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Gluten Free Travel: Honolulu, Hawaii
Note: Lists should not be considered exhaustive. There may be more locations or shops available. Check Google or Google maps for more information.
Food is an important part of the travel experience. In addition to sightseeing, enjoying a new area or new culture often means sampling the local delicacies and straying far, far away from your comfort zone--trying something new and different. It's true when you travel overseas and true when you travel within your country.
Unfortunately, when you have any kind of food restriction this becomes extremely difficult. Chain restaurants that train their employees on food sensitivities and produce gluten free menus may end up becoming the only choice for a gluten intolerant customer. After all, the local shops may not quite understand what you're talking about if you mention gluten. People with less of a grasp of English might not understand at all. And if you're truly unfamiliar with the food, you may not be able to tell what's safe and what isn't just by looking at it.
Honolulu is not just paradise, but it's also a tourist's paradise. There are all kinds of fancy shops, tourist traps, and overpriced beverages to be had. You can go see historical sites and natural wonders all day long, then spend your night at a club or karaoke place.
There's loads to do and see,
spots to go and be,
but can you do it gluten free?
Well, of course you have all the usual chains you might expect to find in any city. In Waikiki area you have Outback Steakhouse and P.F. Chang's, which are both well known as having gluten free menus. You can also go to Roy's, a pricier Asian-fusion type place, or Yard House (though the latter has one of those "order without any dressing, sides or flavor" types of menus). There's usually a California Pizza Kitchen hiding somewhere, and they're also reportedly very accommodating to GF diners.
In the Ala Moana/Ward area you also have a lot of options. Buca di Beppo, Old Spaghetti Factory and Macaroni Grill can satisfy your Italian needs, with Wahoo's Fish Tacos there for a more "South of the Border" experience. (It should be noted that many items at Wahoo's are GF, but not all. You can find indications around the internet as to what items may be safe, or ask your server.) You can go to Z Pizza for your gluten free pizza fix, and get some Dairy Queen for desert (they have a list of allergens on their website). There's a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Ruby Tuesday up in Ala Moana, although I find their selection a bit limited. At the Ala Moana food court there isn't much, but Charley's uses a dedicated fryer for fries (which are always fresh!) and you can order a salad off of their menu if you're looking for a full meal.
In Kahala area you have some more options. Whole Foods has a variety of GF groceries, but also prepared foods with clearly listed ingredients. There's another Wahoo's and California Pizza Kitchen, as well as a Chili's (which has a limited GF menu). Between Chili's and Whole Foods is The Counter, a burger place that allows you to build your own burger and can provide you an allergen list if need be. They offer a gluten free bun, bowl of rice or bowl of lettuce for an extra $2, although it's possible to order without a bun** too, if you want to save the cash. The fries and sweet potato fries are GF, but not much else is as far as sides or sweets.
Your best bet for GF groceries is going to be Whole Foods, hands down. Unfortunately it's also the priciest. It can be easily accessed by any bus going to Kahala Mall, or if you just follow Waialae Ave. toward Hawaii Kai, the mall is pretty hard to miss. (In this era of Google Maps, finding everything should be pretty easy peasy.)
After that I would recommend Safeway, which often has a selection of gluten free bread in the frozen section, a few frozen dinners (Amy's, Evol, etc.), and some selection of gluten free crackers, cookies, mac and cheese, etc. I recommend them more than the more local Foodland just because Foodland is usually more expensive. Both supermarkets have a rewards card that you can use to get better prices, although GF foods are usually not on promotion. But you may get lucky. And it's still cheaper than Whole Foods.
Of course you can google, but there's a decent Safeway on Kapahulu as well as a large, newer building on Beretania (toward Ward area). The former used to have a pretty good selection but the latter is even more massive--or so it seems--and almost always has what I'm looking for when I go there. There's a Foodland in Ala Moana Center, which is convenient if you're staying in that area. There are more locations of both supermarkets sprinkled around the city.
Times is another supermarket you'll find all over the city, but their GF selection is close to nil, their prices tend to be pretty high for anything they do have that's GF, and they don't have any kind of rewards card. A few items seem to be cheaper (produce, especially), but almost anything I want to buy is usually more expensive. YMMV, again.
Near the intersection of King and University there's Down to Earth, an entirely vegetarian supermarket with some GF products (but only vegetarian ones). Their prices are decent, but last I looked their selection of bread was small. They have decent prices on Van's waffles or Amy's frozen dinners. Their prepared food selection is largely not GF-friendly, and I've noticed at times they forget to mention certain very obvious ingredients in the food available.
Just across University from Down to Earth is Kokua, a natural foods market with a decent GF selection. Prices are sometimes higher than Whole Foods, but they do carry a few items that other stores don't have (GF cheesecake, for example). If you're in the area anyway, they're always worth a look, especially since a lot of natural/organic foods also just happen to be GF (especially meats).
In Ala Moana Center there's also a health food store called Vim & Vigor, which has a tiny selection of GF foods (both dry and frozen). Sometimes their prices are good, but twice I've also purchased items that I later found to be expired. Once I purchased something that had expired four months before I even arrived in Hawaii, so it was very, very expired by the time I bought it. Double check the date before you purchase anything.
Of course you might have good luck with Thai, Vietnamese, or sushi. Remember to bring your dining cards along just in case you need to offer a translation of what gluten is, as there are many folks here who might not understand if you try to explain it in English. As always, sushi is probably safe without the soy sauce, as long as you avoid obvious things (breaded items, fake crab, tamagoyaki, anything with sauce on it). Indian food (apart from naan) may be okay. India Cafe does have a gluten free menu, but I don't think they have any Honolulu locations anymore apart from the UH Manoa campus.
"Plate lunch" is another popular thing here, but you will likely have to ask what's in the food before you order. Macaroni salad is a common side item, but white rice should be okay. The meats may be cooked with soy sauce or on a surface that is used to cook meats containing soy sauce. Caution should be used. Foods like Loco Moco seem okay, but you don't ever know what's hiding in that gravy (probably wheat flour), so always make sure to check with the cook/owner/manager.
Spam may contain wheat depending on the source. Hormel brand Spam is gluten free, but other spam might not be.
Enjoy all the fresh tropical fruits you can handle!
Any questions about any of these things (or something I didn't mention)? Let me know in the comments! And happy vacationing!
**I used to do this until a server made a very insensitive "Atkins diet" type comment to me, and I haven't been back since. YMMV