What do you want to know when you’re traveling to a new country? Here’s what one traveler recently asked on Facebook:
“…does any one have a list of gluten free chocolates and candy? And are any fast food chains safe? :)“
I love the priorities! (And wish I could still eat chocolate, but that’s another story…) Smart questions. Chocolate (or other candy) can be very comforting (and keep you from starving!) when you’re in an unfamiliar setting. Let’s face it, there are very few celiac-safe places to eat, so when we find a restaurant chain that’s safe, it’s golden! (Heck, I’m even ecstatic when I find a safe restaurant that has more than one location!)
So, which chains are celiac safe?
Celiac-Safe Fast Food
As a “silent celiac,” I need help navigating the many fast-food restaurants with gluten-free menus or gluten-sensitive options. I take my cues from sensitive friends, from what I read on celiac forums, and from other GF bloggers. As a result, I have recently been able to update my personal list of fast-food-places-I-will-eat, which is fantastic. It’s still a short list, but I hope it will grow. Thank you for using the comments to add any additional fast-food places you feel are celiac-safe (or that should be avoided)!
As always, ask questions and communicate your needs with the person taking your order. If you don’t feel comfortable eating there… don’t! It’s not worth it.
In’N’Out Burger (Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah)
Recommended by Gluten Free Avenger. Most people seem to eat safely at In’N’Out Burger. Order the hamburger “protein style” (lettuce wrap, no bun). Tell them you have an allergy (I know, celiac is NOT an allergy, but people understand the word allergy!) and they will take extra precautions like changing gloves and putting your burger in a separate basket. Bonus: the french fries should be safe because they don’t fry anything other than french fries in the fryer (but always double-check). Don’t forget to check out the secret menu (animal style, well-done fries, and more)!
Chipotle Mexican Grill (Most US States)
How celiac-safe Chipotle is depends on the location. The first time I ate at a Chipotle (in Arizona), the manager took my order, changed gloves, used special serving utensils, AND they brought out fresh food containers from the back for all the items I ordered. It was amazing! And never repeated again.
Typically, a senior employee or manager will take your order and change gloves. On the plus side, almost everything there is gluten free (order a rice bowl). However, I’ve been told their chips are not gluten free. This is from the Chipotle website: “You should be aware items containing corn, including corn tortillas (chips, soft corn, and crispy corn tortillas) and corn salsa, may have a small amount of gluten from potentially co-mingling with gluten-containing grains in the field.” Hmmm…maybe when I get my Nima sensor I’ll test the chips.
PROS: I met someone recently at a conference who was allergic to almost everything; fortunately, he eats safely at Chipotle and essentially lives there when he travels.
CONS: I wish they would routinely change utensils and food containers.
UPDATE: Early in 2016 Chipotle overcame some health issues. One tweet by a famous author recently caused some chatter, but “no confirmed cases [of illness] have been reported.” This is good news because Chipotle is one of the few safe, ubiquitous, relatively healthy, fast-food chains around.
El Pollo Loco (Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, Utah)
Recommended by Gluten Free Avenger. I used to love El Pollo Loco (before being diagnosed with celiac). We even “fake” El Pollo Loco tacos at home using roast chicken, fresh salsa, and corn tortillas. El Pollo Loco does not claim that their foods are gluten free, but according to Gluten Free Avenger, “there are salads and many other options that are gluten free.” I’m very excited to try them again.
Wendy’s (Most US States)
Recommended by Gluten Free Avenger. Based on Wendy’s gluten-free menu, they seem to understand cross-contamination, which is great: “Our grilled chicken is gluten-free prior to being sliced and/or placed on the salad/sandwich; however, since the same cutting board is used to cut our breaded chicken breasts, and the same tongs may be used to handle our breaded chicken, gluten cross-contact may occur.” They have salads and stuffed baked potatoes, in addition to bun-less meat patties and bacon, that would make a satisfying meal. I’m putting this one back on my list.
Chick-Fil-A (Most US States)
According to a review of fast food restaurants, Chick-Fil-A has a long gluten-free foods list, typically has separate fryers for french fries, and “Many people report good gluten-free experiences” there. Based on this website, I would at least check out Chick-Fil-A.
There are a few fast food restaurant chains that should be able to provide saavy travelers with celiac-safe options. And if all else fails, there’s always chocolate.