There’s so much to love at Universal Studios Hollywood. The Backlot Tour revealing the secrets of movie magic. Jurassic Park on a hot day. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter bringing the written word to life. Super Nintendo World for Mario fans young and old. VIP Tours.
And, as a gluten-free guest with celiac disease, I love the freedom of not packing gluten-free food for the day.
Here are 15 tips to enjoy your gluten-free visit to Universal Studios Hollywood!
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Tip #1: Check out the Online Gluten-Free Menu Before You Go
Universal’s website has an online food guide for guests with food allergies and dietary restrictions. It’s not comprehensive, but it is a good place to start. You’ll find a bit more available once you are inside the park, but it’s nice to know before you go that you’ll have a number of options.
Tip #2 Set Expectations
If you’re expecting Disney standards for food and allergy training, you’ll be disappointed. Disney sets an incredibly high bar for theme park food, in terms of quality, variety, and allergy safety.
Universal Studios Hollywood offers more typical theme park food. Burgers abound, and most of the other choices are fairly basic. You can expect gluten-free menu items that are similarly basic.
The allergy training at Universal Studios Hollywood is also not Disney-level. Based on my conversations with frontline food service employees, Universal Studios Hollywood does not appear to provide significant allergy training for every team member.
However, I have found allergy training to be appropriate at the chef level. In my experience, the chefs I have spoken with at every visit have been well-trained. I personally do not take chances by ordering with the cashier. Which brings us to…
Tip #3: Talk to a Chef
If cross-contamination is an issue for you, always ask for a chef or manager at each location. I have celiac disease, so this is a must for me.
Bonus, the chef is sometimes able to expand your gluten-free dining options with simple substitutions or modifications, like gluten-free buns, rice, and fruit, in lieu of gluten-containing items.
Note, Mobile ordering is now available in the Universal Studios Hollywood App. You mark “allergen” when you place your mobile order. The app does not specify which allergen, and you’ll still need to talk to someone about your gluten-free needs at the restaurant.
Tip #4: Join the “Universally Gluten-Free” Group on Facebook
Universally Gluten Free (Orlando) is, as the name implies, a Facebook group for the Florida location, Universal Studios Orlando. Thankfully, the admins allow questions regarding Universal Studios Hollywood in California.
Tip #5: The Upper Lot has the Most Gluten-Free Options
The most food options are in the Upper Lot, where you enter the park. The Upper Lot has the majority of rides and food, gluten-free or otherwise.
In the Upper Lot, you’ll finding repeating options at:
- Hollywood & Dine: burger, chicken sandwich, chicken Caesar salad, fruit
- Mel’s Diner: burger, fries, chicken Caesar salad, BBQ brisket
- Minion Cafe: chicken Caesar salad, chicken, chicken nachos, fruit
- Cletus Chicken Shack: chicken sandwich, chicken Caesar salad
- Krusty Burger: burger, chicken Caesar salad
You will need to request accommodations, like gluten-free buns, no croutons, and in most cases, no French fries.
Mel’s Diner is the exception with gluten-free crinkle-cut fries in a dedicated fryer. Always confirm when ordering that the fryer is still dedicated.
The real reason I love eating in the Upper Lot is found in the next tip…
Tip #6: Three Broomsticks is the Best Place for Gluten-Free Food at Universal
If hunger hits you in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there’s no need to leave this magical place where the Harry Potter series comes to life. Stop by Three Broomsticks for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or all three.
Hands down, this is my favorite restaurant in Universal Studios Hollywood (unless you’re on a VIP tour). We eat here every visit. The chefs I have spoken with have always been well-trained.
Three Broomsticks is a nice break from the burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, and chicken Caesar salads offered at most of the other restaurants. We’ve enjoyed ribs (no sauce), chicken, fried potato wedges, corn on the cob (no seasoned butter), side salad, and grapes, and consistently feel confident eating here after speaking to a chef.
On top of safe gluten-free food, the immersive Harry Potter experience is incredible.
Tip #7: Stop at Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck
Taco Trucks are a Southern California staple. This particular taco “truck” is a permanent fixture at Universal, and my other “usual” place (after Three Broomsticks) to grab a quick meal at the park.
The tortilla chips and delicious corn tortilla tacos are gluten-free as-is… the best kind of gluten-free there is!
That said, employee education at this spot can be hit or miss. I order here when the employees are knowledgeable. If it seems to be an off-day for the staff, I head back over to Three Broomsticks.
Tip #8: You Can Eat in the Lower Lot, too
I’m so happy with my favorites in the Upper Lot, that I rarely head to the Lower Lot hungry.
If you do find yourself looking for food in the Lower Lot, no worries. There are a few gluten-free choices down there, saving you a trek up the 300+ steps to the Upper Lot. (There are actually escalators, but I do love a good Universal stair challenge, despite the jello legs at the end.)
Back to food…
Toadstool Cafe in the new Super Nintendo World has two gluten-free items on the menu: Tomato Soup in Super Mushroom Bowl (you get to keep the bowl) and Piranha Plant Caprese Salad. I have not yet visited Toadstool Cafe, but I will update when I do.
Jurassic Cafe offers a turkey leg platter, chicken salad, burger, and brisket sandwich. As always, you’ll need to ask for gluten-free modifications: gluten-free bun and no fries.
Tip #9: Butterbeer is Gluten-Free!
The answer to the most-asked gluten-free question at Universal is, “Yes, butterbeer is gluten-free!” Yay!
Pick up a mugful at Three Broomsticks, Hog’s Head Pub or from the Butterbeer cart, all located in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Enjoy your butterbeer hot, frozen or cold.
For an up-charge, you can order it in a souvenir mug.
Tip #10: Bring Your Own Chocolate Wand or Frog
The packages for the chocolate wands and frogs state that they are processed on shared equipment with wheat.
That’s not safe enough for me and my daughter, so I have occasionally brought a chocolate wand into the park for her. I ordered Jelly Belly’s Harry Potter chocolate wands, which the company lists as not containing gluten.
You can always spring for a non-edible interactive wand from Ollivanders that beats out a chocolate wand every time.
Tip #11: You Have a Few Options for Breakfast
For those who need a real meal to start the day, head to the Jurassic Cafe on the Lower Lot for a gluten-free breakfast platter with eggs, potatoes, and either sausage or bacon.
In the Upper Lot, Three Broomsticks has a few breakfast options that require a quick chat with a chef for modifications.
Save precious in-park time by bringing a couple of on-the-go food items from home: string cheese, nuts, yogurt smoothie, fruit, or a kind bar.
Even better… swing by one of LA’s Dedicated Gluten-Free Bakeries to grab a safe breakfast before heading to the park.
Tip #12: VIP Tours Accommodate Gluten-Free
A VIP Tour is the absolute best way to tour Universal Studios and is almost a bargain if you book on one of the lowest-priced days. Well… bargain is not exactly the right word, but you can make a solid argument for the Universal VIP Tour being a good value. The ticket includes:
- Park Entrance
- Behind-the-Scenes Studio Tour: This is access you do not get on the regular backlot tour. You will walk around sets from well-known movies and television shows and tour prop rooms. Set access varies based on current studio production schedules.
- Unlimited Express Pass: express access to rides before/after your tour, including the only express access available for Mario Kart.
- Light Snacks in the VIP lounge before the tour: There are limited gluten-free selections. On my last tour, I had water, yogurt, and an apple.
- VIP Parking
- High-Quality Tour Guide: Your guide leads the studio tour and gets you front-of-the-line access to the most popular rides in the park. Thoughtful details are covered, like watching your bags for the Forbidden Journey, where bags are forbidden and normally checked at lockers.
- Buffet Lunch: There are excellent gluten-free options. The chef will customize your plate and bring it directly from the kitchen if you need to avoid gluten cross-contact.
As a gluten-free guest, the worry-free, delicious lunch adds to the value of the VIP Tour. I’ve done this tour twice. My daughter and I have enjoyed caprese salad, fruit, salmon, potatoes, asparagus, sorbet, creme brûlée, and more. Each time the chef walked us around the buffet to point out what was (or could easily be) gluten-free and then hustled off to whip up our requests safely in the back.
Let Universal know you need gluten-free food when you book the VIP Tour, so it is noted on your reservation.
Money-Saving Tips: Undercover Tourist sells Universal Tickets, including VIP tickets, at a discount. For annual pass holders, the cost of the VIP tour is discounted, as you have already paid for park entrance with your annual pass.
Tip #13: You Can Bring Your Own Food (or Not)
Universal Studios allows all guests to bring small snacks and guests with dietary needs to bring their own food. Read the full policy here. You can confidently bring safe food for the day without any pushback from Universal.
That said, there are 3 theme parks in SoCal where I personally do not feel compelled to bring my own food: Universal Studios, Disneyland, and Legoland. The last two are stellar with gluten-free options and allergy protocols, but Universal is decent. By decent, I mean my daughter and I can eat a simple meal with safe food, after speaking with a chef. See tips 2 & 3.
It’s a nice break from bringing food nearly everywhere… birthday parties, dinner parties, sporting events, school activities, planes, hotels… If you know, you know.
Tip #14: Visit Popcornopolis at City Walk
The walk back to your car typically takes you strategically through Universal City Walk. Stop by Popcornopolis in the City Walk for a safe treat before heading home.
All of the popcorn flavors are gluten-free.
Tip #15: End the Day with a Dedicated Gluten-Free Food Stop
You’re in LA, home to a large collection of fabulous, 100% gluten-free restaurants and bakeries.
Within about a 10-minute drive from Universal Studios, you’ll find a couple of dedicated gluten-free spots: Sweetfin’s Studio City or Burbank locations for poke bowl fans and Fatamorgana Gelato (because gelato is always an excellent idea).
The well-known Erin McKenna’s Larchmont location is about 15 minutes away, depending on traffic.
The dining options expand in all directions depending on your destination. All points South-West are the perfect excuse to eat dinner at Levant Bistro + Bake Shop.
Headed towards LAX or the Beach Cities? A side trip to 401k Food & Wine in Venice is not to be missed.
On vacation? While most bakeries will be closed by the time you leave the park, make it a priority to visit one of the many dedicated Gluten-Free Bakeries in Los Angeles before you leave town.
Looking for a quick dinner? It’s not dedicated, but just across the 101 and minutes from Universal Studios, is In-N-Out, a SoCal favorite and fast food chain with excellent allergy protocols and gluten-free options.