Many of my clients feel limited or overwhelmed about dining out when they are on a gluten and/or dairy free or paleo plan. I get a lot of questions about how to dine out and stick to the plan you’re following. Food is social and meant to be shared, and there’s no reason you can’t enjoy an evening out no matter what restrictions you have. Here are a few helpful tips to eat out + a list of some of my fave cuisines and restaurants in the Bay Area where it’s easy to order gluten and dairy free.
It’s pretty easy to eat nearly anywhere gluten and dairy free, even at a sandwich shop or burger joint. Just request your burger wrapped in lettuce (ask for a side salad, veggie side, or sweet potato fries; make sure fries not dredged in flour), or order a veggie sandwich made with a lettuce wrap and hummus, and ask to add meat slices to it. Voila!
1. First off, decline the bread basket. You don’t want to go to dinner with the enemy. Just avoid altogether.
2. Avoid “crispy” or breaded dishes (the breading contains gluten) and always ask if there is flour and/or dairy in sauce. Avoid ordering fried foods. Tell your server that you avoid dairy and gluten and ask if what you’re ordering contains either if you’re not sure. Be aware that crab cakes and meatballs or meatloaf often contains breadcrumbs and eggs.
3. You can almost always sub out sides (like refined carbs such as white rice or pasta) for an order of veggies. Skim the side orders, which almost always include vegetables, and just ask. Stick to the meat and veggie plan as much as possible. You may have to “design” your own meal by swapping out items or requesting side orders of veggie dishes. If worse comes to worse, order a salad with chicken, shrimp, or salmon on top.
4. Go for fish when it’s available, especially salmon. I typically recommend avoiding tuna and swordfish due to high mercury levels.
5. Consider ordering 2 apps, like a salad and a meat-based app, and make that your meal. I do this all the time.
6. If you’re drinking, stick to a glass of white or red wine. Avoid beer or darker liquors.
7. If it’s a special occasion and you’re ordering dessert, follow the 3 bite rule and share.
Here are some particular cuisines where it is easy to order gluten & dairy free.
1. Thai: very easy to get meat and veggies. Satay and curry dishes are always good options. Papaya salad is great; papaya contains papain enzymes that help digestion. If you’re not paleo, the pad thai and pad see ew dishes are gluten free (made with rice noodles), and the fresh spring rolls (not fried) are wrapped in rice paper. I’ll order a basic sauteed vegetable dish from the veg menu and then a spicy chicken type dish and combine them. ALWAYS ask about sauces– some have hidden dairy or soy sauce.
2. Indian: get curry dishes and veggie dishes. Avoid the naan! Curry is made with turmeric, which is a great antioxidant spice and blood cleanser. Chicken jalfrezi is usually a good option; it’s chicken, spices, and veggies. The tandoori meats are good too, though they are sometimes marinated with yogurt. Many entrees are spinach, eggplant, lentil or garbanzo-based. The samosas are supposed to be made with chick pea flour but probably contain wheat and are fried, so use caution there.
3. Mexican: may not be ideal if you’re on a low carb plan, but it’s easy to eat gluten free when sticking to rice, meat, beans, and avocado/guac. Get soft corn tortillas instead of flour. You can even do a burrito bowl that has all the burrito contents without the tortilla. Avoid quesadillas (white flour tortillas and cheese) and fried things like chimichangas.
4. Japanese: one of my favorites. If you want to avoid rice, get sashimi and cucumber or seaweed salad. Or the gomae is a cooked spinach and sesame salad and is delicious. Miso soup is ok because it’s fermented soy, but avoid the soy sauce, which contains wheat. You can bring your own tamari or coconut aminos. Avoid soba noodles, which are technically supposed to be 100% buckwheat flour (gluten free) but almost always contain wheat flour.
5. Italian: this may seem like a no-go due to the pasta and bread based dishes, but it’s surprisingly easy to eat gluten free italian. Get a salad and browse the main courses for chicken or fish dishes. Many Italian places even have gluten free menus now or offer gluten free pastas.
Restaurants in San Francisco I like:
1. The Plant organic cafe is awesome. Fresh veggie juice bar, raw desserts, build your own salad option and wonderful meat/veggie dishes.
2. La Boulange has great salads and breakfast stuff. I love their smoked trout salad (say no to the walnut croutons). The baked goods look out of this world delicious, but you won’t be eating those.
3. Roam Artisinal burgers are made with 100% grass fed beef, and you can get it protein style wrapped in lettuce. Get a side salad or seasonal veggies with it.
4. Samovar tea lounge is one of my faves. The tea is amazing and they have a paleo entree with smoked salmon or duck, kale with tahini dressing, and beets and carrots. Super yum. The smoked salmon wasabi caesar salad is to die for but may not be dairy free.
5. The San Francisco Ferry Plaza building has some amazing options. Slanted Door is Vietnamese, uses organic meats, and offers a lot of gluten free options. Il Cane Rosso is delicious and east to order paleo. I also love the olive oil stores, and Benedetta body care products are biodynamic and incredible for your skin.
Go forth and eat good food!
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. In addition to her coaching practice, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and kick nagging digestive issues for good. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.