It’s rough to be out on the go and have to worry about where you can find your next safe meal. Whether you’re traveling, busy at the office or just out running errands, it’s not as easy as stopping at McDonald’s when you follow a gluten free diet. I’ve made a little list of my favorite gluten free restaurants in the United States for these occasions. I can generally find at least one of these national chains in the area and know that I can get a safe meal.
Important: All of these restaurants handle gluten-containing ingredients, so there is a risk of kitchen cross-contamination. If you’re that sensitive, you already know that eating out is a risk that you may not want to take. For anyone who can deal with a shared fryer or is gluten free by choice, here are my go-to gluten free restaurants.
This sandwich chain seems to be rapidly expanding and can be found in 43 states. They are known for their “freaky fast” delivery service. I love that they’d deliver small orders and would often order lunch from there when I was stuck in the office.
Jimmy John’s offers an “Unwich”, which is just a cute way of saying lettuce wrap. It ends up making your sandwich look like a big lettuce burrito. Most of JJ’s ingredients are gluten free with three notable exceptions:
- Roast beef – NOT gluten free
- Tuna – NOT gluten free
- Cheese – meets “less than 20 parts per million” requirement to be declared gluten free
I actually just learned that about the cheese – I’ve been eating it for years with no issues (but I’m not super sensitive, so this makes sense.) My favorite sandwich to order is one of the Giant Club sandwiches (no bread = I need double meat!) I like the Smoked Ham Club Unwich, which comes with double ham, provolone, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. I sometimes add cucumbers to it for a little extra crunch and substance.
Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s are basically the same place, but the name depends on which end of the country you live on (Carl’s is west, Hardee’s is east.) I grew up in Carl’s country. Most of their menu is pure gluten, but they do have one gluten free burger on offer. It’s called a “Low Carb Thickburger” on both menus, and is just a regular burger with a lettuce wrap instead of a bun.
Their menus also say their Natural Cut Fries are gluten free, but they are fried in with other breaded stuff so beware if that’s an issue for you! I’ve never had a problem with them.
Yes, these are all different places and companies. However, the rules to eat gluten free at them are basically the same, so they are all going together! In all cases, skip anything with a flour tortilla. Pass on all desserts, and avoid the potatoes at Qdoba. All three also warn about the risk of cross-contamination in their corn taco shells and chips, though these are gluten free options.
I used to be a big fan of the burrito bowl at Chipotle, where I’d get chicken or beef, no rice, lots of beans, and then add lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream and salsa. I’ve seen them in the news a lot lately for food safety issues, so maybe check out the safety record of your local store before going in! Qdoba and Moe’s were not really in my area growing up but I’ve been to both while traveling.
If you read my comparison of ingredient information between the US and United Kingdom then you are no stranger to my love for Red Robin. They have a handy tool on their website that helps you put together your meal while avoiding allergens you exclude. They offer a gluten free bun or you can have your burger wrapped in lettuce.
They don’t list their fries as gluten free; this seems to be due to fryer cross-contamination. You can have broccoli or a side salad safely, though I always eat the fries and have never suffered for it.
My favorite is Red’s Tavern Burger with pickles added and a lettuce wrap “bun.” I also love the guacamole bacon burger, which gets a little messy as a lettuce wrap but is so good.
PF Chang’s may not be on your radar, as Chinese food tends to be full of gluten and soy sauce. However, they do actually have a gluten free menu with lots of options. It’s been a long time since I ate at PF Chang’s (I forget it exists as an option for me) but I remember liking the beef and broccoli.
Denny’s 2016 national menu now notes gluten free items on the menu, and they are carrying gluten free English muffins. This is one place where I actually would be a bit careful about cross-contamination, though – you know their toasters will be full of crumbs. That said, I like to order the build-your-own Grand Slam – eggs, bacon, hash browns, and either fruit or the English muffin if you’re feeling good about their kitchen processes.
I covered a few tips in my traveling while gluten free article, but here’s a summary and one new idea!
- Use the “Find Me Gluten Free” website or app – this app is really handy for getting information from locals about the non-chain places in the area. If you find it useful, be sure to add information to the database too and help your fellow gluten free folks out!
- Search Yelp reviews for mentions of gluten free.
- Do a Google search for “gluten free (city)” and see what blogs and news stories come up.
What are your favorite gluten free restaurants? Do you have any other tips and tricks to find gluten free restaurants in a new area? Tell me in the comments!