Wheatless in the Windy City: 15 Top Gluten-Free Chicago Restaurants
Photo By: Anjali M. PInto ©Lettuce Entertain You Inc
Photo By: Anjali Pinto ©Anjali Pinto, Lettuce Entertain You
Photo By: Colin Beckett ©2014 Colin Beckett
Photo By: Anjali Pinto ©Anjali Pinto
Photo By: Anjali M. PInto ©Lettuce Entertain You Inc
Photo By: Robert Agra ©Robert Agra
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Wheatless Wonders in the Windy City
Gluten can be difficult to avoid at restaurants. A protein mixture found in wheat and other grains, such as barley and rye, gluten appears throughout most menus. Beyond bread, pasta and baked goods, it appears in most soy sauce and many marinades and sauces, as well as through cross-contamination in busy kitchens. But avoiding this allergen, which was once nearly impossible, has become somewhat less of a challenge in a top-notch food city like Chicago. Some of the city’s top restaurants are making an effort to serve delicious food sans gluten, separating cooking facilities and working hard to identify gluten-free dishes. Here are the can’t-miss gluten-free restaurants and bakeries in Chicago.
Photo courtesy of Summer House Santa Monica
Chef Abe Conlon’s Macau-inspired cuisine at Fat Rice has received major national acclaim for its bold flavors that meld influences from across Europe and Asia. What many people don’t know is that Abe Conlon has celiac disease and that the majority of the dishes on the menu are naturally gluten-free. All but three menu items naturally contain zero gluten or can be altered to be gluten-free, making it easy to indulge in dishes like spicy chile prawns or the sweet and savory Malay vegetable curry. Even the restaurant’s signature dish, Arroz Gordo (fat rice), brimming with Manila clams and char siu pork, can be made wheatless by request.
Photo courtesy of Fat Rice
Mon Ami Gabi
This cute French bistro is a great spot for a cozy date night, and those with a gluten intolerance can dine as well as their companions, worry-free. The restaurant takes gluten intolerance very seriously and treats it as they do any life-threatening allergy. The grill remains a completely gluten-free surface, perfect for making dishes like grilled salmon with bursting tomatoes, quinoa and sheep-milk feta. The satisfying, cheese-laden signature French onion soup can also be made with gluten-free bread on top. Even the summer Caesar salad appeals to those with gluten restrictions, with a warm crouton made of chickpea flour.
Photo courtesy of Mon Ami Gabi
South Water Kitchen
It’s often hard to find a gluten-free option right downtown, but South Water Kitchen is actually GREAT certified, meaning it follows strict protocols on handling gluten-free food. Though the protocols are strict, the food is delicious. Try apple-smoked bacon, chives and mustard-seed “caviar,” or dive into a grown-up grilled cheese stuffed with sliced pear, Brie cheese and blueberry jam on gluten-free bread, served with kettle chips. The servers use separate screens to enter orders and are constantly trained on new gluten-free menu items and processes.
Photo courtesy of South Water Kitchen
Summer House Santa Monica
Walk into Summer House and you’ll be transported to a place of warmth even on the snowiest of days. It’s hard to make it past the bakery counter up front, full of handmade desserts including at least one gigantic gluten-free cookie at all times. The restaurant itself — which uses separate fryers and separate prep areas (keeping things like bread crumbs away from produce) — has a large offering of gluten-free options. Any sandwich or burger can be served on gluten-free bread, and the kitchen even prepares gluten-free pancakes at brunch. Each dish is reviewed by a manager and chef to make sure that everything that leaves the kitchen is safe.
Photo courtesy of Summer House Santa Monica
This Ravenswood bakery started as a full-service bakery, but the staff soon noticed that the gluten-free items were bringing far more people in the door. Now the bakery is entirely gluten-free, serving treats like giant cookie pizzas with endless topping choices (think fruit, candy, nuts) as well as doughnuts, cookies and cakes. Their fudgy Salted Caramel Nutella Brownies loop together seemingly every sweet vice in one treat, meaning you’ll never miss the wheat flour. The bakery also tackles special orders through its site.
Photo courtesy of Cookie Bar
Susan McMillan and Amelia Fonti ventured into the gluten-free world by trying to help a gluten-intolerant friend create wheatless versions of traditional Lebanese desserts. Coincidentally, while creating these baked goods, Fonti herself learned that she, too, was gluten-intolerant. The pair dreamt up a fine-dining gluten-free restaurant, Senza, that gained a Michelin star (the only one yet awarded to a gluten-free spot). Senza eventually morphed into the more casual Wheat’s End Cafe, which serves a celiac-friendly weekend brunch along with chewy and soft gluten-free bagels, buttery cheddar-chive biscuits and a full coffee bar. They also make tasty gluten-free baked goods and breads for various hotels and restaurants across the city.
Photo courtesy of Wheat's End
Little Goat Diner
Stephanie Izard’s bustling diner is a great place to stop in morning, noon or night, and servers accommodate a vast array of allergies, including gluten intolerance. The gluten-free menu is reassuringly thorough, noting where there may be trace amounts of gluten. Sandwiches can be served on masa chips, burgers can be plated without a bun, wheat-free tamari can be swapped in for soy sauce, and on any given day, there are a few selections of gluten-free breads or pastries that are available to eat in-house or take away. The gluten-free menu contains dozens of options, including the super-popular Spanish omelet with cheddar, pickled peppers and sour cream and the barbecue-pork sandwich with pulled pork, tangy slaw and spicy mayo served on a bed of masa chips.
Photo courtesy of Little Goat Diner
Dos Urban Cantina
True Mexican food often lends itself well to gluten-free dining: Most dishes use masa (corn) instead of wheat for dough, so tortillas and tamales are safe to eat when done the traditional way. At Dos Urban Cantina in Logan Square, most of the menu works for those with gluten sensitivity, and much of it for those who are completely gluten-free. The kitchen is very cognizant of cross-contamination as well. Gluten-free diners can indulge in beef pibil and sweet-corn tamales, octopus and salmon-belly tartare. For dessert, the pastry chef will whip up a special off-menu pineapple with piloncillo syrup and shaved horchata ice.
Photo courtesy of Dos Urban Cantina
LYFE Kitchen, the fast-casual concept from Art Smith (Oprah’s former personal chef) and partners, aims to help diners make healthier dining choices, making accommodations for a variety of diets and tastes. The bright and airy space is an approved gluten-free restaurant, and provides many naturally gluten-free menu items, like the texture-packed Quinoa Crunch Bowl with fresh vegetables, avocado, edamame hummus and quinoa tabbouleh. Any of their flatbreads — with toppings like roasted mushrooms and spinach or barbecued chicken — can also be made gluten-free. The decadent Chocolate Budino with pomegranate, chia seeds and toasted almonds is a sweet way to end the meal.
Photo courtesy of LYFE Kitchen
Doughnuts and gluten-free don’t often go together, but when Francis Brennan and Jeff Mahin opened Do-Rite Donuts, they wanted to make sure they had a delicious option for those who weren’t often able to enjoy bakery-fresh doughnuts. "We wanted to be able to serve everyone, whether they were gluten-free eaters, vegans or just regular doughnut fans,” says Mahin. “One of my favorite things is when a guest tells me that they are having their first doughnut in years, and how happy it makes them. This is why we do what we do." To make sure things are extra-safe, they use a different fryer for the gluten-free varieties, which come in flavors like Valrhona Chocolate Glazed and Meyer Lemon Pistachio.
Photo courtesy of Anjali Pinto
Thrive 360 Eatery
The goal of this quick-serve spot is to provide healthy and flavor-packed choices for all diets, including gluten-free. Jenny’s Asian Noodles with local roasted tofu, fermented Asian pickles, loads of veggies and clear noodles is a great option that also happens to be free of gluten, as is the Kale Caesar with a Greek-yogurt dressing and crispy Parmesan crumbles that taste like croutons. The make-your-own-plate option allows for ultimate customization of proteins and sides, most of which are gluten-free.
Photo courtesy of Thrive 360 Eatery
Even though head baker Johanna Van Dorf isn’t gluten-intolerant herself, she took on the challenge of making decadent home-style desserts for everyone. Her products popped up in grocery stores across the city and gained enough popularity for her to open her own 100-percent-gluten-free facility in Andersonville. The bakery serves delicious goodies like moist carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, light-as-air angel food cake and red velvet whoopie pies. Sweet-and-savory lovers will appreciate the oversize, over-the-top Bomber Bars. They’re stuffed with peanuts, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Heath bars and potato chips, all on top of a gluten-free graham cracker base.
Photo courtesy of Defloured
Fast food doesn’t often equal healthy food, but this quick-serve spot wants to change that with an entirely non-GMO and gluten-free menu. The menu is a choose-your-own adventure, starting with a gluten-free wrap, panini or salad and corresponding ingredients of your choosing. Mix it up with fun sides like an extra-crunchy gluten-free tempura-battered green beans or black-bean hummus with vegetable sticks. You’d be remiss to bypass the gelato-stuffed cupcakes (yes, still GF) in combinations of chocolate-banana, blueberry-cheesecake and chocolate-raspberry.
Photo courtesy of Green Bean
This Frank Sinatra-inspired 1940s-style steakhouse, with a few locations across Chicagoland, takes its gluten-free commitment very seriously: They occasionally even host events with the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center. The steak and fish dishes are gluten-free, but the menu available to diners goes well beyond simple proteins, including burgers and sandwiches served on homemade Domata Living Flour (gluten- and dairy-free) buns, and even gluten-free pizza and pasta. According to Executive Chef and Partner Joe Decker, the staff take very seriously the handling of foods and the risk of cross-contamination. Ingredients and cooking implements for gluten-free dishes are kept separate, and gluten-free pizzas are cooked on foil in their wood-burning oven to avoid cross-contamination. The order ticket is even highlighted in bright pink with special instructions so both the chef and the server can take extra care.
Photo courtesy of Wildfire
Cassava, a tropical tuberous plant often found in South America, has gained popularity in North America, because cassava-root starch makes a nice unprocessed flour-like substance that is naturally gluten-free and also friendly to diets like paleo. The folks at Cassava restaurant use the namesake starch in everything they do, from empanadas stuffed with grass-fed beef and cheddar cheese to the popular Pão de Queijo, or cassava rolls, which come in tasty varieties like jalapeno-cheddar and chocolate. They also serve a special hot chocolate made with Belgian chocolate, and a kicked-up version with cinnamon, cayenne pepper and chile powder. The cafe’s owners take its gluten-free mission so seriously that they periodically send their flour to the University of Nebraska’s food-allergy research lab to make sure that it’s up to top allergy standards.
Photo courtesy of Cassava