An Easy Guide to Eating at Gluten Free Friendly Restaurants
Do you like to travel? Me too! In fact, I don’t just like it, I love it. And, I do it a lot which has made me very well versed eating out while following a gluten-free, Paleo and gut-friendly diet.
In this post, I’m going to share my best strategies for eating at gluten free friendly restaurants plus the best big-city restaurant finds that will meet your gluten-free, dairy-free, and Paleo food sensitivity needs while traveling.
Be prepared to look at traveling in a whole new way – you’ll never hesitate to say yes to your next trip because you were afraid it would be too “complicated.”
Jump to Section:
- Know Where Gluten Hides
- The Easiest Options for Gluten Free Dining Out
- Our Gluten Free Friendly Restaurant Recommendations
- Tips Before You Take-off
Know Where Gluten Hides
A lot of us are gluten-sensitive, which is why this section is sooo incredibly important.
Gluten can be hidden in obvious places, like food, and less obvious ones, including your cosmetics and vitamins! While I don’t want to make you paranoid, it is really important for you to know where gluten may be hanging out so that you are equipped with the knowledge you need in order to steer clear of it while you’re traveling.
Here are some places where you might find hidden gluten:
- Imitation bacon, crab, lobster, and meat (like seitan)
- Soy sauce
- Soups (as a thickening agent)
- French fries (especially the frozen ones are often breaded)
- Yogurts (some, not all)
- Spices, seasonings, flavorings, sauces and marinades
- Alcohol, beer, liqueurs and pre-made cocktail mixes
- Malt vinegar
- Salad dressings
- Cosmetic, beauty, and personal hygiene products (like lipstick and chapstick)
- Supplements and medications
The Easiest Options for Gluten Free Dining Out
Yes, I know eating out can be a challenge when you have to adhere to certain food restrictions, but it’s certainly not impossible.
When you need to make a quick decision, these are the types of restaurants that will almost always have Paleo, gluten-free, and gut-friendly options that taste good too:
- You’ll find a plethora of grilled or oven-baked meats, side salads, and steamed veggies. Easy peasy.
- Order it bunless with lots of veggies piled on top. Also, more and more places are offering sweet potato fries as an alternative to regular fries. If you need to avoid gluten, just double check that the fries aren’t breaded and that they’re not fried in the same fry basket as other gluten-containing options.
Our Gluten Free Friendly Restaurant Recommendations
Whether you find yourself having to make a food decision on the fly or you’ve made time to plan ahead, here are some awesome paleo, gluten-free, and all-around gut-friendly restaurants you’ll want to check-out when you’re in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and New York City:
Los Angeles, CA
Photo via @tendergreens
It’s kind of like a farmer’s market inspired Chipotle. A lot of the ingredients are locally sourced, but you can easily create your own unique dish. Their roasted root veggies and Brussels sprouts are fantastic!
Photo via @cafegratitude
This is an entirely plant-based restaurant. You won’t find any meat on the menu, but you will find plenty of exquisitely prepared veggies, as well as turmeric tea lattes and immune-boosting shots. They are big on sustainability and health and make it easy to customize to suit your needs.
Photo via @bestiadtla
This is a contemporary Italian restaurant serving up mouthwatering flavors like marinated olives, grilled branzino (fish), and pan roasted chicken gizzards.
Photo via @foragela
At Forage, you’ll see the likes of organic free-range chicken on the menu, as well as, roasted broccoli and ratatouille. If you like to know where your food came from, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a list outlining all the farms whose ingredients they use. I love that the menu lets you pick out your proteins and sides.
Photo via @sinnersandsaintsdesserts
This place is the bomb! They may be an itty bitty bakery, but their gluten-free treats are to die for!
Gluten-free pizza! Need I say more? While this doesn’t work for every gut-friendly diet, for those of us who consume it, this is supposed to be an excellent spot.
Photo via @avecchicago
Avec is Mediterranean and Midwestern influenced with a wine bar feel serving both small and large plates. The werp farm greens with tarragon + radishes and wild sockeye salmon caught my eye 😉
Photo via @lyfekitchen
Lyfe’s got an both latin and asian influences in their cuisine, but I’d be selling you short if I didn’t mention just how much I love their drinks, in particular, their ginger, mint, chia water. They’ve got plenty of fresh squeezed juices as well. And, like many of the restaurants here, they make it super easy to substitute ingredients and customize your order.
Photo via @rotimodernmed
Incase you couldn’t tell from the lovely picture above, Roti is local mediterranean all the way! That means kebabs, tomato & cucumber salad, and tons of dipping sauces. Also, I’m so digging they’re motto: “Food that loves you back.” We could all use a little extra, especially from the food that nourishes us.
Photo via @lokalchicago
Local is a trendy, contemporary American style restaurant. If you’re into the farm-to-table scene, you’ll appreciate the modern-country ambience. More importantly, there are tons of Paleo, gluten-free, and gut-friendly options, like, for instance, garlic shrimp and grilled asparagus.
Photo via @texasdebrazil
Texas de Brazil is a brazilian churrascaria. Basically, a bunch of handsome men walk around with skewers the size of a sword piled high with different cuts of meat and poultry, such as, filet mignon and picanha. There’s a fantastic salad bar as well. It’s one heck of a unique (and tasty) experience!
Photo via @sevadetroit
Seva is another plant-based restaurant that’s been serving up awesome fare for over 20 years. They’ve got a completely separate gluten-free menu where you’ll find choices like Thai lettuce wraps and yam fries (so good!).
Photo via @jollypumpkindetroit
The Jolly Pumpkin is a local brewery with amazing ‘bar food’. I’ve been here many times because I’m a big fan of the JP burger (which I always get bunless) and the truffle fries, two of the tastiest and gut-friendliest options. Although, if you’re sensitive to potatoes, they’ve got stellar pickled zucchini spears that compliment a lot of their dishes really nicely.
Photo via @anitaskitchenferndale
Anita’s Kitchen is a Lebanese restaurant just outside of Detroit. If you didn’t already know, Dearborn, MI, which is right next to Detroit, has one of the largest Muslim populations outside of the middle east. Which means, awesome middle eastern food made by some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. If you can eat chickpeas, their roasted red pepper hummus is amazing. Otherwise, the chicken shawarma, lamb, ghallaba, and mint iced tea are also fantastic, fully-Paleo choices.
Photo via @republictavern
Republic is especially Paleo-friendly in that they emphasize “nose-to-tail” eats in an old-world, tavern-like atmosphere. The duck liver mousse, roasted carrots with cashew cream, and goat carpaccio caught my eye.
New York City, NY
Photo via @hukitchen
Hu is a 100% Paleo (or as they like to say “pre-industrial”) restaurant that will help you “Get back to human”. All of their food is free of cane sugar, soy lecithin, refined sugar, gluten, emulsifiers and GMO’s. I’ve been dying to check out their Italian Berkshire Pork Meatballs and Organic Stuffed Peppers with Pesto, but haven’t made my way to NYC quite yet. So, if you get there first, you’ll have to let me know what you thought!
Photo via @localthyme_nyc
Local Thyme, is probably one of the most Paleo, gluten-free and gut-friendly restaurants on this list. They even say they serve traditional food for Paleo peeps and everything they make is free of GMO’s, soy, lactose, and processed sugar. You can make your own bowl or choose from some of their pre-designed salads. And, if you don’t feel like leaving the couch, they also do delivery and catering.
Photo via @vien_nyc
Vien is a casual, Southeast Asian eatery. They divide their menu into bases, mains, sauces and garnishes so that you can easily make your own bowl. And, for those with a sweet tooth, there’s a basil and tapioca pudding that looks pretty epic.
Photo via @organicallyjamie
Gingersnap’s prides themselves on being an organic, raw, vegan, gluten-free, and sustainably sourced cafe. Expect to see tons of salad combos, green drinks & smoothies, teas, spirulina shots, guacamole and beet chips on the menu. By the way, although they don’t say as much, from what I can see on the menu, they’re also completely soy free.
Photo via @chloesfruit
Chloe’s is like the Yogurtology of the Real Food world. All flavors, be they soft-serve or popsicle, are made of just fruit and water (some flavors also have a touch of cane sugar). They’re serving up a minimum of 12 flavors (one of them being chocolate), but the mango and plum are particularly appealing to me.
Tips Before You Take-off
While your hometown might be super GF friendly, other cities can be tougher to traverse. Follow these tips so that you are fully prepared.
Pack Your Own Gluten Free Travel Snacks
I love this strategy because it gives you FULL control over what’s going in your body. It’s the next best thing to actually being in your own kitchen. Here are a few of my favorite, gluten free travel snacks:
- Hard boiled eggs
- Seasnax (roasted seaweed)
- Primal Kitchen Dark Chocolate Almond Bars
- Canned salmon or tuna
- Sweet potato chips
If any of the snacks you’d like to pack need to be ordered online or picked up from a special health food store, make sure to order those or pick them up 1-2 weeks in advance.
Scope-Out the Local Restaurants & Grocery Stores
Click on the gluten free or paleo restaurants that interest you. Look at their menu, food pics, and most importantly, their reviews. All of that information combined will help you know which restaurants are right for you and your needs.
If you’re unsure about something on the menu, just ask. The easiest thing is to say “I have food allergies…” as you’re explaining. Servers and chefs take that much more seriously and become hyper vigilant on your behalf when you say those words as opposed to when you just say “I’m following ‘x’ diet.” In my experience, it’s the easiest way to actually get what you want.
Whether you’re going for a cruise, hopping on an airplane, or staying at a hotel, don’t be afraid to call ahead of time and tell them about your food sensitivities or allergies. Be specific and ask how they can accommodate your specific needs. Trust me, you’re not the first person they’ve encountered with food sensitivities. More than likely, they’ll be happy to customize your experience and cater to your needs.
Oh, and PS – if you’re staying at a hotel, you can totally ask for a mini fridge to store food 🙂 Or, if you’re like me and you like to Airbnb, look for a place that gives you access to a kitchen where you can cook your own food.
Choices, So Many Choices!
That’s a heck of a lot to choose from, eh? Makes you realize that you’re absolutely not the only one out there with food sensitivities who wants to have a good time out on the town without accidentally “getting glutened” (or sent running to the bathroom).
Delfinais the spirited nutrition + movement coach and alternative health blogger behind Code to Wellness. She uses her #eatmovethink method to help clients reclaim their health & thrive in their bodies.