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Visiting Boston with a Shellfish Allergy…

It may sound silly that I’m visiting Boston having a shellfish allergy (mollusks and crustaceans) but hey, I’m going, and I need to eat :) I will be there Aug 20-24.

I’m basically looking for suggestions on, you guessed it, places for lunch or dinner where I can count on them to be aware of their guests allergies. I know that there are plenty of places out there with a variety on their menu, however, I’m always worried about cross-contamination. My allergy is severe (throat swells, vomiting, hives, shortness of breath) so I can’t take any chances.

I have been to Boston once and my friends insisted they get the lobster rolls at Neptune Oyster. Cute little place and the food smelled amazing, but my throat became scratchy and irritated. The bartender literally laughed at me when earlier, I had asked her about her thoughts on someone with an allergy getting a burger there.

We’re planning on doing the big lobster roll feast for lunch after we go on our whale watching tour which leaves from the aquarium. If anyone has any suggestions in that area, that would be great, otherwise our group can hold off on their lobster rolls (and me, probably a club sandwich, blah) until we can get to a place with decent food wherever its located.

Thanks for your suggestions!

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  1. Probably the most conscientious about food allergies is Blue Ginger in Wellesley. Ming Tsai's child has food allergies.

    They keep a spiral notebook of each and every ingredient that goes into everything they make and can easily accomodate allergies.

    But most places should be able to deal with a shellfish allergy.

    Best to choose a place that doesn't specialize in shellfish, though.

    1 Reply
    1. re: C. Hamster

      especially if just breathing the air can cause discomfort, even if neptune is tiny.

      do a board search; perhaps stay away from chinatown because of the language barrier, but if your friends insist on subjecting you to their lobster whims, perhaps eating outside is a good option for you.

    2. I feel your pain, I am likewise cursed. What immediately comes to mind is that your freinds can go to James Hook for lobster rolls to go, while you go to Flour across the bridge (Fort Point Channel location) (they are incredibly sensitive to food allergies and preferences and yummy too) and then you can picnic somehere along the waterfront.

      1. Well, rallykate, my son has the same allergy, and recently went into anaphylactic shock! Fortunately, the ambulance got to him in time, and he now carries the antidote thing for the first time (forget the name, even though I filled the prescription for him). I can't think of much that's more terrifying.

        He's a bartender himself - he's not much of a chowhound, but I'll ask him places he likes to eat where he feels it's safe. I know he's mentioned Mr. Bartley's for burgers, but that might be because it's next door to one of the places where he works. He can't be around the smell of shellfish, too.

        1. I work at Legal Sea Foods and they are fantastic about accommodating allergies. The manager will personally run your food. We have tons of options on the menu that are shellfish free and it's also a Boston institution so you can be sure to get a taste of New England here. If people in your group are craving lobster and you don't want to be left out I'd definitely recommend Legals.

          2 Replies
          1. re: erak01

            Id second this. I know that Legals gets a bad rap sometimes- sorry Erak- but they are incredibly allergy conscious. Also I always remember a few years ago my mother ate something that there that caused an allergic reaction (we think it was MSG)- un known to her even- and Legals was MORE than helpful-they immediately tended to her and made her incredibly comfortable. Luckily her reaction wasnt as severe as what the OP is describing, but Ive always felt very safe eating at Legals, even if they are hit or miss.

            1. re: erak01

              I'll 3rd this, if only from hearing my poor co-worker's plight. She's deathly allergic to seafood (no exaggeration) and a good friend planned a mutual friend's goodbye dinner party at Legal's, much to my coworker's chagrin. She told the waiter about her allergy, and she said the server was attentive and really listened to accommodate her needs.

              Poor thing dreaded this event all week, and as much as I urged her to pipe up to suggest a change in location since she might DIE, she was too polite to make a fuss. She happily survived the evening.

            2. My teenage daughter was diagnosed with a fish allergy several years ago. She has an epi-pen, but fortunately, has not had to use it. She has had hives a few times after eating Asian food. One episode was after she had sweet and sour chicken from a Thai restaurant; apparently, it's cross-contamination from cooking utensils, and/or hidden fish ingredients. My MD once told of informing the server of her own anaphylaxis to shellfish, but they served regular Pad Thai instead of the requested vegetarian version. When she told the server, he manually removed the shrimp! My sense is that there is both a language barrier, as well as a lack of understanding of the severity of these allergies. At any rate, we have eaten at Legal Seafoods several times without a problem. I've also heard from a friend with a severe shellfish allergy (both she and her husband have had anaphylaxis) that Kelly's roast beef is a good place to eat because they fry all of their menu items separately. One thing we have learned is that many restaurants have one fryolator, so someone like my daughter shouldn't have french fries at such places. Good luck.

              1 Reply
              1. re: AnnieP

                Most Thai dishes will have fish sauce in them even if they say it's vegetarian.

              2. I have to second two places. Not only is Ming Tsai as good as it gets in terms of chef who are sensitive to allergy issues, but the Lounge at Blue Ginger (which is less expensive then Blue Ginger) is delicious. Legal Seafoods is also known for using a separate fryer for their French fries which can be a major source of allergy exposure for people with shellfish allergy. As of Jan. 1st, places will be much more knowledgeable due to a food allergy law that was passed (the first of its kind in the US).

                1. We dine out with a nut/peanut allergic child. From my experience, and from information in an interview with the chef, Oleana in Cambridge takes food allergies very seriously. They don't specialize in fish, so may have more options for you. Plus, the food is wonderful. (Mediterranean/north african)

                  East Coast Grill (also in Cambridge), does specialize in fish, but has many other options, including BBQ. They have established a careful procedure of relaying food allergy info to the kitchen and will repeat that they know your issue and give you a little piece of paper that says your food is allergy free. Comforting.

                  Blue Ginger is a bit tougher to get to, but it is terrific too.

                  (Wherever you end up - bring your epi pen please!)

                  1. Thank you all so much for your replies! This was definitely the advice I was looking for. From the sounds of it, we have options for each day we’re there. I’m going to run all of these by the group – it looks like there’s great options for all of us.

                    Thanks again! I won’t be going until the end of August but I can report back and let you know how everything goes

                    1. One more for you: Myers + Chang. They have a separate menu to highlight what's gluten free and shellfish free. I have a shellfish allergy as well and this is where I go for my Asian food fix.

                      1. I am cursed w/ a shellfish allergy as well, but not as severe as yours (meaning I can smell fish and it won't bother me). As much as I dislike Legal Sea Foods, I have to say they are very allergy attentive. IMO the food is not the best, but at least you know you'll be safe. Beware of Asian restaurants because as someone mentioned, they put fish sauce in a lot of things, but you really need to be more concerned w/ oyster sauce. I can say that Rod Dee, which is a Thai restaurant in Brookline, has been really gracious and helpful when I've said I have an allergy to shellfish and that they should put no oyster or fish sauce in any of my dishes. They've gone above and beyond also helping me find dishes that I might like that would taste good w/o the oyster or fish sauce. Go to the one in Washington Sq. as it's not as busy and tiny as the one closer to Coolidge Corner. The manager there too is really wonderful. DO NOT go to the Barking Crab. Besides being completely awful, you surely will get sick as they cross contaminate (at least when I've gone, that has been the case). I had a french fry from one of my friend's plates and I ended up getting hives and feeling like I was going to be sick, so obviously, they do fry the clams or whatever in the same oil as the fries.