Friday, February 11, 2011

Gluten-Free Favorites: Eating Out

As a follow-up to the gluten-free experiment I did in November, I'm writing a series on my favorite gluten-free (GF) foods. Since I follow a gluten-free diet now, I have been continuing to explore different GF menu options. The first week, I wrote about breakfast and lunch, last week was about dinner at home, this week will cover eating out, and finally, next week will be all about desserts and snack foods.

Eating Out

I like to eat out as much as the next person, and it's not too hard to find something gluten-free on almost any menu (especially if you like dinner salads, which I don't much care for). From my experience, your best bet will be to stay away from American and Italian restaurants, as both of these types are likely to rely heavily on wheat-based items on their menu (breads, sandwiches, pastas, and soups made with flour). I'm sure there are some really great restaurants out there of these types that have GF menus, but I haven't found many of them yet.

The one burger (American food) place I've found that's good at accommodating gluten-free dietary restrictions is Red Robin. They have a lettuce wrap option for any of their burgers, and they're happy to make the burgers without the grill seasoning, which isn't GF (though, if you're not truly allergic to wheat, the grill seasoning may not be a problem for you). I've never had any trouble with itching after eating there, so I think they make a pretty good effort to keep GF items away from wheat items on the grill, although they cannot guarantee there will not be cross-contamination of grill items.

Probably my favorite place to eat which is almost entirely gluten-free is Chipotle. Everything on their menu including all of the meat seasonings is gluten-free, with one exception: the flour tortilla used for burritos. (Here's a link to their special diet information page.) Before the experiment, I was already in the habit of getting a burrito bowl, because the burritos are giant, and the tortillas add an extra 290 calories (from white flour), 44 grams of carbs, and 670mg of sodium. (Whoa!) So leaving off the tortilla hasn't been a change for me at all, and I still very much enjoy eating at Chipotle.

One of the other reasons I like Chipotle, is that the chain is committed to using sustainably-raised food that is local and organic when possible. The dairy products they use are all from cows that were not treated with synthetic hormones, and whenever possible, the meat they use is also from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or synthetic hormones. I think it's important to patronize restaurants that make these kinds of commitments about the food they sell, because money talks. (You know?)

Onto other types of foods: I've found that non-American food joints are the best places to find GF menu items. Since I like a wide variety of types of food, it's been great to know that I don't have to sacrifice selection when eating out.

Indian food is usually entirely gluten-free (except for the naan). Since I love chana masala with rice, this was good news to me. Of course, like any other restaurant, you'll have to ask the server to be sure, but Indian food isn't made with soy sauce, so it's pretty safe.

Thai food, similarly, is usually gluten-free. You'll have to stay away from fried egg rolls and check on the soy sauce situation. If you're after a tasty plate of pad Thai, pineapple fried rice, drunken noodles, or curry, you're probably safe.

Sushi is a pretty safe bet, too, provided you stay away from anything made with tempura batter and you read the label on the soy sauce bottle at your table. It's been my experience that if you dine-in at a sushi place, the soy sauce on the table is actually made of soy. However, if you get take-out, the little packets they give you might be wheat-based. I had some trouble once after having sushi with soy sauce, and I figured out later that it was because of the to-go packets. I remedied this by buying my own bottle of real soy sauce to have at home when we get sushi. It's easier than worrying about possibly exposing myself to wheat over a condiment.

I'd like to highlight a couple local Portland restaurants that have made a great effort to cater to the needs of the gluten-free dining population:

We found a great restaurant here called Old Wives Tales, which boasts a 90% gluten-free menu. (It's where we went on our first date.) They also have many vegan selections, and the menu changes daily. The restaurant is totally kid-friendly, with a play room and helpful and knowledgeable staff. The thing I like most about this restaurant is that for almost every item (including carrot cake and bread pudding) they have both a regular and gluten-free version of the food. So if Jaymz wants to get bread pudding, I don't have to be jealous of him—I can have some, too!

Also, if you're in the Portland area, Mississippi Pizza makes amazing gluten-free pizza dough. They have a dedicated oven for gluten-free pizzas, and the staff has all been specially trained in the handling of GF pizzas to prevent cross-contamination from the wheat flour pizzas. (They also make a vegan pizza, if you're into that.) I love this restaurant, and even though the pizzas are pricey, they're worth it for an occasional GF treat. We bought these when each my mom and sister visited after Daniel was born, and they both agreed that it was nice to have a good take-out pizza again.

If you're lucky enough to live in a city that is more aware of dietary restrictions (like where I live) many restaurants will have gluten-free menu items clearly marked. There might even be a gluten-free bakery or two that you could visit. I still haven't been to the GF bakery that everyone keeps recommending to me here (New Cascadia), but I have plans to go soon!

What is your favorite place to eat out gluten-free?

Linked up at Friday Food at Momtrends, Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker, Friday Favorites at Simply Sweet Home, Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade, Tuesdays at the Table at All the Small Stuff, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free and Food and Health Carnival at Lisa's Gluten-Free Advice and Healthy Living.


  1. So glad you mentioned Chipotle which is my favorite! Also, I've heard, but haven't tried The Melting Pot, which is a national chain fondue place that offers some good GF options and participates in something called the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America's Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program. That might be worth a google.

    I like to go to Panera and obviously their pastries and sandwiches are off limits, but their coffee is worth the trip! I like the tomato soup which is deliciously GF if ordered without the croutons. Their black bean soup is also GF as is the Asian salad if you get it without the crunchy noodles.

  2. I'm glad we agree about Chipotle. =)

    I haven't been to The Melting Pot, although we do have one here downtown. I assumed that there wouldn't be much I could eat there, but I guess I was wrong! (I do hear it's fairly expensive, though.)

    I do miss Panera's bread, so I think going there would be torturous for me. But I agree about that black bean soup--it's delicious.

  3. New Cascadia is wonderful, although I've had a lot of luck making my own gf desserts. Much cheaper and usually more tasty.
    My hubby works at Jam on Hawthorne and they now have Udi's bread for there sandwiches since he started bringing his own bread in when our family went gf. They also have a delicious Oatmeal Chai Blueberry pancake that's wheat free (can you tell where I get to eat for free?)
    I've also been really interested in trying Slappy Cakes on Belmont. They have a gf pancake batter and you get to add you own toppings when you cook it on your table. It sounds like Benihana's for breakfast!
    My favorite place to go that I don't actually get to very often is Whole Bowl. They have a place on Hawthorne and several food carts, I've also heard that there is a food cart on Mississippi that serves gf exclusively but I haven't made it there yet and it might have just closed down (I think it was called T-Rex)
    I'm excited to try Mississippi Pizza I didn't know they had gf crust. We often just get Pizzacato if we want gf pizza (that I don't make from a mix or Bavaria Mills frozen pizza crust) and its always really expensive and I never want to eat it there.

  4. @Jennifer: Thanks for your suggestions! I'm going to have to try out those GF pancakes. (And it's nice to hear from you...How are you doing? What are you up to these days?)


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