What Can I Eat In Restaurants After Going Gluten Free?


Part of maintaining a gluten free diet is going out to restaurants and participating in other social activities while making sure you are remaining free from any gluten. Restaurants can be a tough place to do this. It requires giving up some form of control and taking on some risk.

The best gluten free restaurant meals to order are burgers with no bun, Pad Thai, curry, and salad rolls. Be certain to request a gluten free menu, and if one is not available, discuss your dietary needs with your server. Ask about ingredients listed on the menu and cross-contamination risks.

Knowing what questions to ask and what dishes are the most likely to be safe for strictly gluten free will resolve some anxiety around eating out. It takes a long time to find the nuances and learn about all the tricks to eating out. Below you will find suggestions on what to order organized by type of restaurant.

How Do I Eat Out After Going Gluten Free?

Being able to eat out at restaurants is important socially. I recommend finding several restaurants around where you live that you can trust to follow safe cross-contamination procedures for your gluten free food.

When you can curate your own list of trusted establishments, it makes going out much easier. Your friends will know that you can’t eat at most places and so they will leave it up to you what restaurant you go to.

When creating this list, you should find out what gluten free items are on their menu by reading and talking to the staff.

Not all ingredients or techniques are listed on the menu. As someone who ran a food cart, I know that the menus have limited space to describe the food and list all ingredients. So when I am looking at menus, I keep this in mind and ask questions about the ingredients or how it is prepared.

A few questions I didn’t know to ask when I first started eating gluten free:

  • Is your fryer dedicated gluten free?
  • Can you prepare my food using a clean cutting board, knife, and other equipment?
  • Do you make this in house?
  • Can I look at the ingredients list for that item?
  • Do you have the option of using Tamari instead of Soy Sauce?
  • Does your enchilada sauce contain flour?
  • What ingredients are in your corn tortillas?
  • Are the fries beer battered?
  • Is there malt vinegar in that item?
  • Is the gluten free pasta boiled in the same water and pot as the regular pasta?
  • Do you grill your burger buns on the same grill as the the hamburgers?
  • What do you use to thicken your BBQ sauce?
  • Do you have a seperate oven that you cook your gluten free products?
  • Do you use any malt in your milkshakes?

Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions. If you don’t ask and end up getting sick, the waitress and chef will not be there to help you through it.

While I know these can be difficult questions and even harder when they don’t have the answers readily available, they are important to know.

Asking the right questions before your meal could save you from pain later on.

While it is both difficult and necessary, I always tip higher for taking the extra care and time to answer my questions and make sure I am safe, especially if we can get through all the questions without eye-rolling and sighs.

When eating at different establishments, I like to know what to look for on the menu for safer options and which to steer away from. If you scroll down, you will see several different types of restaurants and some of the safest options to ask about.

The below suggestions are a place to get started and not all-encompassing. Selections will vary from area to area and restaurant to restaurant.

Gluten Free Options At Mexican Restaurants

Mexican restaurants usually have some pretty good gluten free options. There are some places where gluten can be hidden, such as in corn tortillas in some restaurants and enchilada sauce.

Menu Items To Look For:

Some of the best items to look for at Mexican Restaurants are nachos, tacos, and fajitas. Anything that has separated items or is made with a corn tortilla is more likely to be safe.

Order burritos without the flour tortilla.

Tamales are typically gluten free.

For kids, you can ask for a quesadilla made with corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas. Just make sure to ask about the ingredients in their corn tortillas, as they can contain wheat flour in some restaurants.

Cautions:

Make sure to ask what the ingredients in their corn tortillas are, as some restaurants add wheat flour to make them soft.

Enchilada sauce can contain wheat flour. You should ask about any sauces.

Salads may be served in a fried flour tortilla.

Rice and beans may contain gluten in the seasoning.

Chile Rellenos are usually coated in wheat flour, and sometimes the egg mixture also contains flour.

Most items fried in tortillas are made from flour tortillas. Be careful of anything from a fryer, including tortilla chips. Sometimes they will have a dedicated fryer for tortilla chips to make them fresh for every table.

Gluten Free Options At Chinese Restaurants

Many Chinese restaurants have a fryer-heavy menu, and almost everything in the fryer is made with gluten flour.

Another ingredient that can be a little hidden and cause some trouble is soy sauce. Soy sauce is usually made with wheat to help ferment it. Some restaurants may have the option of using Tamari instead in your dish.

If you can, look for Chinese restaurants near you that offer a gluten free menu. Most Chinese restaurants will have very few gluten free offerings without substitutions and changes.

Menu Items To Look For:

Egg flower soup is usually a great option! It is thickened with cornstarch, not flour, to get the traditional texture of the broth.

Salad Rolls are made with rice paper and not wonton wrappers.

Chinese mustard is usually gluten free.

Curry and steamed rice.

Hot and Sour Soup.

Choose steamed rice over fried rice.

Cautions:

Avoid anything that is fried.

For all sauces, you should ask if they used flour to thicken them or if they used soy sauce. Almost all sauces will contain one or the other of these ingredients.

Fried rice is not actually fried, but it usually contains soy sauce.

Gluten Free Options At Indian Restaurants

Indian restaurants are one of my favorite places to eat because they are typically easy to find gluten free options! Usually, the only gluten is in the naan bread or added any other cuisine to their menu like burgers.

Menu Items To Look For:

Curry is usually a safe option to look for. And unlike Chinese restaurants above, Indian restaurants do not usually add soy sauce to the rice.

Masala is typically gluten free including Tikka Masala and other versions.

Butter chicken.

Paneer is almost always gluten free.

Korma, Vindaloo, and Biryani are all typically safe options.

Overall, most of the menu will be safe, but be sure to ask about what you decide to order!

Cautions:

Naan bread contains gluten as it is made with wheat flour.

Samosa is usually made with a pastry shell.

Watch for anything that is fried, as it is usually made with gluten ingredients. If it does not contain them, it has a high chance of cross-contamination since most other fried items are made with gluten.

Look for any cuisine that is not Indian, such as burgers, noodles, etc. They may be found on the kids’ menu or a specific part of the menu.

Desserts usually contain gluten.

Gluten Free Options At Thai Restaurants

Thai food can be straightforward to find gluten free options, but the other side of it is that it is straightforward to get cross-contamination or miscommunication about food allergies.

The main concern here is fried foods and soy sauce. Many Thai restaurants will substitute Tamari for soy sauce, but make sure to ask them to use a new pan for it, so you don’t get cross-contamination.

Not all Thai restaurants will offer Tamari or have the ability to substitute this.

Menu Items To Look For:

Salad Rolls or Summer Rolls (just make sure the sauce isn’t made with soy sauce).

Most soups are gluten free as long as they do not contain soy sauce or use Tamari instead.

Pad Thai or other noodle dishes are safe as long as they use Tamari instead of soy sauce. The noodles used in Thai cooking are rice noodles but read the menu carefully or ask to be sure.

Cautions:

Soy sauce is used in most dishes. When soy sauce is listed on a menu, assume it is not gluten free soy sauce.

Avoid fried rolls, spring rolls, and most anything that is fried.

Fried rice will usually contain soy sauce. They may be able to make it with Tamari on request.

Gluten Free Options At Korean Restaurants

Korean restaurants have mixed options. Make sure the restaurant that you are going to understands gluten free and what is required.

They use soy sauce in many dishes but may be able to substitute or leave it off.

Ask about any sauces.

Menu Items To Look For:

Bibimbap is a great option; just make sure that any marinated meats or vegetables contain gluten.

Seaweed salad is a great option as long as it is not made with soy sauce.

Kimchi is typically gluten free.

Cautions:

Korean noodles are made with flour from wheat and should be avoided unless they specify rice noodles.

Every dish needs to be asked about soy sauce. You should ask any sauces for ingredients and if they are thickened with flour or soy sauce.

Dumplings are made with wheat and should be avoided.

People on a gluten free diet should avoid egg Rolls and anything else fried as they will almost always contain gluten.

If anything says marinated, it likely contains soy sauce.

Gluten Free Options At Vietnamese Restaurants

Vietnamese restaurants have some amazing cuisine.

They do need caution, as does anywhere that uses soy sauce, but they can often substitute it with Tamari or leave it out of the dish completely.

Menu Items To Look For:

Pho is usually gluten free if the soy sauce is left out. Be sure to ask about other items such as oyster sauce. The noodles are made from rice.

Salad Roll or Summer Roll are made from rice paper. But ask about ingredients in the sauce it is served with.

Spring Roll Bowl is great if you want to go with a spring roll but keep it gluten free.

Cautions:

Anything fried should be avoided, including spring rolls.

Banh Mi is a sandwich that uses bread made from wheat.

Any steamed bun is made with wheat flour.

Gluten Free Options At Sushi Restaurants

Sushi restaurants usually use soy sauce in just about every sauce they make. So the biggest caution is to avoid all sauces unless they specifically state they make them with Tamari or gluten free soy sauce.

Menu Items To Look For:

Edamame is usually gluten free without added sauces.

Seaweed Salad, Avocado Salad, and fresh or pickled vegetables are typically gluten free.

For rolls, look for ones with whole ingredients and no sauces.

Mochi Ice Cream is usually a safe option, but make sure to ask about the ingredients.

Cautions:

Avoid fried rolls or anything that says tempura unless specifically noted as gluten free. Tempura is a batter made from wheat flour.

Most sauces contain soy sauce and should be avoided unless they were made with gluten free soy sauce or Tamari.

Avoid anything that says they marinated it as it contains soy sauce.

Avoid fake krab and go for real crab. Krab usually contains gluten. If you want to read up on it more, you can read this article I wrote.

Fried Ice Cream is done with a batter made from wheat flour and is not safe for those on a gluten free diet.

Gluten Free Options At Italian Restaurants

Italian restaurants are some of the hardest places to find gluten free food. If they provide gluten free options, there is a high risk of cross-contamination in the kitchen or table.

Ask if they have a gluten free menu or gluten free pasta. If they have neither, it may be challenging to find anything to eat that is safely gluten free.

Menu Items To Look For:

Antipasto

Salad. Make sure to request no croutons.

Gluten free pasta. If they list gluten free pasta, make sure to ask if they cook the noodles in the same water as the regular noodles.

Gluten free pizza crust. Ask if they cook it on the same surface that they cook regular pizza.

Grill. You can order some grilled meat or vegetables with no pasta if there is no gluten free pasta. Some sauces will be naturally gluten free but risk cross-contamination.

Pasta sauces and toppings without pasta if there is no gluten free pasta. Some sauces will contain gluten.

Pannacotta, Creme Brulee, or ice cream is dessert options that will usually be gluten free.

Cautions:

They will usually put bread on the table as an appetizer before your meal, and this needs to be treated with caution if you are dining with people who eat gluten and want it. Make sure you aren’t using one of the knives they used for the butter, and no crumbs get on your silverware or napkins.

Alfredo sauce can be thickened with flour but is not always. It is worth asking.

Marsala sauce is another one that flour can be used in and should be asked about.

Gluten Free Options At American Restaurants

American restaurants are typically full of gluten in just about every single dish. There are some things you can do or ask for to make it as safe as possible.

Menu Items To Look For:

Fries. Ask if their fries are done in a dedicated gluten free fryer.

Lettuce wraps are burgers where the bun has been replaced with lettuce leaves. Make sure you still let them know you need to be gluten free so there are no other items added, and they can be prepared separately.

Steak is made on a grill, and the seasoning is the biggest risk.

Grilled. The term grilled usually signifies there is no breading or other ingredients added.

Salmon or other fish as long as it says grilled. Be cautious of the sides or sauces it comes with.

Gluten Free bread will be noted on the menu if available, and if so, almost any sandwich should be able to be made gluten free.

Cautions:

Salads will be served with croutons, and they need to be requested left off.

Everything fried will contain gluten in the form of breading or breadcrumbs.

Mac and Cheese or any other pasta will be made from wheat unless otherwise stated.

Gluten Free Options At French Restaurants

Wheat finds its way into most corners of French cuisine. However, there are some things to look for on the menu to find gluten free options. However, have caution when it comes to gluten cross-contamination in the kitchen and on the table if bread is served before the meal.

Menu Items To Look For:

French Onion Soup is gluten free if you ask for no crouton on top.

Most salads are gluten free; just ask for no croutons.

Shrimp Cocktail is gluten free.

Salmon served without a sauce and with a gluten free side should be safe to order. The same goes for chicken, scallops, and steak.

Ice cream and Creme Brulee are the safest options for dessert.

Cautions:

Bread is usually served before the meal is brought, and crumbs can make their way onto utensils and napkins. Be cautious if dining with people who are eating the bread.

Most desserts contain gluten, especially look out for pastries.

Pastry is served in many meals and should be looked out for.

Sauces and sides usually contain gluten as well as soup toppings.

Gluten Free Options At German Restaurants

German food tends to run heavy on gluten ingredients, but it is possible to find menu items to enjoy without gluten.

Menu Items To Look For:

German Potato Salad

Red Cabbage

Applesauce

Saurkraut

Bratwurst and Weisswurst are usually gluten free but check about any sausage fillings and ingredients.

Cautions:

Some sausage fillings use breadcrumbs.

Schnitzel usually signifies wheat breading.

Potato pancakes are made with wheat flour.

Sandwiches are all made with wheat bread, and many have additional ingredients that contain gluten.

Most things that are fried will contain gluten and wheat.

Gluten Free Options At Pubs and Bars

Pubs and bars can be extremely difficult to find anything gluten free. Most items are breaded and fried, and you should treat any food from here with caution.

Menu Items To Look For:

You can request burgers without a bun or other ingredients that contain gluten, such as onion strings or onion rings.

If steak, salmon, or chicken are on the grill, it will usually be safe unless there are seasonings, toppings, or sauces made with gluten-containing ingredients.

Salads may be safe if you ask for no croutons.

Cautions:

Avoid most things in the fryer as they contain gluten.

Ask if the fries are beer-battered and if they are, they contain wheat from flour and beer.

Avoid anything with a beer in the description unless it is specifically gluten free beer. If you would like to read more on why beer made with wheat is not gluten free, I wrote this article on gluten free alcohol.

Chowders usually contain wheat and gluten as they are thickened with flour.

There is usually malt vinegar as an offering for fish and chips on tables or with the condiments.

Gluten Free Options At BBQ Restaurants

BBQ restaurants can actually have some great offerings that are gluten free! My local favorite BBQ restaurant is actually 100% gluten free so I might have a biased opinion there. But it shouldn’t be too hard to find something that is gluten free if you leave off the bread.

Menu Items To Look For:

Anything directly from the smoker should be safe as long as there was no gluten in the rub or marinade.

Most meats will be safe as long as there is no gluten in the sauces they use.

Wings can be gluten free if they do not bread them. Make sure to ask.

Cautions:

Ask about gluten in any BBQ sauces, especially house made ones. Sometimes they are thickened with wheat flour.

Avoid anything with bread like sandwiches or rolls.

Cornbread contains wheat flour unless specified otherwise.

Ask if the fries are beer-battered. If they are beer-battered, they will contain gluten.

Onion strings are coated in flour and fried; therefore, they are not gluten free.

Meatloaf contains breadcrumbs.

Gluten Free Options At Buffets

In general, buffets are not recommended for anyone who is gluten free as the potential for cross-contamination does not end in the kitchen. As people serve themselves, they can switch spoons or drop pieces on other food nearby. If you are in this situation, there are a few things to look for.

Menu Items To Look For:

Grilled. If you can find anything grilled or baked, it has a higher chance of being gluten free.

Go for the salad bar but avoid anything directly around croutons or other gluten-containing ingredients.

Ice cream machine. Most of these are fairly safe. I’ve even brought gluten free cones with me for the kids to be able to enjoy the same food as their cousins.

Look for labels on foods. Some buffets are labeling the dishes with ingredients and even allergens. However, gluten isn’t an allergy required to be labeled and encompasses more than just wheat. So if wheat is labeled, but they aren’t labeling for gluten, proceed with caution.

Cautions:

Avoid anything side by side with a portion of heavy gluten-content food. For example, if potatoes are next to a pasta dish, they are likely contaminated with gluten.

Avoid anything with bread or breading or any sort.

Avoid sauces unless labeled as gluten free.

Assume most things contain gluten until proven otherwise. Go with whole foods like meat and vegetables.

Gluten Free Options At Pizza Restaurants

Pizza restaurants can do some amazing gluten free pizzas. However, the difficulty comes in from how they are cooked and not just menu items.

Make sure to ask if they have a separate pizza oven for gluten and a dedicated prep area. If they do not, there is almost guaranteed to be a lot of cross-contamination.

Menu Items To Look For:

Gluten Free crust will be on the menu if available.

Most toppings will be gluten free

Cautions:

White sauce or alfredo sauce can contain gluten.

Some sausage and pepperoni can contain gluten.

Always ask for what sauces or toppings contain gluten.

Ask if there is a separate prep area and cooking space for gluten free pizzas.

Gluten Free Options At Diners

Diners are usually all about the bread and the fried food. Unfortunately, those are the caution areas when we are doing a gluten free diet. Therefore, Diners can be very difficult to navigate safely.

Menu Items To Look For:

Burgers are easy to request without a bun if there is no gluten free bread option. In fact, You can request any sandwich on no bread. Make sure none of the toppings or other ingredients contain gluten.

Chips and Salsa are gluten free as long as the chips are tortilla chips.

Salads are a good option. Just make sure the croutons are left off, and there are no additional gluten ingredients that come with it.

Look for Grilled meats and vegetables as they usually contain no extra ingredients.

Cautions:

Bread comes on the side of many dishes, make sure to read the menu and request no bread.

Meatloaf contains breadcrumbs and, therefore, gluten and wheat.

A good rule of thumb is to assume it has gluten until proven otherwise.

Gluten Free Options At Coffeeshops

Coffeeshops are an interesting case. While there are not many gluten free pastries available in most coffee shops, the gluten in the drinks is where it gets shocking.

Menu Items To Look For:

For pastries, look for ones that claim they are gluten free. Most places won’t carry them.

Some will carry protein-rich prepackaged meals. Many of these are gluten free but be sure to read the ingredients.

Regular coffee and tea are safe.

Cautions:

Anything that has more flavor and appears more specialty has a risk of having gluten in it. Don’t be afraid to ask to see the ingredient labels to check for yourself.

Ask to have your drink made in a clean cup and shaker if some drinks contain gluten.

All baked goods except those labeled gluten free are made with gluten and wheat.

Gluten Free Options At Fast Food Restaurants

While these are the fastest and easiest options, they are also the riskiest options. Fast food can span the spectrum of restaurants above. It may be helpful to find the corresponding cuisine above.

Menu Items To Look For:

Lettuce Wraps are a great option that you can sometimes find on the menu just as is. You can also request any burger be made as a lettuce wrap.

Hard Tacos are usually made with corn tortillas and are gluten free.

Baked Potato. This is a good option, especially if it comes with ingredients packaged separately and labeled to ensure their contents.

Ice Cream. Most ice cream is gluten free as long as it is not in a cone or otherwise changed. Dairy Queen Dilly Bars are gluten free as well.

Cautions:

Taco Bell is known to use wheat in its meat, and it is not safe.

McDonald’s in the US has gluten in their fries. So while most fries are not safe due to cross-contamination, McDonald’s has increased that.

Unless made in a dedicated fryer as 5 Guys does, fast-food fries will be heavily cross-contaminated. It is not uncommon to find other types of food in your fries.

Do not get bread toasted if it is offered. It is done on the same surface as wheat-based products and is not safe. If possible, ask to assemble your own sandwich.

Fawn

My passion is supporting those who need to be gluten free. After my family had to transition to eating gluten free I realized how difficult it is. It is more than finding a recipe. It is about how to navigate social situations, deal with isolation, and other things that come along with it. I live in Oregon with my family, cats, and chickens.

Recent Posts