To Tokyo We Go

Eating gluten free in Tokyo, Japan certainly requires research and preparation, but with a little planning and the right expectations, you’ll enjoy tons of options and dishes you won’t find anywhere else.

Before traveling to Japan, I heard that eating gluten free here would present a constant challenge. I read cautionary tales about soy sauce hiding in most dishes, wheat noodles and breading appearing on a vast array of menus, and the impossibility of asking for substitutions in a country that prizes culinary arts so highly. While I found these observations to be largely true, they don’t tell the entire story of dining in Tokyo.

During a recent visit to Japan’s sprawling capital, I learned that this animated city hides unexpected surprises around every corner. From trendy rice-based sweets in a centuries-old entertainment district to a vegan version of the nation’s meatiest soup in a bustling train station to homey cafés serving gluten-free dishes with love, this metropolis never ceases to delight.

Get Lost at Tokyo Station

When you visit Japan’s capital city, you’ll inevitably pass through Tokyo Station at least once. This is one of the city’s major transit hubs for trains, subways and buses, but it’s far more than a place to catch a ride. Tokyo Station is also home to a mind-boggling number of food options, including a number of stalls along the famous Ramen Street.

While almost every bowl of ramen in Tokyo contains wheat noodles, soy sauce or both, you can find the elusive gluten-free version on Ramen Street. Head to Soranoiro, a freestyle noodle shop that specializes in innovative takes on this classic soup. Use the vending machine to order the vegan soba with gluten-free brown rice noodles, and add some extra veggies for just 100 yen (about 90 cents) extra.

Confirm your gluten-free order by telling the friendly staff that you have a wheat allergy. Taking this step ensures that they’ll cook your noodles separately and leave the gluten-containing toppings off your bowl. Then wait patiently until your piping hot bowl arrives, piled high with sweet potatoes, broccoli, cabbage and tomatoes carefully balanced atop the rich vegetable soup. Be sure to wear one of the complimentary bibs, or you’ll risk splattering soup on your shirt as you eagerly slurp the al dente rice noodles.

Soranoiro’s gluten-free ramen makes for an impressively hearty bowl of soup, and it’s sure to energize you to navigate the enormous Tokyo Station or explore the adjacent neighborhoods. From here, the high-end shops of Nihombashi or the neon lights and anime culture of Akihabara are only a few minutes’ walk away.

Experience Traditional Tokyo

Next, make your way to Asakusa and Ueno, longtime entertainment districts where traditional Tokyo still thrives. To fuel up for a fun afternoon, I recommend grabbing a quick bite. Try onigiri, a seaweed-wrapped rice ball that you can find from individual stands and in every single convenience store. The pickled plum rice balls are almost always gluten free and make for a nice sweet and savory snack.

If you’ve already worked off your ramen, enjoy a more substantial meal at the nearest CoCo Ichibanya. This ubiquitous curry shop serves plates of hot Japanese-style curry quickly, and the chain has a tasty allergen-free version. You don’t have to worry about cross-contamination here either, as the allergen-free curry comes in packets that you open and pour over the steamed rice yourself.

After a quick bite, head to the Tokyo National Museum, a large complex that’s home to several themed art and history museums. All are worthy of an hour or two, but if you’re short on time, I recommend a more focused visit. Peruse the collections at the Heiseikan, which features a comprehensive exhibit on Japanese art and artifacts that spans tens of thousands of years, and stroll through the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, a hidden gallery with stunning exhibitions of masks, Buddhist statues and lacquer works.

Be sure to leave plenty of time to stop by Otaco, one of Tokyo’s very few dedicated gluten-free shops and a must for those with a sweet tooth. The owner makes the most beautifully delicate chiffon cakes, typically offering six or so varieties each day. Although the plain chiffon cake is the most popular, I like the slightly tart cheese cake and the pleasantly herby mugwort cake best. None of the varieties are overly sweet, so don’t hesitate to take a few slices to go.

Otaco’s owner explained to me that her love of rice flour’s lighter taste and finer texture inspired her to make these rice-based cakes. She doesn’t have any issues with gluten, but she committed to making her shop totally gluten free after observing the growing demand for these irresistible chiffon cakes. This mom-and-pop spot is popular and the cakes do sell out, so I recommend arriving early for the best variety.

With cakes in hand, cross the street and walk south toward Senso-ji. One of Tokyo’s best-known landmarks, this eye-catching Buddhist temple dates back to the 7th century and is still open to visitors today. After admiring the temple and pagodas, basking in the incense and passing through the impressive Thunder Gate, continue south down Nakamise, the bustling shopping street that anchors the heart of Asakusa. This is the perfect place to experience the traditional city scene, pick up a souvenir or two, and get lost in the lively alleys and arcades.

Immerse Yourself in Bustling Shibuya

After experiencing traditional Tokyo, it’s time to immerse yourself in high-energy, brightly lit Shibuya. As a gluten-free traveler, you can’t visit Tokyo without having at least one meal at Littlebird Café. This charming spot is tucked away in a quiet corner on the west side of Shinjuku, and it’s become a bit of a mecca for gluten-free visitors and locals alike.

Littlebird offers a range of Japanese specialties and several tasty takes on Western dishes, making it tough to choose just one main dish. Try the yakisoba, an indulgent fried noodle dish that’s sweet and salty all at once, with an extra punch of flavor from the bonito flakes and pickled ginger on top.

To complement the Japanese flavors, try the pesto pizza. The rice-based crust is amazingly light, and its ability to hold the pile of cheese and toppings without buckling is a true feat of engineering. Don’t leave without indulging in the matcha waffle with soft cream, a delicious East-meets-West dessert that’s definitely big enough to share.

Next, stretch your legs at Yoyogi Park, which is a few minutes’ walk east of Littlebird. Tokyo is home to a surprisingly vast array of green spaces and gardens, but Yoyogi is by far my favorite. In the early fall, huge old trees create canopies that shade the wide walkways and lead to hidden gardens and the majestic Meiji Shrine. In the late fall, the leaves turn bright yellow, orange and red, making this one of the city’s best spots to view the autumn foliage. No matter when you go, it’s the perfect place to catch your breath, especially in this busy district.

Ready for dessert? You’re in luck. Riz Labo Kitchen is nestled in nearby Omotesandō, a Shibuya neighborhood packed with upscale shops and designer boutiques. This cute shop serves just one thing: gluten-free pancakes unlike any you’ve had before. The Japanese-style, impossibly fluffy pancakes are best enjoyed for dessert rather than for breakfast.

These pancakes are much more filling than they look, so I recommend splitting an order. Try the plain pancakes with whipped cream and syrup or go for my pick, the matcha pancakes, which have a hint of that distinctively bitter green tea flavor tempered by sweet red beans and whipped cream. Keep an eye out for specials that highlight seasonal ingredients, too, as Riz Labo regularly offers delicious new flavors.

Step outside of Tokyo’s busy center

You’ll find the majority of Tokyo’s most popular attractions in Asakusa, Shibuya and a few other well-trafficked neighborhoods. However, there’s plenty to see, do and taste another metro stop or two away from these busy districts.

Just across the Sumida River, the Edo-Tokyo Museum offers a fascinating glimpse at several centuries of the city’s past and reveals how the world’s largest metropolis came to be. With its numerous artifacts, historical reconstructions and exhibits that illustrate the story of Tokyo past and present, this museum is worth at least a few hours, especially if you take advantage of the free tours.

South of the Edo-Tokyo Museum, I was thrilled to find Saotome-ke, a welcoming café whose incredibly friendly owners will make you feel right at home. This small spot specializes in okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake that’s typically loaded with wheat flour. Here, however, the owners have embraced the lightness of rice flour, which they’ve found makes a tastier okonomiyaki that’s more pleasant to eat. Rather than using soy sauce to flavor the dish, they use Okinawan salt and herbs for a totally gluten-free meal.

No okonomiyaki is complete without a variety of toppings, and all of the options here are gluten free, so you can add as many as you like. I found cheese, a fried egg and a few chewy rice cakes to be the perfect combination, but the popular tomato sauce is delicious, too. I also recommend choosing a few plates of eggplant, asparagus or king oyster mushrooms, all grilled with butter and salt, for a complete meal.

Dining experiences like this, which seamlessly fuse traditional recipes with contemporary flavors, are a big part of what makes Tokyo such an enticing destination. I may not have found gluten-free dishes around every corner, but the unforgettable okonomiyaki, yakisoba, ramen and cakes already have me plotting another visit to experience even more of Tokyo’s mouthwatering treats.  

Tokyo Resources

Coco Ichibanya

Various locations in Tokyo

LIttlebird Café

JP Building 3F, 1-1-20 Uehara

Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0064


3 Chome-5-1 Asakusa

Taito, Tokyo 111-0032

Riz Labo Kitchen

Omotesando Garden 1F,
4-15-2 Jingumae

Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001


3 Chome-12-8 Botan

Koto, Tokyo 135-0046


Ramen Street No.1 Tokyo Station, 1-9-1 Marunouchi

Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-0005

Travel Editor Anna Sonnenberg is a food and travel writer who has journeyed around the world gluten free since being diagnosed with celiac in 2012.

Gluten-Free Las Vegas: Sin City of Fabulous Food

Las Vegas: It’s the entertainment capital of the world, a hot spot for celebrations of all kinds and one of the top five travel destinations in the U.S. It’s a frequent stop for many lucky travelers, but I hadn’t had the pleasure of visiting Vegas for more than a decade. After throwing around a few ideas for an upcoming birthday celebration, through, my husband and I decided it was high time for a return visit to this famously fun city. Rather than spend long hours rolling dice or playing cards, we set out to see the most fun attractions and try some of the best food on Las Vegas Boulevard, otherwise known as the Strip, and in downtown Las Vegas. Whether you’re planning a low-key trip or you want to go all out and celebrate in a big way, you’re going to want to add these gluten-free Las Vegas spots to your itinerary.

Seek some thrills

There’s really no bad place to start your adventure on the Strip, but in my experience, there tends to be more daytime fun on the north end. kick things off with a sky-high, 360-degree view from the Stratosphere or take your pick from thrilling rides that catapult you hundreds of feet in the air. If that doesn’t get your blood pumping, head over to Circus Circus to see one of the oldest shows on the Strip. This casino is home to over a dozen thrill rides, live circus performances around the clock and countless arcade games.

Need a break from all the excitement? If you’re in Vegas on a weekend, head down the street to the Encore, which is home to one of the most popular pool parties in town. Reserve one of the exclusive cabanas or bungalows ahead of time or snag a poolside chair, where you can enjoy the music, soak up the sunshine and toast to a great start to your Vegas day.

Step into a Parisian wonderland

Ready for lunch? Head down the Strip and look for the gigantic replica of the Eiffel Tower, the most prominent landmark of Paris Las Vegas. When you step inside this whimsical resort and casino, you’ll leave the hustle and bustle behind and enter an alternate universe that recreates the most iconic parts of Paris. Inside this replica of the City of Lights, you’ll find one of the top gluten-free spots in town.

Mon Ami Gabi effortlessly keeps the French theme going with freshly baked bread, a great wine menu and plenty of Parisian favorites. French cuisine isn’t always the easiest for diners avoiding gluten, but thanks to the dedicated gluten-free menu, you’re sure to find ample choices to dazzle your taste buds.

Start with the classic French onion soup au gratin, which comes complete with gruyère cheese and croutons on top. For a main dish, go for the ultra-Parisian steak-frites or the luscious caramelized scallops, but make sure you save room for the over-the-top vanilla crème brûlée.

French cuisine can get heavy, but you can easily stretch your legs and get a breath of fresh air at the same time. Hop on the monorail or take a quick walk across the street, where you can catch some of the best views of the area on the High Roller, the world’s tallest Ferris wheel.

Celebrate with sushi

If you’re a Vegas regular, you know that some of the classic attractions here have drawn throngs of visitors for decades—and they’re still going strong. The Venetian, for instance, offers indoor and outdoor gondola rides, while The Mirage is home to a lifelike volcano that erupts nightly.

Caesars Palace has long attracted visitors with its animatronic Fall of Atlantis fountain, but there’s much more to this Ancient Rome-inspired casino resort. Tucked inside the Forum Shops at Caesars, Sushi Roku boasts stunning elevated views, an upscale dining environment and, most importantly, a delicious gluten-free menu.

Sushi Roku

This celebration-worthy spot beautifully fuses traditional Japanese recipes with contemporary influences for a menu that everyone will fall head over heels for. Though this upscale spot specializes in sushi, you’ll find plenty of other choices in you aren’t a fan of raw fish. In fact, Sushi Roku offers an extensive gluten-free menu with several options for each course, so you’ll never go hungry. For a cold starter, you can’t go wrong with the divine Tofu 3 Ways, which features fresh tofu topped with black truffle, caviar and kimchi. For a hot starter, warm up with the savory Beef Ribeye-Wrapped Asparagus before moving on to your main dish.

Feeling fishy? Dig into the Chilean seabass with a zesty yuzu sauce or cool down with a Shima Roll, which features shrimp, spicy tuna and avocado wrapped in a rice paper roll. All of the sushi and sashimi here can be made gluten free, so if you’re craving something simpler, Sushi Roku has you covered. Be sure to ask for gluten-free soy sauce, which comes in a cylindrical container to distinguish it from other sauces on the table.

Take in the spectacle

After dinner, you’re going to be ready for some entertainment. Though seeing one of the top Cirque du Soleil shows, taking in a concert and trying your luck at one of the tables are all great choices for evening entertainment, we opted to see the magical fountain show in front of the Bellagio.

Several times every evening, the fountains are illuminated, and they move to impeccably choreographed music. This show is a big draw, so arrive a few minutes early to get a good view. Don’t forget to peek inside the Bellagio, too, as its indoor botanical garden and glass sculpture ceiling are pretty amazing.

Still have some pep in your step? Round out the evening next door at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Grab a glass of bubbly at The Chandelier, the appropriately named multilevel, chandelier-draped bar that’s just off the casino floor.

If you’re in the mood for something sweet, swing by Milk Bar, located in The Cosmopolitan’s upscale food court. This spot is known for its Cereal Milk and Crack Pie, both of which contain gluten, but many of the decadent cookies—which come individually wrapped—are gluten free. With names like Best Freaking Cookie, these sinful treats are going to more than satisfy your sweet tooth.

Check out Fremont Street

There’s always something to do on the Strip, but what if you need a change of scenery? As we discovered, there’s plenty to do in downtown Las Vegas, no matter the time of day.

Getting an early start? Stop by Downtown Container Park, an outdoor shopping area in a pretty unique location. You’ll find hip boutiques set up in reused shipping containers, a treehouse-inspired playground for little visitors, and movie and music events. It’s located just off Fremont Street, the main drag in downtown Vegas.

For extreme thrills, though, you’re going to want to grab a ticket for SlotZilla, the zip-line that extends the length of Fremont Street. You’ll get on at the top of a 12-story slot machine, where you can take your pick between two zip-lines at different heights. Either way, you’ll feel like Superman—or Superwoman—as you zip down Fremont Street, dozens of feet about passersby below.

Stick around Fremont Street to do some people-watching and see the neon lights turn on at classic spots like the Golden Nugget, the Four Queens and the Golden Gate. Then make a beeline for Pizza Rock, which is just one block away from the Fremont Street Experience.

This spot is fun for a date and large enough for big groups, and since it specializes in pizza, everyone will find something to enjoy. Pizza Rock has gluten-free diners covered. The pizza joint’s menu clearly marks safe gluten-free options. In the kitchen, the chef bakes your pie in a separate gluten-free oven and uses a separate cutting surface and utensils to ensure your pizza is totally safe for you.

Pizza Rock’s pancetta Gorgonzola pie

You can order a gluten-free version of just about any pizza on the menu or you can build your own. I recommend the gluten-free pancetta Gorgonzola pizza. It’s packed with smoked pancetta, bacon and Gorgonzola, and then drizzled with agave nectar. That’s not all, though. It’s also topped with mixed greens tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette, so it’s sort of like getting a salad on top of your pizza. This dish alone is worth the trip to Fremont Street.

Whether you stay on the Strip or venture downtown, have fun taking a showstopper of a trip. With glittering lights, nonstop fun and amazing food around every corner, Sin City is the perfect place to celebrate.


Travel Editor Anna Sonnenberg is a food and travel writer who has journeyed around the world gluten free since being diagnosed with celiac in 2012. She launched her website,, in 2013.