Eating out in a restaurant as a gluten free vegan can really be annoying. We say this because you can’t just step into any ‘ole restaurant you see and be able to find food you can eat.
Research needs to be done ahead of time. Google searches might need to occur before you step foot into any given restaurant.
You need to take your time, you need to do your due diligence. This can be time-consuming as well as a somewhat sad endeavor as you cross off restaurant after restaurant trying to find one you can eat at.
In the beginning of your gluten free vegan journey, it might take a very long time to find restaurants near you that you can eat at and truly enjoy.
As you have more time under your belt as a gluten free vegan you will know which restaurants you can eat at and the investigation work will be considerably less.
It is a daunting task, and to this day when someone says, “Let’s meet for lunch somewhere and catch up.”, my heart sinks a little with the thought of having to find a few places I can eat at to pitch to my lunch date. This can take time as well as annoy the person you’re going to dine with.
Where do you begin?
The first place we usually go to is the website for the National Celiac Association. They have a search engine there where you can find restaurants that qualify for gluten free eating. Mind you, the list is not complete by any means but gives you a starting point.
If you are able to find a gluten free restaurant in your area you can then go to that restaurant’s website and find their menu to see if there are vegan options for you.
This is usually a quick task because unfortunately, their list will be short. That’s ok though, it’s still a good place to start.
Start by searching for “gluten free vegan restaurants” and be sure to put in your location, then hit search.
Then start going down the list. Click on the ones that you want to check out. Next, read some reviews. Keep in mind that these reviews will also contain reviews where the diner ate meat, but still read through some reviews because you might find a great gem in there about their gluten free vegan options.
Now you click on the Menu link down under the restaurant’s name and location. Scroll through the options. Sometimes they might have entire sections dedicated to vegan options. These are a great find. Go through them and see if there are gluten free options on the list.
Here’s where you’re going to have to slow down and pay attention, especially in the beginning of your gluten free vegan journey.
Some restaurants will be upfront with you and tell you they use a certain brand of meat alternative, others will simply say something like “vegan beef or chick’n” or even more vague it will just say “beef or chicken” and will be under the vegan section so you’re just supposed to trust that it’s truly vegan.
We don’t trust them, until we get to know them better.
If the restaurant states what meat alternative they use, such as Gardein Chick’n Strips, be sure to google the product.
You see, the majority of these meat alternatives are Seitan. Seitan is nothing but gluten. Straight up gluten. Seitan will mess you up faster than eating an actual gluten bun on your veggie burger. It’s made with Vital Wheat Gluten, and you want to stay as far away from that as possible.
If the restaurant doesn’t state what meat alternative they use give them a call and ask. Be polite about it, but make sure you get a good answer before you decide to eat there.
There are newer meat alternative products out there that are not seitan, such as Beyond Meat and the newer recipe version of the Impossible Burger, so be sure to find out what the restaurant is using in the dishes you want to eat.
Don’t assume that because they have a Beyond Burger on their menu that their other items that contain a meat alternative also has Beyond Meat in it…a lot of times its seitan. The point here is to do your due diligence and don’t be afraid to ask questions until you are fully satisfied with the answers.
A tip we want to throw in here is to always be careful with soups. Nearly all soups are made with a chicken or beef-based broth. Even veggie soup is typically made with chicken broth in a non-vegan restaurant. So ALWAYS ask before eating soup in a restaurant and be certain it’s made with vegetable stock and NO chicken stock.
Also know that if the broth of a soup is creamy or cloudy it probably isn’t gluten free or vegan. Creamy soups are typically made with…yep…cream, and thick soups are typically thickened with wheat flour. We’ve only found soups creamed and thickened with plant based milks and gluten free flours at fully vegan restaurants, so be sure to find out before you order some thick creamy soup.
You are also going to want to ask questions like, “Is the item made on the same grill top as gluten and meat items?”, “Do you use the same fryer for the French fries as you do for the fried fish?” and “How careful are you in the kitchen to make sure there is no cross-contamination?”; all depending on how important those things are to you and your diet.
One of the things you’re going to run in to at a restaurant is that their menu doesn’t seem to have any gluten free vegan options. It might seem like it on the surface but as a gluten free vegan you are going to have to learn to dig deeper and be creative.
One of the easiest ways to get your gluten free vegan meal is to curate it yourself.
Read through all the items, and take note of any meal that has something you can eat. Do this because then you know what the restaurant has back in the kitchen to put a meal together for you with.
The “Side Dishes” section is going to be your friend here. In the side dishes section you will typically find sides of vegetables, and often times a LOT of sides of vegetables.
There have been many many times that we have “built our own” meal with only side dishes.
Just be sure to read through how they make the vegetable dish (oftentimes sautéed in butter), and simply ask the waiter to have them NOT sauté it in butter because you don’t eat animal products.
We typically don’t ask them to put all the sides on one plate either. We did in the beginning of our journey, but then we learned quickly that if we allow them to bring the sides, each on their own plate, that we get a lot more food.
Another great place to find your meal is the appetizer section. You can typically find a couple of things in this section that you can eat as well.
The key to all of this is to ask a lot of questions and to not be afraid to change up their recipes. Will this upset the waiter because you’ve become a hassle? Maybe. Will this upset the cooks and chefs in the back because you’re messing with their recipes and making them more work? Maybe. Should you care? NO!
If you run into a restaurant that gives you grief about helping you eat there then it’s not a restaurant you want to eat at anyway.
So ask for substitutes, ask the item to be made differently. Be brave.
We find that a key component to eating gluten free vegan well in a restaurant is to take your time. Take the time to do as much research as you’re able to from home with some Google searches. Call the restaurant ahead of time with questions. Ask your waiter questions, and if they don’t know the answer send them back to find out. If your waiter gives you answers that you don’t know are gluten free or vegan simply thank them and ask for some more time before you order. Then jump on your phone and do some research.
A typical restaurant meal for us might look something like this:
Buffalo Cauliflower appetizer:
Questions to ask: Is this breaded? In what? Can you make it without the breading, please? Is there butter in the sauce? Can you make it without butter in the sauce?
Side of sautéed green beans:
Questions to ask: What is this sautéed in? Can you sauté it in oil, or with nothing at all (if you don’t eat oil)? Is there any bacon or other animal products in there that I need to remove? Can you please remove them?
Side Baked Potato:
Questions to ask: Instead of sour cream, cheese and bacon can you have the chef put some of the veggies from the Vegetable Fajitas on it instead?
Salad (the salad with the most vegan ingredients already in it):
Questions to ask: Can you remove the animal products and replace them with some sautéed broccoli instead?
Questions to ask: Can you please remove the cheese? And can you please add French fries? And instead of cream sauce can you please add green sauce?
Questions to ask: Can you please remove the bun and wrap it in lettuce leaves instead? Can you please replace the mayo with hummus?
Are you starting to get the idea?
In all of our time ordering this way, we’ve only encountered push back once. Every other time not only are the waiter and cooks willing to accommodate us, they’ve even told us things like, “Wow, that sounds delicious that way, I think I’ll try that next time.”
So, don’t be afraid to eat out in a restaurant. Be sure to do your research before you ever leave the house. Be sure to ask a lot of questions if necessary. Don’t be afraid to create your own meal with items throughout their menu. Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. Be sure to be grateful to the waiter and cooks for accommodating you. And above all…learn to enjoy eating out in restaurants again as a gluten free vegan!