Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dining Out Gluten Free

For our July Gluten Intolerance Group Meeting (shameless plug: our meetings are the first Monday of the month at 8:00pm at the South Loop Whole Foods), we talked all about dining out gluten free.  Here are the tops and tricks we shared as well as a list of some fantastic Chicago restaurants!

Dining Out Tips and Tricks

Research/Call Ahead!
A quick internet search can find reviews from other gluten free diners to see if a restaurant can accommodate food allergies and intolerances. The best source, however, is calling the restaurant. Some places can even provide gluten free bread (sometimes at an additional cost) with advance notice. Call the restaurant between 2:00 and 4:00pm so they are not in the middle of a mealtime rush and can thoroughly answer your questions. When making reservations, leave your name along with your food allergies, then the restaurant is better prepared. Major chains have their allergen lists readily available online. It is best to dine early in the evening to avoid the dinner time rush.

Come prepared!
Whether it is a piece of bread, bag of crackers or cookies, or single servings of San-J’s gluten free soy sauce, come prepared for your meal.

Speak up!
Upon arriving at the restaurant, inform the host or hostess that you have a food allergy. Ask if they can accommodate you, or if a manager or chef can assist you before you even sit down. When talking with your server, it often helps to have a script that is tailored towards your diet and needs. You are your own advocate! If you have gluten intolerance or simply enjoy a gluten free diet, it may be better to use terms like “gluten allergy” or “Celiac disease” to add weight to your request. Ask questions about how the food is prepared. You’ll never know if they carry gluten free beer unless you ask. You may even be surprised by the vast selection!

Remember: plain is okay. Many sauces contain wheat as a thickening agent. Perhaps drizzled olive oil can boost the flavor? Want to spruce up a plain baked potato if you are dairy free? Ask for some chopped chives. Substitute with different vegetables or grains. Make sure stocks and broths do not contain gluten.

Use a restaurant card!
Triumph Dining sells ten laminated cards (American, Chinese, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese) cards that are tailored to each cuisine. All cards are written in two languages and are conveniently broken into sections including “I cannot eat”, “Please check” and “I can eat” as well as detail cross contamination concerns. Triumph Dining also sells disposable dining cards (American), Gluten Free stickers, a restaurant guide and much more!
You can always write your own restaurant card detailing your specific allergies or intolerances.

Know what to order!
Ordering a salad without the croutons is an easy choice. But what about chicken wings? Although they can be baked, many restaurants fry them in oil with those containing wheat. Ask how the food is prepared. Are any red flags raised?

Confirm your order!
When your food arrives, ask if it is gluten free. And yes, you can send the food back if it contains gluten, but make sure that it is a new dish and the server did not simply remove the piece of bread from the plate.

Trust your gut!
If you suspect your food is not gluten free, do not feel obligated to eat it. Always trust your gut.

Tip well and review!
Tip well so the server and restaurant will look forward to customers with food allergies returning. Politeness also goes a long way – help pave the way for future gluten free guests by being an outstanding restaurant patron. Be sure to review the restaurant on sites such as so other people can enjoy the food and service there.

More resources:
Delight Magazine: Ask the Chef
Living Without: Inside Look at Eating Out
Triumph Dining - restaurant cards
AllergyEats - online search for restaurants
GIG - Gluten Intolerance Group's restaurant search
GlutenFreePassport - fantastic resource that includes apps, books and much more. Great for travelers.

Great Chicago Restaurants for Gluten Free Diners

Various locations.
Peanut and tree nut free; dairy is only used in cheese and sour cream. Gluten is only in their flour
tortillas and (if avoiding distilled vinegar) red tomatillo salsa. Employees change gloves upon request.

8343 W Grand Ave, River Grove, IL 60171
Gluten free Italian food.

Ethiopian Diamond
6120 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60660
Gluten free bread is available for $2.00 extra, call ahead 24 hours.

Foodlife and Mity Nice
Water Tower Place 835 N Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
Upon arriving, ask for their gluten free menu from the host/hostess. This upscale cafeteria style
restaurants has many gluten free options. Mity Nice, whose entrance is through Foodlife, has several
gluten free options, including buns.

Lady Gregory’s
5260 N Clark, Chicago, IL 60640
Wilde Bar & Restaurant
3130 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657
Gluten free menu, complete with appetizers, beer, sandwiches, burgers and more.

Marcello’s Father and Son Restaurants
645 North Ave, Chicago
2475 N Milwaukee, Chicago
1911 Cherry, Northbrook
Gluten free menu includes thin and crispy pizza as well as pan pizza, pasta, and dessert pizzas.'s_Gluten_Free.pdf

Ranalli’s of Andersonville
1512 W Berwyn, Chicago, IL 60640
Gluten free menu, complete with pasta, sandwiches, pizza and more.

Rose’s Wheat Free Bakery
2901 Central St, Evanston, IL 60201
Dedicated gluten free bakery with extensive café menu.

2873 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657
Dedicated gluten free restaurant opening at the end of July.

Wildfire Chicago
159 W Erie, Chicago, IL 60654
Gluten free menu includes pizza, steaks , sandwiches and more.

Here are some more restaurants that our members at the meeting have recommended!

Leona's Pizza
Gluten free thin crust pizza at various locations throughout the city.

RPM Italian Restaurant
52 W Illinois, Chicago, IL 60654
Full page gluten free menu.

Weber Grill
539 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654
They even have gluten free buns!

Zapatista Cantina
Northbrook, Lincoln Park, South Loop locations
They have a gluten free menu - their soft corn tortillas are hand made.

Fresh Farms International Market
2626 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659
Great selection of foods in this grocery store; the deli staff has even thoroughly cleaned the meat slicer for one of our members!

Jason's Deli
1258 S Canal St, Chicago, IL and 195 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL
Gluten free menu and their online ordering section  clearly states gluten free options.  A drop down menu selects under "preparation detail" for "preparer change gloves".

HomeMade Pizza Co
Lots of Illinois locations
They carry gluten free pizza for you to make at home.

For those with Smart Phones, be sure to check out our members' recommended apps:

Find Me Gluten Free
iEatOut Gluten & Allergen Free
iCanEat OnTheGo Gluten & Allergen Free

Major Thanks

Major thanks goes to Swirlz Cupcakes for proving these yummy gluten free and vegan mini cupcakes for our meeting!  The quickly emptied box shows how much our members loved them!

Coming Up Next with GIG:

New to a Gluten Free Diet?  Or are you the top Celiac Chef in your family?  Come join the Chicago Chapter of the Gluten Intolerance Group every month at 8:00pm in the Whole Foods South Loop (1101 S Canal St, Chicago) classroom.  Meetings are always free and open to all.
Our next meeting is August 6 - Morning Fuel Ups.  This meeting is all about revamping your bowl of cereal and discovering some new family favorites for even the most hectic mornings! From bagels to doughnuts and from waffles to oatmeal, learn more about the best options for your breakfast plate.
Follow the Chicago chapter of GIG on Twitter at @ChicagoGIG or on Facebook at

Let's keep this list going!  What are your favorite restaurants for gluten free dining in Chicago?  What tips did we miss?  What app can't be missed?

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