Gluten-free diets, while once obscure, are becoming the new norm. Right now, roughly 3 million U.S. people have celiac disease. And as many as 18 million, while undiagnosed with celiac, have a sensitivity to gluten (meaning, they might experience some of the same symptoms, like upset stomach and trouble breathing).
Even more striking is the fact that almost 30 percent of Americans say they’re “interested in avoiding or cutting back on gluten in their diet,” according to consumer research firm NPD Group.
Grocery stores are answering the call. Even the big-box shops — think Costco, Target, BJs — sell gluten-free options in nearly every category, including wine and beer.
Dining out, however, can be quite another story. While, gluten-free menu options can often be scarce or nonexistent, some chains have started stepping up.
Here are some popular ones across the United States that do gluten-free dining right.
- What it is: A brewhouse with elevated pub fare
- Go for: Dinner while you watch the big game
Gluten-free diners, rejoice: You don’t need to pine over someone else’s pie. BJs offers a delish, gluten-free thin crust rendition. In fact, all toppings are gluten-free, too, with the exception of the meatballs. Also on the dedicated menu for wheat-shy diners: stuffed potatoes with tons of fixings (broccoli, grilled chicken, alfredo sauce), and “enlightened entrees” that include a Peruvian quinoa bowl and fire-roasted barbacoa chicken.
- What it is: A casual place to dig into Asian specialties
- Go for: Lunch with co-workers
Everything is made from scratch right in the restaurant, which should already perk the ears of diet-conscious consumers. Especially appealing for those dining gluten-free, though, is the fact that P.F. Chang’s makes special, gluten-free sauces using chicken broth, oyster sauce, rice wine, sugar, water, gluten-free soy sauce, and white pepper. Opt for the GF Chang’s chicken lettuce wraps, a secret recipe that’s both savory and sweet. Into seafood? Try the GF shrimp with lobster sauce, Asian mushrooms, chopped black beans, and more.
- What it is: Atmospheric casual dining with a seafood focus
- Go for: Date night
Popular for its happy hour at 4 p.m. every weekday, Bonefish is also gaining a following for its special, gluten-free menu that’s full of healthy options. Start with a house salad, which includes hearts of palm and Kalamata olives. Then move on to a grilled fish specialty, like Chilean sea bass or rainbow trout. Each comes with grilled lemon or a choice of signature sauces (our favorite is the mango salsa).
- What it is: Australian-themed chain where steak is king
- Go for: Dinner with the whole family
Outback was early to the gluten-free scene and has offered dedicated options for more than 10 years. Because they’re known for prime cuts of beef, go for a center-cut sirloin or filet mignon, both served with a baked potato. Lighter appetites should opt for the simply grilled tilapia or grilled chicken “on the barbie.” And don’t forget to top it all off with a gluten-free dessert: the Chocolate Thunder From Down Under, a pecan brownie topped with ice cream and warm chocolate sauce.
Uno Pizzeria & Grill
- What it is: Urban pub specializing in Chicago-style deep dish
- Go for: Weekend dinner with friends
You might not imagine that pizza this rich and satisfying could possibly be gluten-free, yet Uno Pizzeria & Grill proves otherwise. Its gluten-free thin crust pizzas are blanketed with a variety of toppings. Grab the veggie thin crust pizza, which is like an entire farmers market on one pie. Meanwhile, if you go with a group and they all order the regular deep dish, which isn’t gluten-free, rest assured you still have options. There’s a massive burger on a gluten-free roll, as well as a variety of gluten-free steaks, chicken dishes, and salads.
California Pizza Kitchen
- What it is: Refreshing eatery known for seasonally-inspired pizzas
- Go for: Light mid-week lunch
With four gluten-free pizzas on the menu, you can keep going back and try something new. Fans swear by California Pizza Kitchen’s Original BBQ Chicken Pizza, which has secret-recipe barbecue sauce, smoked gouda, red onions, and fresh cilantro. Other pies that are also up for grabs: pepperoni, mushroom-pepperoni-sausage, and Margherita. While it’s possible to down an entire pie in one sitting, don’t forget what might be the best part about eating here: the leftovers you can take home.
- What it is: Bakery-café, fast casual spot catering to all lifestyles
- Go for: Your lunch break
Panera Bread’s “gluten conscious” menu is one of the most expansive out there — a true feat from a traditional bread company. It all starts with salads: Options range from a Green Goddess cobb to a Modern Greek with quinoa. Gluten-free soups include summer corn chowder and black bean, while smoothies, triple-chocolate cookies, and coconut macaroons make for great sweet options. Panera does, however, make a special note to gluten-free guests that, due to the amount of fresh bread made on site, they can’t guarantee products haven’t come in contact with gluten. Anyone diagnosed with celiac should check with their doctor before diving in.
- What it is: Mexican-inspired, fast-casual grill where burritos rule
- Go for: Quick break from your busy day
The must-try for gluten shy: burrito bowls from Chipotle. Skip the flour tortilla and nest your ingredients, instead, on a bed of rice and lettuce. As you go down the line, pile on any amount of toppings you like, such as black and pinto beans, fajita veggies, guacamole, cheese, and even sour cream. You make the call on what type of meat — if any — and know you can always opt for a corn tortilla if you want a traditional presentation.
Kelly Aiglon is a lifestyle journalist and brand strategist with a special focus on health, beauty, and wellness. When she’s not crafting a story, she can usually be found at the dance studio teaching Les Mills BODYJAM or SH’BAM. She and her family live outside of Chicago and you can find her on Instagram.