One of the more frequent questions I'm asked these days is where to find good gluten-free food. And when GF folks ask this question, they're looking for more than an answer of, "Oh, any place that serves vegetables and meat. Can't you figure out your own dietary restrictions?"
No; they're looking for restaurants that specialize in gluten-free menu items, but yet are still mainstream enough to accommodate their friends and family. Luckily for them, an increasing number of restaurants are doing just that.
One of the easiest routes to take as GF diner is, of course, to familiarize yourself with cuisines which are naturally free of gluten. This means getting cozy with South Asian ethnic foods like Indian (steer clear of naan and puri shells), Pakistani and Thai or learning more about sushi -- just make sure to ask for (or bring your own) gluten-free soy sauce.
Ethiopian is another easy option for GF diners: injera, which forms the base of most meals, is made of teff flour and is naturally gluten-free -- but also extremely nutritious. You use injera like a utensil to scoop up your food, which can be anything from all-vegetarian (lentils, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, greens and more) to meat-heavy (doro wot -- or spicy chicken stew -- is a personal favorite as is the raw beef treatment called kitfo).
But back to the idea of being gluten-free and mainstream. Here is a list of options, grouped by category, to please every palate:
While chains aren't always known for the quality of their food, the spots below are notable for a few reasons: They're conveniently located throughout the city, they're relatively inexpensive and all offer entire gluten-free menus -- not just a few paltry GF substitutions. Outback was one of the first chains to offer a separate GF menu and P.F. Chang's currently offers one of the largest. (One more fun fact: Saint Arnold brews the beer locally for the BJ's spots in and around Houston.)
The fact of the matter is that most Mexican joints are safely gluten-free if you abstain from flour tortillas, sopapillas and the like. Corn tortillas -- especially those filled with barbacoa or al pastor from taco trucks -- are one of the easiest bets for the GF diner. But here are a few places that really take gluten-free to the next level.
Pizza is one of the items that many GF diners miss the most. Fortunately, more pizza places -- both large and small -- are catching on to this and offering gluten-free crusts that are every bit as good as standard wheat flour crusts.
Sure, you can get a bunless burger at any old burger joint. But sometimes you just want those two fluffy buns holding your meat sandwich together. These four spots will gladly throw a gluten-free bun into the mix for you -- and in the case of Beck's Prime, you'll find plenty of other GF options that aren't burgers, too. Same goes for Guru Burgers & Crepes, where you can also get GF versions of its signature crepes.
Next to pizza, pasta is another item that many GF diners find themselves missing. It doesn't have to be that way at these Italian restaurants, where you can not only indulge in naturally GF dishes such as gnocchi and risotto, but house-made GF pastas at places such as Coppa and Prego. And at chains like Carrabba's, you'll find entire GF menus.
Being gluten-free doesn't mean sticking to chains or having to make everything at home. You can get fancy, too, with anything from Texas quail with a summer corn tamale and huitlacoche sauce at RDG + Bar Annie to flourless chocolate cake at Mockingbird Bistro. While not all of the places listed below have separate GF menus, they're all notable for being extremely flexible and adaptive to the needs of GF diners.
Cute & Casual
Like most of the places listed above, these are non-chain spots throughout Houston that are receptive to GF diners even if the restaurants themselves don't have dedicated GF menus. Most of the items on the menu at Roots Bistro, for example, are naturally gluten-free, such as its raw "squashta" tossed with spinach, tomatoes, carrots, beets and a ginger dressing or sautéed Jerusalem artichokes with vegetables, beet puree and pesto. Ditto Pondicheri, the little sister restaurant to Indian favorite Indika. And at Ruggles Green, you'll find a handy color-coded menu that denotes which of its many items are vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free or all three.
Vegan & Vegetarian
Vegan doesn't necessarily mean gluten-free; after all, it's easy to make vegan wraps, crackers, bread or other products from wheat, rye, barley or other grains containing gluten -- so beware. But when you're eating at vegan or vegetarian places that specialize in raw food, your chances of encountering gluten products drop significantly. Ditto for places such as Radical Eats, which are both vegan and Mexican.
Finding a food truck that serves GF items can be tough. Fortunately, there are places like Bare Bowls -- which offers dishes such as market-fresh vegetables on basmati rice -- and Monster PB&J, where all of its sandwiches come with a GF bread option.
What's a cup of coffee without a pastry or snack on the side? These coffee shops are notable for offering goodies from some of our favorite vegan bakeries around town, such as Sinfull Bakery, as well as raw treats from folks like Pat Greer.
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