Tips for gluten-free restaraunt-ing and food safety



photoMike Lee, CEO and Founder,

Common gluten-free items

These are usually, if not intentionally, gluten-free:

Fish (ask about the herb mix used, if any)

Seafood (pretty safe, but ask about herbs here, as well)

Steak and Chicken (ask about the marinade)

Salads (clear dressings are your best option and remember to forego the croutons)

Sandwiches and Burgers (surprisingly, I find one of these wrapped in fresh lettuce to taste far better than those smothered in grain)

For gluten-free “foodies” food safety at home is no big deal. I am the master of my kitchen and not a speck of gluten has invaded my plate in many years.

But what about eating out? If you live in a great food town, as I do here in Vancouver, it doesn’t matter how much you love to cook or how much time you spend in the kitchen. Sooner, not later, one of the many amazing local restaurants pulls me through the door faster than I can say, “hold the gluten!”

How can you be certain even the most fastidious of dining establishments will keep your food away from gluten? Of course you may have your favorite gluten-free restaurants mapped out in your area, but who wants to eat at the same place every time? Life’s too short and there’s far too much yummy, healthy, gluten-free food to be discovered!

Yes, I know there are some great regional and national restaurants that will make your life easier. PF Chang’s China Bistro, Baja Fresh and Old Spaghetti Factory are some of the more prolific and tasty options around the country. Here in Portland/Vancouver, if you’d like some suggestions, I love Old Town Battle Grounds Coffee House and Deli, Hawthorne and Corbett Fish Houses, Old Wives’ Tales and the Teazone & Camellia Lounge.

Hopefully you love discovering new restaurants as much as I do, though. So without further ado, here are my tips for how to spoon your way through new restaurant menus and still eat gluten-free, even at places that may not tout a gluten-free menu.

1 - Communicate with your server.

Let’s face it, declaring your gluten-free status doesn’t yield the same “deer in the headlights” reaction it did 8 or 10 years ago. In this economy, most servers would love the opportunity to earn a larger tip by guiding you to the tastiest, and safest, choices on the menu.

2 - Take your time.

There’s no point in rushing your way through the menu. And trust me, as a father of five children under the age of 13, I know the value of time. Treat yourself, and your family, well. You do not have to pick the simplest looking item, or for the special “but without bread.” Do NOT be afraid to ask if an eye-catching dish is made without wheat or gluten products. While some items will undoubtedly be off limits, your server may suggest a “tweak” or substitution to the selection.

3 - When in doubt, eat FRESH.

Notice I didn’t start this list by recommending that you ix-nay certain restaurants because they may appear to be particularly “wheat-ful.” However, one very easy way to make things simpler is to pick a restaurant known for cooking items from scratch. The fewer large cans or processed foods in the kitchen, the fewer question marks you’ll find when inspecting the menu or asking your server for a suggestion. Personally, I’ve found that slightly more expensive restaurants, which use primarily high-quality, fresh vegetables, fish and meats daily are a great option. They tend to take great pride in the food they place before you, meaning they will value greater TLC over the shortcut of processed, pre-mixed items. Anything heavy in vegetables is probably safer than something made in a sauce that might have been canned a few weeks ago.

4 - Be on fire!

If it’s grilled or barbecued, you’ve probably won half the battle. In my opinion, there’s a reason why fire is so amazing, and it has more to do with what it does to my food than it’s spellbinding visual effect. While you will need to ask about the herbs and marinade used in its preparation, most items grilled or barbecued are done so because they taste mighty good on their own without the help of pre-packaged mixes.

5 - Don’t forget dessert!

I will confess that I do not treat myself to dessert very often. As a father and husband, I owe it to my family to live long. But I ALWAYS, and I do mean ALWAYS, peruse the dessert menu. Besides the oft-gluten-free sorbet or crème brulee, you may be delighted to find a flourless chocolate cake, gluten-free cheesecake or brownie.

Believe me, I know that eating gluten-free is not the simplest decision. But honestly neither is choosing a great restaurant. So why restrict your restauranting options? Eating gluten-free is not easy, but it can be done even where you least expect it.

Mike Lee is CEO and Founder of and is a food site devoted to gluten-free dieters in search of great recipes and food products. is the soon-to-be-launched site designed as a vehicle to facilitate customer loyalty to some of the world’s top gluten-free brands.