, but I had no idea they were nut-free until a random flashback sent me Googling. See’s makes lots of nut products; who would’ve expected them to make these (gourmet!) lollipops in a nut-free facility?

On their website, there’s an allergen information page with lists of the See’s products that are free from from nuts, dairy, gluten, soy, and egg. There’s also a nut-free filter, and their FAQ states that candies marked nut-free are those that “are free of nuts and have been manufactured in a nut-free facility.” So at See’s, nut-free really seems to mean nut-free. Miraculous.

The lollipops are expensive ($18.50 for a box of 30) but truthfully, they’re worth it. Flavor-wise, they’re unlike any other lollipop I’ve ever had—rich, creamy, and never too sweet—and they last for-goddamn-ever, too (both individually and as a box), which makes me feel a little better about the price.

The assortment comes with four flavors: chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch, and café latte. They’re all made with butter and heavy cream, and they’re all delicious in their own way, but my personal favorite is the butterscotch (which is the sweetest by far—go figure). It’s super buttery, but not at all in a sickening way. It’s actually pretty salty, too—so in all, it’s perfectly balanced.

Chocolate’s probably my second favorite. The flavor’s closer to cocoa powder than, say, pudding, which took me some time to get used to, but once I got there, I was sold. It tastes a lot like a brownie—not the Betty Crocker kind, but a good one. (An adult brownie, I guess.) It’s very rich, and it has a sort of grainy texture, which I like. And for a lollipop, it’s actually sort of filling.

Vanilla and café latte are my least favorites, but they’re not bad by any stretch of the imagination. Vanilla’s very creamy, which is nice—and it gets a little chewy around halfway through, which is strange, but inoffensive. Café latte is great, I’m sure, if you’re into coffee, but I’m not, so I could probably go without this one. It’s all right—somewhat bitter, and subtly sweet, too—but again: I’m not into that strong coffee flavor. Oh well.

Clearly, though, I’m into these lollipops. I found them at Macy’s in Herald Square (6th floor—you’re welcome), and they’re apparently sold at Lord & Taylor, too. Or, if that’s too much trouble, they’re available online. In any case, they’re certainly worth a try—even if you aren’t a fan of lollipops.

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