If your family is like mine, you don’t do a ton of fine dining; rather, you enjoy places where you can go to get healthy, fast casual food (and occasionally some fast food when on the go).
Here is my list of the top national fast food / fast casual restaurants that accommodate to us gluten-free folk. This list includes gluten-free fast casual restaurants and gluten-free fast food joints:
1. Chipotle: You gotta hand it to Chipotle in the gluten-free category. Every time I visit the restaurant, the staff knows exactly what to do. They change their gloves, gather fresh ingredients from the back or under the counter, and accommodate my visit at record speed. Enjoy a rice bowl topped with grilled chicken, black beans, fajita veggies, salsa, lettuce and cheese. The chips and guac are also gluten-free! The only thing on their menu that has gluten are the flour tortillas, and they are easy to avoid.
2. Five Guys: I really enjoy eating at Five Guys. You can get a juicy burger (lettuce-wrapped, of course!) and hand-cut fries. The staff at Five Guys are super careful about cross contamination too. Read about my gluten-free Five Guys experience. Check out Five Guy’s allergen menu. Avoid Five Guys if you anyone in your family has a peanut allergy. They use peanut oil and serve ballpark peanuts as an appetizer.
3. Chick-Fil-A: Everyone needs to make a run through the drive-thru every once in a while. Don’t beat yourself up over it, just try to make a good choice. The grilled nuggets are gluten-free, as are the fries (just double-check with your local Chick-fil-a that they have a dedicated fryer). Read about my gluten-free Chick-Fil-A experience and read their allergen menu too to be certain it’s okay for your dietary restrictions.
4. Pei Wei: Pei Wei is the fast-casual spinoff from PF Chang’s. They have several dishes that can be prepared gluten-free, including my favorite, the Spicy Chicken with rice. Let the staff know you want your dish cooked in a clean wok. The edamame (ordered gluten-free style) is a great accompaniment to your meal too. Check out Pei Wei’s gluten-free options online.
5. Qdoba: Like Chipotle, Qdoba can offer you a yummy mexican-style lunch that is gluten-free! Get a rice bowl (aka naked burrito) with beans and grilled steak and dig into the guac and salsas. I’m a bit weary of their chips, taco shells and tortilla strips based on their nutritional guidelines PDF – so I do suggest avoiding those items. Check out their menu online for a complete list of Qdoba gluten-free items. (I catered my sister-in-law’s baby shower with gluten-free Qdoba – here’s a photo!)
6. Modmarket: Modmarket is only available in Colorado and Texas – but if you live in those states – you’re a lucky gluten-free gal (or guy). Order any of its salads, soups, pizzas and sandwiches. They know how to accommodate you; you’ll feel totally satisfied after your visit and feel good that you’re eating healthily too! Read about my gluten-free Modmarket experience. The menu is seasonal and can change from store-to-store. Click here for a list of gluten-free items at one of their Colorado restaurants.
7. Lyfe Kitchen: We love this healthy-food fast-casual chain, which is available in Colorado, Illinois, California and Texas. Be wowed by their special gluten-free menu and water bar (free sparkling water!). I geeked out on their cucumber mint water myself. The portions are small, but so will your waistline if you eat here. Yummy and healthy. Read about my gluten-free experience at Lyfe Kitchen. There are so many naturally gluten-free selections on the Lyfe Kitchen menu, it’s so hard to choose!
8. Noodles & Company: This is a fun place to go with my kids – they love it! Try Noodles & Co.’s gluten-free fusilli noodles – I think they’re really yummy and satisfy that noodle craving us gluten-free folk often get. Read the allergen menu carefully and ask the staff to avoid cross contaminating your items with glutenous items. For example, the parmesan crusted chicken is not gluten-free, but the grilled chicken is; however they are cooked in the same pan. Just ask how they can accommodate you and it’s likely they will. Read about my gluten-free Noodles and Co. experience.
9. Pizza Hut: I haven’t tried Pizza Hut’s gluten-free pizza yet, but it’s on my to-do list. I feel like whenever we’re road tripping across the U.S. there is always a Pizza Hut – I won’t fear it anymore. In partnership with Udi’s, the brand has launched gluten-free pizza options in many of its restaurants nationwide. On the Pizza Hut website, you can read about the special precautions the staff takes when preparing gluten-free pizza, which is AMAZING to see. I love that Pizza Hut is taking the time to teach and train its staff how to avoid cross contamination. Nice! Read more about Pizza Hut’s gluten-free launch here.
10. Wendy’s: I can’t say Wendy’s is my first choice in dining, but when traveling, it’s often an only choice. I would recommend forgoing the salads (you can’t have chicken on them) and burgers (risky cross contamination) and simply enjoying a baked potato with chili instead. Seems like the safest option and it will fill you up in a pinch. Overall, I am proud of Wendy’s for creating a dedicated section on their website for its customers living without gluten.
ADDITIONS: Since I wrote this post, I have had the pleasure of trying a few new fast-casual restaurants. Here are the additions that made the list:
11. Five on Black: I had the opportunity to try this delicious fast-casual Brazilian restaurant in Denver, Boulder and several Montana locations too. Delicious and dedicated gluten-free. (Read my review here.)
12. Uncle Maddio’s: A fun build-your-own pizza place – I was surprised how they cleaned the prep area and pulled from fresh, untouched ingredients to make my pizza pie gluten-free. (Read my review here.)
13. Larkburger: A fresh ingredient burger joint that definitely knows how to do gluten-free. Oh, and you can eat the fries! (Read my review here.)
So there you have it, my top 10 gluten-free fast food restaurants and gluten-free fast casual restaurants. Remember, this information can change at any time, so it’s important to check a restaurant’s menu and confirm nutritional/allergen information with staff when placing your order. Also, every restaurant is different and some staff are more committed to helping someone who is gluten-free than others. Ask questions. Be smart. Let’s eat!