Eating out can be tricky if you're eating gluten-free (GF). But if you choose restaurants that feature gluten-free menus, you may find your dining experience is more enjoyable.
Restaurants with GF menus usually train their staff on the needs of those with food allergies. They should have procedures in place to guard against cross-contamination in the kitchen, but it never hurts to ask about their procedures.
These 17 national and regional chain restaurants all have GF menus. If you crave pizza specifically, you might also want to look at my article on gluten-free pizza restaurants.
1. Austin Grill
The Austin Grill, which has multiple locations in and around Washington, D.C. and its suburbs, features Tex-Mex-style food and an extensive GF menu.
You can enjoy a variety of salads, soups, grilled entrees, tacos and enchiladas. Dessert choices unfortunately include only ice cream, although you can order toasted coconut or cinnamon ice creams, both unusual flavors.
Austin Grill notes that it makes every effort to avoid cross-contamination, but adds that its kitchens aren't gluten-free and so cross-contamination is always a possibility.
B.J.'s Restaurant & Brewhouse, a burgers-and-pizza-style restaurant with locations in 13 midwestern, southern and western states, launched a thin-crust gluten-free pizza in 2010.
You can top your pizza with any B.J.'s topping except for the meatballs. If you're not in the mood for pizza, you can dine on several smaller or meal-sized salads, two different soups, three types of giant stuffed potatoes or one of three different entrees.
B.J.'s also offers two different types of gluten-free cider, plus Redbridge gluten-free beer. The restaurant maintains information on other potential allergens and advises diners to tell their servers if they're eating gluten-free.
If you like fresh seafood, you'll be thrilled with the gluten-free menu at Bonefish Grill — almost all the seafood dishes are naturally gluten-free. The upscale chain, which is owned by the parent company of Outback Steakhouse and Carraba's, has locations in nearly 30 states.
It's possible to start with one of two or three appetizers or a salad, and then choose a seafood dish (topped with one of several sauces) or a steak or chicken entree.
Dessert also offers a choice: two of the three desserts on the menu are gluten-free. I normally choose the Crème Brûlée, but you also can order the flourless macadamia nut brownie with raspberry sauce.
Boston Market, a carry-out and dine-in chain with locations in 29 states, doesn't offer a full gluten-free menu; instead, it offers an extensive allergen list from which you can extrapolate what's gluten-free and what's not.
The chain's signature rotisserie chicken is gluten-free, as is the roasted turkey breast. To accompany that, you can order a variety of different side dishes — almost all of them are gluten-free except for the obvious gluten-containing items such as macaroni and cheese and stuffing.
Only one salad — the Southwest Santa Fe — and one soup — the broccoli cheese soup — are gluten-free, however, and none of the desserts is safe.
You might not think of Italian food as being particularly gluten-free friendly, but Carrabba's Italian Grill — owned by the same company as Bonefish Grill and Outback Steakhouse, with locations in 33 states — provides lots of great gluten-free options.
Start your meal with one of the two gluten-free appetizers, chicken soup (request no pasta be added) and/or a salad (ask your server to skip the croutons and to fix it in a clean bowl).
Numerous entrees are gluten-free; however, if you choose a grilled item, request it without the grill baste, and be aware that it will be cooked on the same grill as gluten-containing items. If you're very sensitive, you might be better off with an entree not cooked on the grill, so ask your server.
Chevys Fresh Mex, with 42 locations around the U.S., unveiled its new gluten-free menu in spring 2012. It's possible to order salads, fajitas, tacos, children's meals and several different desserts, as long as you carefully follow the caveats on the menu itself.
For example, if you want gluten-free tortilla chips (and Mexican food pretty much requires those!), you'll need to call ahead and ask that your chips be fried in separate oil otherwise, they'll be fried with breaded foods and won't be safe to eat. If you order tacos made with corn tortillas, you'll need to make sure those aren't placed in the fryer, either.
Chevys notes that several grilled items are not gluten-free because they're marinated in Agua Negra sauce, which contains soy sauce. You might also want to confirm with your server that any item you order does not contain Agua Negra sauce. Ranchero sauce and green sauce don't contain gluten ingredients. In addition, anything cooked on the grill is subject to cross-contamination from flour tortillas.
At Cheeseburger in Paradise, the iconic restaurant owned by singer Jimmy Buffett, you can order a cheeseburger on a gluten-free bun with a side of gluten-free fries. The restaurant, which has locations in 16 states (including, of course, Florida), works with the Gluten Intolerance Group to develop GF menu items and prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen.
If you're not in the mood for a cheeseburger (or a hamburger), you can order one of many entree-sized salads, or potentially choose between ribs, salmon and chicken entrees.
For dessert, there's only ice cream, but you can consider a variety of non-alcoholic beverages, including a root beer float. There are also a few GF kids' menu items, including French fries.
Chili's Grill & Bar Restaurant, which has locations throughout the U.S. and in 34 other countries, has a somewhat limited gluten-free menu with lots of caveats. However, if you like Chili's food, you may find something on it you'll enjoy.
Several soups are gluten-free, and salads can be made gluten-free if you order them without tortillas and with a gluten-free dressing. Most sides are gluten-free, as are the ribs, the Southwest Grill items, burgers without buns and a couple of chicken and seafood items. Sadly, fajitas cannot be made gluten-free, and the chips and salsa are not safe either.
Chili's notes that its gluten-free menu is based on information from food suppliers, and says it can't guarantee the absence of allergens in the food.
Legal Sea Foods, with locations in 10, mainly northeastern states, understands gluten-free dining ... right down to the gluten-free croutons on its salads. The upscale restaurant offers gluten-free rolls at many locations, plus calamari fried in chick pea flour and gluten-free crumbs on the baked scrod.
You can order anything from a steak to a steamed lobster at Legal Seafood and have confidence that the restaurant understands the gluten-free diet. Most of the sides also are gluten-free, and there's even a children's menu with fish sticks, again fried in chick pea flour.
For dessert, you can enjoy Belgian chocolate mousse parfait (no sugar added), sorbet or a fruit plate.
At the Old Spaghetti Factory, which has multiple locations in 13 states, you don't need to forgo spaghetti and other pasta — the restaurants serve gluten-free pasta.
As long as you request gluten-free pasta, you can enjoy any of Old Spaghetti Factory's pasta sauces, including marinara, rich meat, clam, sauteed mushroom, Mizithra cheese and browned butter, and Alfredo sauce. You also can consider ordering baked chicken marinated in garlic and lemon juice. Several of the sides, including the Sicilian-style Italian sausage, also are gluten-free.
There's also a children's menu, mainly with child-sized portions of gluten-free pasta. Dessert (if you still have room) is limited to vanilla ice cream or spumoni.