While out to dinner at a nice restaurant in celebration of my first Valentine’s Day with my now-husband, I asked our hostess for a gluten-free menu. The waiter soon approached the table with the menu in hand and a booming, gameshow-host voice that said, “Now, which one of YOU has celiac disease?!” I slouched down in my seat, wondering if I was destined to be a culinary pariah with my new dietary restriction.
Five years later, GF symbols are posted next to many of my favorite menu items, as restaurants are increasingly aware and accommodating of gluten sensitivities.
If there was ever a time to eat gluten-free, it’s now.
Those with celiac disease should do their research in advance because many restaurants label themselves as “gluten-friendly.” This means the food is prepared in a shared kitchen, and there could be cross-contamination.
But among those gluten-friendly establishments are delicious options for enjoying the foods you might’ve written off along with your diet change. I’ve broken it down by breakfast, Mexican, pizza, American, and fine dining.
Bonus: Most of these places are super kid-friendly, especially the breakfast locales. They accommodate the wiggliest of toddlers… from what I hear.
Have a hankering for breakfast?
Sleepy Bee is my go-to spot for gluten-free pancakes and other breakfast deliciousness. Their Bee Cakes aren’t just gluten-free, they are semi-healthy – made with almond milk, quinoa, and buckwheat flour. They also have gluten-free bread to make several of their sandwiches g-free, and they label the common allergens on their menu, including soy and tree nuts.
Le Peep is a newcomer in my rotation, and I’m so glad I found it. The owner of the Loveland Le Peep franchise is gluten-free herself, so she gets the struggle and includes numerous options that make you feel like you’re ordering from the normal menu. So far, I’ve enjoyed eggs benedict with an English muffin and yummy French toast, an item you don’t often find g-free in restaurants.
Mexican for the win.
This cuisine is one of the easiest to make gluten-free, in my opinion. My favorite local spot is Chilango in Loveland. They have a simple chalkboard menu that boasts fresh ingredients alongside gluten-free notations, of which there are several. I’ve enjoyed the cochinita, tinga and fish tacos, all on corn tortillas, and look forward to trying the enchiladas soon – a dish most places only offer with off-limits flour tortillas.
Chipotle is a convenient option that takes out the gluten-free guess work: order a burrito bowl or salad, pile on your favorite toppings and stay g-free.
Pizza is still on the table.
Pizza crust can be tough to do well gluten-free, and I often just view it as a vehicle for pizza toppings, cheese and sauce. Many of the chains offer the crust, making it easy for you to still indulge in a pizza party with friends.
Even the local places have jumped on the bandwagon, so you can support small businesses while enjoying the flavors you grew up with: LaRosa’s (select locations), Dewey’s, and The Works (my personal fave, thanks to a buttery crust).
I’ve ordered many-a burger without a bun, but I get pretty jazzed when I spot a gluten-free bun option. Mac’s Pizza Pub has a burger bun and a hoagy bun, which allowed me to have my first gooey cheesesteak in years. Flipdaddy’s is another local favorite with a couple dozen specialty burgers you can enjoy with a safe bun (last I checked, they serve Omission g-free beer, too).
A lot of places that serve fries make them extra good and crispy with a wheat batter, which takes them out of the running for g-free folk. Even if they don’t coat the fries, they often don’t have a fryer separate from battered items like chicken fingers. Red Robin, Chick-Fil-A and Five Guys should be safe, as should a few of the major fast-food chains. If you have celiac disease, just ask about the frying situation.
Side note since we’re in the American food genre: deSha’s cornbread is gluten-free, and it’s served warm with a side of salted butter. Divine.
You have the babysitter, and the dressy clothes are dusted off – it must be date night. Good news for the gluten-free crowd: nice restaurants are the best at creating a g-free dining experience. The servers know how to make sure you still enjoy the most coveted and mouth-watering menu items.
If you call Nicola’s in advance to let them know you’re gluten-free, you will have a glorious basket of various breads waiting for you when you arrive. I might have taken a bite out of each one. Then they offer gluten-free pasta so you can enjoy their signature dishes. Sotto downtown and Pitrelli’s in Mason offer the same for Italian food lovers. Boca is similarly accommodating, and be sure to try the branzino if it’s on the menu this season.
Ok, one more: Brown Dog Café at Summit Park in Blue Ash offers options from salads to desserts that are labeled gluten-free (hello, crab cakes, poutine, and carrot cake!).
Yes, I live in Loveland, so my list has a bit of a location bias. But I’d love to hear your favorites in your corner of town! Share your best local spots in the comments. And if you’d rather just stay home, check out my tips for gluten-free baking.