My Boyfriend is Italian & I'm Gluten Free. Here's How We Survive (& thrive!) in LA

 Estrella on Sunset

Estrella on Sunset

It was our first official date, and my soon-to-be boyfriend and I sat across the table from each other spatting out menu items to order and share. He suggested a flatbread, referencing some of his favorite versions from his hometown, Rome. That's when I had to break it to him... "I have something to tell you..." I smiled sheepishly across the table as he anticipated the worst. "I don't really eat flatbreads, pizza OR pasta ...because I'm gluten free." This could have been a deal breaker (I tease) but I mean, how would an Italian and a gluten-free girl ever be able to eat?! 

But here we are, a year later and we're still dining together happily, without either of us needing to forgo our favorite foods. Here's how we do it:

Below are 5 of the hottest Italian restaurants in LA, and how they faired according to an Italian AND a gluten-free girl. 

PIZZANA

11712 SAN VICENTE BLVD LOS ANGELES, CA 90049 // www.pizzana.com

Founded by the mastermind behind Sprinkles Cupcakes, Candace Nelson, it’s no surprise that their gluten-free crust is on point (with a $6 upcharge, it better be!) As far as gluten-free pizza goes, this place knocked my socks off. As far as pizza in general goes… well let’s just focus on the good part.

WHAT TO ORDER

We started off with the fried artichoke appetizer, which was crispy and delicious without being overly oily. The truffled veggie special was also delish, if a bit overpriced at $18. I’m not a fan of mozzarella so I got the only vegan pizza on the menu, the Ortolana; a saucy, roasted eggplant and zucchini combo that was wildly flavorful and satisfying. So good in fact, that L ditched his own non-gluten-free pie for mine. Skip the plain margherita pie, this place isn’t known for simple and classic. Instead try the Neo Margherita (similar ingredients but all smashed together in some kind of melty magic) or the Pignatiello which is a little over salty but involves creamy gravy and was a win for L.

WHERE TO SIT

Pretty much everywhere is fair game in this basic box of a restaurant, not notable for ambiance. Reservations are hard to come by, but they do accept walk-ins, and we snuck in around 9:15 on a Sunday after a pretty manageable wait.

SO WHAT DID WE THINK?

  • GF GF-NESS: 5/5
  • AUTHENTIC ITALIAN-NESS: 2/5
  • DECOR & VIBE: 3/5
  • OVERALL: Prob not that amazing, but we’ll be going back for sure because… GF, vegan pizza that doesn’t taste GF or vegan is a WIN!

 

FORMA

1610 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403 // www.formarestaurant.com

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This Italian owned and operated gem whips up a cacio-e-pepe of dreams, and all of their regular pasta is made in house. Gluten free pizza AND pasta are available for those of us who can't handle the real stuff, however I actually formed an entire meal of veggie sides and meats (and was darn happy about it!).

WHAT TO ORDER

With things like tender chicken meatballs with artichokes, slow cooked split peas with pecorino and rice crusted salmon, I didn't even miss the pasta a bit. In fact, L was picking off my plates just as much as his own! Also, the roasted veggies were anything but boring thanks to their wood fired oven.

WHERE TO SIT

I found the decor a little sterile at Forma, but grab a seat at the bar and you'll get to watch the servers carve up fancy cheese plates and joke with each other in Italian.

SO... WHAT DID WE THINK?

  • GF GF-NESS: 5/5
  • AUTHENTIC ITALIAN-NESS: 4/5
  • DECOR & VIBE: 3/5
  • OVERALL: L and I were both equally thrilled with our meal, and I felt like I had a million options to order that didn't feel like I was missing out at all. Definitely would go back.

 

BARRIQUE

796 Main St, Venice, CA 90291 // www.barriquevenice.com

After much research (and a recommendation from my well trusted foodie friend Darrin Banks of The Book of Taste) I landed on Barrique for a surprise birthday dinner for L. After living here for 14 years, he had never heard of this Venice gem, and couldn’t stop raving about the authenticity of each dish that arrived. Just what I had hoped for from Italian born and trained, Michelin starred chef, Antonio Mure.

WHAT TO ORDER

Everything. Anything. Literally it’s all heaven. Easily the best Italian food we’ve had in Los Angeles–this special occasion spot is worth every penny. We started with the watercress salad, which thanks to hearts of palm and heaps of shaved pecorino, was already a win. Grilled octopus with smoked potatoes and green beans was almost like a sexy, octopus version of a nicoise with more flavor. L’s eyes rolled back into his head over the rabbit pappardelle, but this traditional spot doesn’t offer any GF pastas so I choose a perfectly delicate sea bass with some kind of magical blood orange reduction. Nothing was over-sauced or over-seasoned (our biggest complaint at most trendy restaurants) and the natural flavors of each dish were clean and perfect.

WHERE TO SIT

If it’s warm, snag one of the darling little two tops on the narrow balcony. However, the night we dined was chilly - so we opted for the candlelit dining room which was simple, cozy and romantic.

SO WHAT DID WE THINK?

  • GF GF-NESS: 4/5
  • AUTHENTIC ITALIAN-NESS: 5/5
  • DECOR & VIBE: 5/5
  • OVERALL: Couldn’t have loved it more. Who needs gluten-free pasta or pizza when there are enough naturally GF items on the menu, and everything is done perfectly?
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PONTE

8265 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048 // www.thepontela.com

When Scarpetta closed, L was devastated to lose the best spaghetti pomodoro in town. Being the awesome girlfriend that I am, I quickly uncovered the whereabouts of the chef and that signature pomodoro - now at Ponte in West Hollywood. Also available in gluten free (lucky me!)

WHAT TO ORDER

 Amatriciana and Ortolana (vegan) pizza at Pizzana

Amatriciana and Ortolana (vegan) pizza at Pizzana

The spaghetti pomodoro, with gluten-free pasta! Although I had the wood roasted branzino and truffled fingerling potatoes - all top notch delicious and healthy. Plus, the butter leaf lettuce salad...who knew a dish so simple could be so beautiful?!

WHERE TO SIT

The garden, the garden, the GARDEN! One of the prettiest I’ve experienced in Los Angeles, this restaurant is worth a visit just for that.

SO WHAT DID WE THINK?

  • GF GF-NESS: 5/5
  • AUTHENTIC ITALIAN-NESS: 3/5
  • DECOR & VIBE: 5/5
  • OVERALL: I can’t say I was blown away by the pomodoro myself, but I’m not the Italian, L is, and he loved it. Did I mention I loved the garden? Good enough to go back.

 

PIZZARIA MOZZA

641 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036 // www.pizzariamozza.com

No Los Angeles, Italian eatery list would be complete without mention of the Mario Batali staple, Pizzaria Mozza. The more casual of the two Batali restaurants in town, Pizzaria Mozza was L’s choice over Osteria. L swears their crust makes for one of the most authentic pizzas in town.

WHAT TO ORDER

I shot myself in the foot by trying to skirt the bread based products without ordering one of the mains. In hindsight, I probably should have tried the whole roasted vegetable of the day (squash at the time) but because I make it at home so much I felt it was a waste. The Tri Colore salad was definitely not a throwaway, but probably not a reason to come to a pizzaria. The meatballs al forno were delish, but likely not actually GF… what IS GF and also totally worth the visit alone, is the Butterscotch Budino. I normally find butterscotch a bit nauseating, but this tasted like a caramel pudding with fresh whipped cream that was so perfectly balanced, so delicate and decadent that I probably ate more than my fair share.

WHERE TO SIT

The very simple red room feels a lot like a trattoria or pizzaria you’d find in Italy. However, our tiny table was wedged in the center of the room between loads of others and felt a bit cold, next time I would definitely choose to sit at the bar for a cozier vibe.

SO WHAT DID WE THINK?

  • GF GF-NESS: 2/5
  • AUTHENTIC ITALIAN-NESS: 5/5
  • DECOR & VIBE: 3/5
  • OVERALL: If gluten doesn’t make you hate life for the next week, this place is a casual, classic staple for LA. If you’re looking for a semi-healthy version of Italian food, this is not it. I'll probably let L go here with his friends and stuff themselves silly on good-ass Neapolitan pizza, and keep date night for places where I don't feel like I'm missing out on the best stuff on the menu. 
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FELIX

1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291 // www.felixla.com

Felix was one of those so-hot-you-won’t-get-in-until-2018 restaurants on the LA scene. However, they DO accept walk-ins, so around 5pm on a Sunday, L and I decided to try our luck at staking out the bar. Within 20 minutes, we got lucky! A sunny window nook opened up and we snatched it up. Touted for their wood fired oven pizzas and homemade pastas with an Instagram worthy interior and location on Venice’s hip-strip, Abbot Kinney, Felix has a formula for success.

WHAT TO ORDER

The menu is mostly those aforementioned pizzas and pastas, with no alternative for the gluten-free carb lover. So ordering was tricky. I went for the polpetti to start (I can handle a tiny bit of gluten from the breadcrumbs) and they were pretty delish. The octopus was good but not worth writing home about, and the salads were nice but … again not why you’d go to an Italian restaurant. Then we got to the pizza and pasta world. L went for a typical Roman dish, Rigatoni all’ Amatriciana, and while the pasta was handmade to perfection the dish was sadly oversalted. The Melanzane pizza was very well done, with bubbly light dough and flavorful eggplant.

WHERE TO SIT

If you’re lucky enough to secure an actual reservation, there are two dining rooms to choose from with very different vibes. The front room is brighter, more casual feeling and quite lovely. The back room with it’s printed wallpaper and chandeliers feels like a special secret. You kind of can’t go wrong in the entire space, although be forewarned that if you do dine at the (beautiful) bar it gets PACKED with people waiting for tables and poaching first-come-first-serve bar seats.

SO WHAT DID WE THINK?

  • GLUTEN FREE GIRLFRIEND-NESS (aka GF GF): 1/5
  • AUTHENTIC ITALIAN-NESS: 4/5
  • AMBIANCE & DECOR: 5/5
  • OVERALL: Adorable ambiance, pretty good food if you can eat the bread-y stuff. But if not, it’s not worth the hassle.