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What to Look for in Wheat-Free Restaurants

You need some kind of guideline for determining whether an establishment can provide the wheat-free service you need, whether you're perusing a menu online or at the restaurant or calling to speak with the chef. Here's a checklist of things to seek out when dining out:

  • A lengthy gluten- or wheat-free menu: For most people looking out for their wheat consumption, having just a couple of gluten-free items on the menu isn't enough. Nothing is more unpleasant than going to a restaurant where you can't eat any of the food.

  • A knowledgeable waitstaff: How much the servers know is a good indicator of how well trained the rest of the employees at the restaurant are.

  • Ingredients lists that are available to patrons: What ingredients are in the sauces and salad dressings on the menu? Can you have a list of ingredients for other items (breads, desserts) that may contain wheat?

  • Fresh, quality food items: Fresh protein (beef, fish, chicken), fruits and vegetables, beans, and nonprocessed foods are important parts of your wheat-free lifestyle. Not all restaurants have them because of the high cost, but it's well worth the search.

  • A manager who can discuss the restaurant's food preparation conditions and techniques: Is the cooking staff knowledgeable on handling food so that cross-contamination with wheat and gluten doesn't occur? This issue is a biggie for celiac patients and highly sensitive wheat and gluten sufferers.

  • A separate kitchen or cooking area and dishwashing area: Separate facilities help cut down on careless cross-contamination when people are handling your food.

The search for restaurants with gluten-free menus has become less daunting because awareness of wheat's harmful effects has grown such that even places with measly gluten-free options are promoting their “gluten-free menu.” In any case, many restaurants are looking to expand their customer reach, so they're becoming more accommodating to the gluten-free market to remain competitive with other restaurants that are doing the same.

Even chain restaurants offer gluten-free menus. Many of these restaurants don't offer gluten-free kitchens, though, so cross-contamination may be an issue, especially for wheat's most sensitive sufferers. Remember to call ahead to see whether the restaurant meets your satisfaction. And don't assume a menu tagged “gluten-free” means you're off the hook for asking questions about preparation methods and so on; you still have to do some due diligence.

Here are some chains that offer gluten-free menus:

  • Austin Grill (Tex-Mex)

  • Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano (Italian)

  • Boston Market (American)

  • Carrabba's Italian Grill (Italian)

  • Chili's (American)

  • Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar (Steakhouse)

  • Olive Garden (Italian)

  • On The Border (Mexican)

  • Outback Steakhouse (Steakhouse)

  • P.F. Chang's China Bistro (Asian)

  • Red Lobster (Seafood)

  • Red Robin (American)

  • Romano's Macaroni Grill (Italian)

  • Ruby Tuesday's (American)

  • Souper Salad (American)

To find other restaurants in your area that offer wheat-free or gluten-free meals, simply enter the name of your city and “wheat-free restaurant” into your favorite search engine. Chances are, you'll get some decent results, and you can explore from there.

You may want to repeat your search every few months because the restaurant landscape changes all the time. You never know which establishments have added wheat- and gluten-free options to their menus.

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