I’ve traveled around the world and around the United States and I’ve found that some places are just more GF-friendly than other places. That’s not to say those of us with dietary issues can’t enjoy visiting any destination with a little preparation, but on the other hand, it’s pretty nice to roll into a new city and find it full of delicious foods that we can eat. I’ve compiled the following list of GF-friendly and not so friendly cities in the United States based on my own experiences as well as the experiences of others I know who have traveled to or lived in these places. I’m not going to include the world at large in this post as it would be the longest blog post ever, and I can’t comment on places I haven’t been to, but rest assured I’ll be adding additional information on destinations around the world as I research/travel to those areas.
Also note I didn’t include all the major cities in the country. I only included places I have some sort of knowledge of either based on my own travels or from the word of friends. If you have some information on any cities in the U.S. (or the world, for that matter), please leave me a comment! I’m sure my readers (and myself) would love to gain more information 🙂
San Diego/Los Angeles, CA
I’m an L.A. native who has lived in San Diego for the past ten years, so I’m really familiar with the ins and outs of GF dining in these areas (Orange County, too!). I’m going to have to hand it to my beautiful West Coast home…this place is incredibly friendly for those who need to eat gluten free! The thing is, GF is “trendy” in So Cal, which is great for those of us who need it! I have no trouble whatsoever wandering into most places and finding something on the menu I can eat. Furthermore, we have entire allergy-free menus and even some entire restaurants catering to us. Most places will have some GF options, and we’re not always talking a salad. I have no trouble eating tacos, pizzas, sandwiches, pastries, sandwiches and more pretty much everywhere I go. We have an abundance of GF options in grocery stores as well. I find when I travel elsewhere I’m often struck by how much harder it is to find things to eat in other cities, and it really makes me appreciate the ease of dining in my So Cal home. So, if you need to eat gluten free, come to Southern California. You’ll love it here!
San Francisco, CA
Another shout out to another of my West Coast cities. Just like Southern California, it’s extremely easy to eat GF in San Francisco. GF options abound in the city and in the bay area in general, and you’ll have no trouble finding pretty much anything you want sans gluten. We’re talking bakeries, pizza parlors, and even fancy, innovative cafes.
A friend with similar dietary concerns to my own recently returned from Portland raving about how GF-friendly the city was. She said she had no problems at all finding delicious things to eat all over the city.
I recently returned from Seattle and here’s what I’ll say about it: it’s not hard to find GF options, but you have to prepare ahead of time. Don’t just walk into a place in Seattle expecting to be able to find food you can eat, because chances are it’s not going to happen. However, a quick internet search for any area of the city will quickly connect you with places you can eat, and they seemed to be pretty abundant. Seattle’s roads are kind of crazy so it’s a bit of a difficult city to just wander around aimlessly. If you have a plan and you know where you’re going, however, you’ll have no trouble.
I’ve got family in Arizona, so I’ve been out this way pretty often. Mexican food places always offer good options as long as you don’t get anything battered and fried and you make sure they are using corn tortillas instead of flour. There are lots of places that cater to GF customers in these cities and a quick Google search will return plenty of options. They also have In-N-Out Burger here, so make sure to get a double double, protein style.
Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas is a city built around catering to the every want and need of visitors. As a result, I never have any problems in Las Vegas, and I’ve been there about a million times seeing as though it’s only a five hour drive from San Diego, where I live. It makes for an awesome weekend getaway. Wander around the city and any of the casinos and you’ll find no shortage of GF options, dedicated GF bakeries, and restaurants with special GF menus or GF items clearly marked on the menu. Las Vegas is a breeze! Also, I would be neglecting my duties as a responsible travel and food blogger if I didn’t mention my undying love for Skinny Fats. There. I said it.
This Texas hot spot is actually pretty easy to get by in while eating GF. GF options in the city abound. Grab yourself a hamburger with a GF bun at Hut’s Hamburgers and of course stroll through the ailes of the original (and enormous) first Whole Foods Market right in the center of town. Just like everywhere else in the Southwest, Mexican food is always a good option if you avoid battered and fried or flour tortillas.
I had no trouble traveling in Chattanooga or in the South in general, really. Most barbecue places had options for me to eat some seasoned grilled meat and vegetables. I even ate at an awesome fried catfish place next to a river with my family members. Everything was fried, but they had a grilled catfish option on the menu, which I had and enjoyed quite a bit. A few places to try are Tony’s Pasta and Trattoria, which has a gluten safe menu. Also Lupi’s Pizza Pies for GF pizza and Good Dog has GF bun options for their menu items.
Just like Chattanooga, Nashville was pretty easy to get around. There were a lot of fresh and grilled foods on offer all over the place so it was pretty easy to find things that didn’t include gluten. If you’re looking to eat not only GF, but also try out an awesome regional specialty while you’re in town, I suggest you check out Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. I loved this place! Hot chicken is a Nashville specialty so you definitely shouldn’t miss out. Now, hot chicken is generally fried, but Hattie B’s offers a grilled chicken option with the same hot sauce options, and a variety of sides to order from, many of which are naturally GF such as greens, baked beans, black eyed pea salad, or cole slaw. Also try 12 South Tap Room and Grill *GF made to order on request, Bar-B-Cutie Smokehouse, which actually lists their allergens online to help you make the best choice in your order.
Things to order while traveling in the United States (when in doubt)
I wanted to include a little “catch all” section at the end of this post with additional information for travelers, particularly international travelers, who need to eat GF and are planning on traveling to the United States. If you’re in an area that you aren’t finding to be particularly GF friendly and you just need to eat something, here are some options for you.
Most Mexican food can be made GF easily by just making sure you’re eating it on a corn tortilla and you’re not getting anything deep fried (such as in baja style fish tacos). Grilled fish tacos, chicken, beef, pork, or vegetable tacos are on the menu as long as the tortilla is corn and not flour. You can also usually eat enchiladas as long as the tortilla is corn. A lot of Mexican places will even do a bowl for you, which is all the fillings such as meat, cheese, beans, rice, etc. without a tortilla at all. Avoid chile rellenos, tortas, and burritos.
Burger and sandwich Places
A lot of burger and sandwich places will do a “lettuce wrapped” or “protein style” option for you if you ask, which usually entails whatever burger or sandwich you ordered, but wrapped in lettuce instead of in a bun. Some places do offer GF buns and bread so look for that on the menu, but if you’re ever stuck, this can be a good option for you. Also, I should note that if you’re in California, In-N-Out protein style is awesome.
There are “grills” everywhere, which are usually restaurants serving standard American fare as well as innovative dishes. Usually in these places you can get some sort of grilled meat and vegetables, baked potatoes, salads, etc.
Another good option (especially if you’re traveling in the U.S. South) is to try out a barbecue place. Make sure you ask when you get to the restaurant, but as long as something isn’t deep fried or served on bread, you’re probably in good shape.
I’m going to admit, I’m not a huge fan of chain restaurants. I love little independent eateries where I can support the locals and try something new that isn’t the same stuff they serve in their other 300 locations around the country. That being said, there are times where chain restaurants have been a lifesaver. The thing is, because they are run by large corporate organizations, they usually have some sort of GF policy in place and some sort of listing of their options, even in the most remote of locations. If you’re feeling a little lost, step into a chain restaurant and you’ll likely be able to order something you can eat.
If you’re truly lost for options…
Try the grocery store! Even if you’re traveling without a kitchen, you can roll into a grocery store and pick up some lunch meat, cheese, yogurt, fruit, nuts, etc. Many grocery stores also carry some gluten free specialty items like breads and crackers. They should be labeled ‘gluten free’. Look for brands like Udi’s and Canyon Bakehouse. If there’s a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts, or any Natural Foods Grocery Store near you, head inside. You’ll find a lot of options there. Even standard grocery stores such as Stater Brothers, Vons, Ralphs or Safeway will have options for you though.