Check out the tips and links below to help you ensure a safe dining experience, whatever restaurant you choose. Want me to research a specific restaurant chain or recommend one yourself? Leave a comment with the restaurant's information, and I'll see what I can do.
- Do some research. If you can plan ahead or know you will be frequenting an establishment often, check it out on the web or call the restaurant during off-peak hours. Often you can find more information online than is available in the restaurants, and calling ahead may give you the opportunity to speak to a chef or manager directly and explain your needs thoroughly. Many restaurants provide gluten-free menus and gluten-free options, but they may not advertise them to the general public.
- Ask questions. If you are at an unfamiliar restaurant, ask if they have a gluten-free menu or allergen chart. If that doesn't work, see if the chef or server can recommend a gluten-free option. Remember, it doesn't hurt to ask. If all else fails, scour the menu, find a few possibilities, and ask your server to check with the chef or manager to see if any are gluten-free or can be made gluten-free.
- Speak up. If you suspect cross-contamination or some other oversight, let your server know, and don't be afraid to send the dish back. After all, it is their responsibility to meet your (reasonable) requests, and your health is on the line. I once sent a fruit salad back three times in order to get it both gluten-free and dairy free.
- Play it safe. If it is not gluten-free, don't eat it. Eating gluten-free often means your options are limited, and you may have to pass on a dish you really want to try, but you will be happier in the long run. Also, if you still get sick even though a restaurant has made every attempt to provide a gluten-free meal, avoid the restaurant in the future. Most likely, you will get sick again, despite taking further precautions. I had to learn this lesson the hard way.
- Brown bag it (so to speak). Every once in a while, I find myself in a situation where my husband, colleagues, or friends have fixed on a restaurant that I know I am not going to enjoy. Rather than raining on their parade, I buy something at a neighboring restaurant and eat it in their restaurant of choice. People are bound to understand when you explain your situation, but this still works best in more casual settings.
The lists below may be short, but they are reliable, and new restaurants and links may be added periodically. Please keep in mind, I live in Phoenix, AZ, and I only include restaurants I have visited. Therefore, some restaurants may not be available in your area.
Places to try:
Delicious. Safe. Irresistible.
Delicious. Safe. Irresistible.
- Chipotle: One of my favorites. With the exception of their flour tortillas, none of their menu items contains gluten. However, as they kindly point out on their special-diet information page, there is a risk of cross-contamination. When you start your order, tell them to make it gluten-free, and everyone on the line will wash their hands, changes gloves, and swap out the serving utensils. Read more here.
- In N' Out Burger: While their website is somewhat unhelpful, I eat here on a regular basis without incident. Order your burger "protein style" (wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun). Since they offer no breaded, fried foods, and keep their recipes simple and additive free, the french fries are at little risk for cross contamination.
- Mellow Mushroom: I dragged my in-laws to this slightly hip and trendy restaurant at the recommendation of a friend. They have gluten-free pizza AND dairy-free cheese, plus tons of great options for your glutenite (aka gluten-eating) companions, including sandwiches and gourmet pizza. You can check out their gluten-free menu here.
- Olive Garden: Provides an easy-to-read gluten-free menu with several delicious options, including a few pasta dishes, and kid's meals as well.
- Pei Wei: Offers a set gluten-free menu which includes appetizers and main dishes ranging from mild to spicy. They are very aware of cross-contamination, and even labeled my take-out box with a gluten-free sticker.
- P.F. Chang's is owned by the same company as Pei Wei and has received rave reviews from several of my gluten-free friends, although I have not eaten there personally. Their gluten-free menu, however, appears to be both delicious and extensive. To check out your options, click here and then click on the words "gluten free" in the links just above the "starters" heading.
- Sardella's: This is a local pizza chain, so you are out of luck if you don't live in the Phoenix area. For those of you who do, however, they offer a variety of gluten-free items, and even my mom (who is an amazing chef and not gluten-free) agreed that the gluten-free crust was "quite nice." Check out your options and/or place your order online here.
- Wendy's: Offers a reasonable variety of safe options, especially for a fast food restaurant. Their fries may not be celiac-friendly, but they worked hard to make sure you know what is. Check out this awesome "Living Without Gluten" flier.
Places you should (probably) avoid:
Questionable. Risky. Uninspired.
- McDonald's: In a nutshell, there are too many items with hidden sources of gluten (french fries, seasoned nuts, buttermilk ranch sauce), with too few relatively "safe" options (hamburger patties, mandarin oranges, the fruit from the fruit and walnut salad). On top of that, their nutrition and allergen chart is almost impossible to read.
- Chili's: Bless their hearts, they try, but every time I eat at a Chili's restaurant, I wind up feeling sick later that same night. If you are feeling brave, check out their allergen fact sheets before you go. Scroll down to find the one for wheat/gluten.
- Panda Express: I know their meals are delicious, but they are also drenched in wheat-containing soy sauce. I unknowingly consumed gluten here for years, until I stumbled across their allergen chart and realized the only safe items were egg drop soup, white rice, and sweet and sour sauce. Yum. Incidentally, they no longer sell the egg drop soup.
- Manuel's: This is a local Mexican restaurant with a few locations in the Phoenix area. My family had a huge get-together there recently, and they do not offer any gluten-free options due to the risk of cross-contamination. That said, they were very polite and accommodating, allowing me to bring in outside food so I could enjoy the party and dine safely.