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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Which Fast Food Outlets Offer the Best Gluten-Free Options?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      You’ll likely want to get beyond McDonald’s and Burger King to find the best reliable gluten-free fast food options. These are the most reliable gluten-free and gluten safe fast-food options we kn


    Caption: Image: CC--Mike Mozart

    Celiac.com 02/04/2019 - With the rise in popularity of the gluten-free diet, and with more people being diagnosed with Celiac disease, more restaurants are offering gluten-free alternatives. While this is a great advancement, it’s important to note that not all gluten-free restaurant choices are created equal. Even if food is labelled “gluten-free,” the risk of cross-contamination could still be high, especially given the speed with which food is prepared.

    We see a lot of questions about gluten-free and gluten-safe fast food. One especially prominent question was “Is Burger King gluten-free?” The answer to that is that there is almost nothing gluten-free or gluten-safe at Burger King.

    There are far better options than Burger King in the otherwise bleak gluten-free landscape of American fast food. In fact, if you want reliable gluten-free and gluten-safe options, you’ll probably want to get beyond Burger King and McDonald’s.

    After a bit of research, these are the best, most reliable fast-food chains with gluten-free options we know about:

    Chipotle

    As long as you skip the four tortillas, Chipotle is a solid gluten-free choice. Chipotle’s burrito bowl allows you to choose from rice, meat, beans, and numerous gluten-free fixings. The tortilla chips salsa and guacamole are gluten-free. With numerous locations nationwide, Chipotle is a solid option for gluten-free diners looking for safe, reliable gluten-free fast food.

    Panera Bread

    You might not think it to look at the name, but Panera Bread offers a number of “gluten-friendly” options, mainly soups and salads, as long as you skip the croutons and the bread. Note that they changed their offerings from “gluten-free” to “gluten-friendly” due to the risk of cross-contamination, and their Web site indicates that their offering are not safe for celiacs. 

    Panera’s gluten-friendly options include delicious options like the Greek Salad, Fuji Apple Salad, Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa, Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken, Baked Potato Soup, Black Bean Soup, Greek Yogurt with Mixed Berries, and many of their steel cut oatmeal dishes.

    For desert, Panera offers gluten-friendly triple chocolate cookie with walnuts and a coconut macaroon. If you decide to eat there make sure you’re very clear while placing your order that you need your meal to be gluten-free.

    Wendy’s

    Wendy’s burgers are gluten-free when made without the bun, and you can also get several of their salads without the chicken or the croutons. Wendy’s famous chili and their baked potatoes and toppings are also a safe bet. The Frosty is gluten-free, too. 

    Wendy’s has more and better gluten-free options than most major burger chains, and information about cross-contamination on their website shows that they understand gluten-free cooking.

    In’N’Out Burger

    In’N’Out is a family run California burger chain with a die-hard fan base. In’N’Out offers burgers, fries, shakes and drinks. That’s it. They make their fries fresh from scratch and will make any burger “Protein-style,” that’s lettuce-wrapped without a bun. As burger chains go, In’N’Out is a reliable stop for many gluten-free Californians. Basically, their buns are the only gluten in the joint. Their open kitchen allows you to watch as they prepare your order.

    Five Guys

    Like In’N’Out, Five Guys is likely a bit safer than other burger chains, simply because it uses very few products that contain gluten. There are no breaded items it Five Guys, and Five Guys’ burgers, fries, and hot dogs, and nearly all toppings, are gluten-free, just make sure you skip the bun, the malt vinegar, and the fry sauce. Five Guys milkshakes are gluten-free, too, just watch out for the Oreo cookie pieces, the malted milk, and cherry milkshake mix-ins.

    Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

    The only gluten-free options at Popeyes are side dishes. But, their gluten-free side options are not bad, and include their Cajun rice, red beans and rice, coleslaw, and corn on the cob.

    Subway

    Subway tested gluten-free buns and toyed with rolling out guaranteed gluten-free offerings, but then pulled back. Subway still offers gluten-free rolls at branches in Oregon and Washington state. Subway does offer salad version of many of their classic subs, like the spicy Italian Salad.

    Chili's

    Chili's isn’t a fast food chain, but a casual dining restaurant with popular take-out options. Chili’s does offer gluten-free patrons an allergen/vegetarian fact sheet and separate gluten-free menu. Chili's bone-in buffalo wings, bottomless tostada chips, and fresh guacamole are all gluten-free. Chili’s does warn diners that cross-contamination is possible, and advises that they consult a manager before ordering.

    Do you have a favorite gluten-free or gluten-safe fast food restaurant that we’ve missed? Share your thoughts below.

    Read more at Thrillist.com, and Thedailynutrition.com


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    On 2/11/2019 at 9:41 AM, Guest Chipotle Issues said:

    I know Chipotle says they are gluten-free.  I have issues if I eat there, and I have those issues at several east cost Chipotle's in NJ, NY and CT. Even though I have them change their gloves and have the same person walk the line with me, I will be ill for 5 days after. Their Corporate people can't explain what it can be. But I get ill every visit. I'd love to know the problem item. Being 5 days it might not be gluten, but nothing I eat has ever caused GI symptoms for 5 days. I avoid them. 

    Chipotle is my favorite place for a gluten free meal. I've never had any problems and I eat there regularly.

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    I live in Canada and Subway has gluten free bread. The one near my house at least is very conscious of cross contamination and will wipe the boards and put on new gloves if you order it. 

     

    I also did research and found out that the poutine at New York Fries is safe (and delicious!)

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    Panera’s manager was so extremely rude to me when I asked about gluten free options - I will never go there again. Even complained to corporate but got a standard so-sorry reply 

    i also get a reaction to chipotle even when I am the first one there at 10:45 when they open 

    I usually have to tell the jimmy johns people what to do (change gloves,put paper down) so far no reaction 

    Sorry I have no other options to add to the list  it’s bleak out there!

     

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    Chick-F-Lay is my go to fast food restaurant because I live in a smaller city without many of the above options. Their staff here is usually aware of gluten free issues, if not, just ask for their manager. They have gluten free request in their computer system which makes it more efficient & they usually go tell kitchen also. Food choices are grilled chicken nuggets, grilled chicken sandwich with gluten free bun (better if they will put in steamer while in the bag), & finally their french fries! 

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    Thanks for the informative article.  From my experience, Five guys gets it (at least at three locations near me).  When I tell them I need gluten free, they always clean the grill (just to avoid any cross contamination); they prepare everything on a clean piece of foil with fresh clean gloves.    It's great that someone takes it seriously.  

    Wendy's was hit and miss.   Most Wendy's near me use similar technique to Five guys, but I can't always see them preparing the food.  I had one experience where the employees didn't get it - they didn't use fresh gloves, clean the grill, or take any steps to avoid cross contamination.  On the other hand, another location near me takes it as seriously as Five guys.   I only wish I could see them prepare the chili to know that they took care to avoid cross contamination.  I love(d) their chilli but don't know if I can trust it.

    My celiac disease is very sensitive, my physicians won't allow me to eat at any restaurant that works with open flour.   Any cross contamination results in severe weight loss.     

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    On 2/11/2019 at 10:09 AM, Guest LAM said:

    While its good to share information that can help people who need to eat gluten-free conveniently get choices that are commonly available, I don't know that this informational is really quite up to step with modern times. There are so many GREAT fast food genuine gluten-free offerings now that we really shouldn't be rewarding companies that have made a poor effort to serve gluten-free needs with free advertising. Sadly the gluten-free community have pretty much all had appalling experiences at almost all of the stores mentioned here. If you ever find yourself asking for a "Protein Style" burger then you are doing yourself a disservice - they can do much better (and should), and you can also go somewhere else and get a burger that doesn't run up your sleeve and take 15mins to order correctly.

    Better try Smash Burger - this is the undisputed champion of the irresistible gluten-free burger, coming in a variety of styles served by knowledgeable staff who care about gluten-free. If you can't find a Smash Burger, then both Chick Fil a and Shake Shack provide good options.

    Please remember that your gluten-free dollar is very valuable these days. There is no need to accommodate under performing menus and accept a poor quality burger without a bun anymore. 

     

    I can't recommend Smash Burger. I've encountered good and bad staff. The worst was the one who was convinced that the potato roll was gluten free. Also, they insist on placing the burger on top of the lettuce even though I tell them to make two stacks, one of veggies one of meat only. Warm, soggy lettuce is icky.  I prefer to make my own stuff at home where I'm sure that it's safe and good.

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    I want to add Chip's Restaurants. They do any of their sandwiches on gluten-free bread, and they are the only restaurant I've been to that has an actual gluten free section on the breakfast menu. French toast and pancakes are very good.

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    Guest celiac in missouri

    Posted

    On 2/11/2019 at 10:41 AM, Guest Chipotle Issues said:

    I know Chipotle says they are gluten-free.  I have issues if I eat there, and I have those issues at several east cost Chipotle's in NJ, NY and CT. Even though I have them change their gloves and have the same person walk the line with me, I will be ill for 5 days after. Their Corporate people can't explain what it can be. But I get ill every visit. I'd love to know the problem item. Being 5 days it might not be gluten, but nothing I eat has ever caused GI symptoms for 5 days. I avoid them. 

    I never eat at Chipotle!  They can change their gloves any time, cross contamination has already occurred.  They handle the burrito bowls then touch every ingredient as they fill an order.  I was sick before I left the table.  It does not matter if the food starts out gluten free, if they rub it with gluten contaminated gloves all day long.

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    Tom + Chee's!  They made me an awesome sandwich (they use Udi's) on their separate grill and I had some tomato soup with it.  The young lady that waited on us gave me all her attention and time to explain how they kept ingredients from contamination, cooking method, etc.  Excellent experience and I only wish they were closer.

    Twisted Kitchen tried, but there was too much cross contamination and not enough attention and process to avoid it.

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    On 2/11/2019 at 11:41 AM, Guest Chipotle Issues said:

    I know Chipotle says they are gluten-free.  I have issues if I eat there, and I have those issues at several east cost Chipotle's in NJ, NY and CT. Even though I have them change their gloves and have the same person walk the line with me, I will be ill for 5 days after. Their Corporate people can't explain what it can be. But I get ill every visit. I'd love to know the problem item. Being 5 days it might not be gluten, but nothing I eat has ever caused GI symptoms for 5 days. I avoid them. 

    It’s the beans. There’s no way to guarantee beans aren’t contaminated some celiac do ok but I get ill is I do beans . Try chipotle without the beans 

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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