Each type of cuisine has its own potential pitfalls when it comes to dining out gluten free. That's why I've decided to start this new series of posts on dining gluten free at different types of ethnic restaurants.
Almost every restaurant these days offers some sort of globally-influenced options on the menu -- even "All American" grills, sports bars, and steakhouses have a range of more sophisticated options. Knowing what questions to ask about certain types of food can help keep you from suffering the consequences of getting "glutened."
For my first post, I wanted to cover Mexican food, since it can be one of the safer choices, from a gluten free perspective, when dining out. Most of the ingredients used in Mexican cooking are naturally gluten free, but there are a few potential pitfalls. Here's what to look for and to talk to the chef or manager about (notice I didn't say server...always ask to speak directly with someone who knows exactly how all the food is prepared):
- Request corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas. This should open up options that might not otherwise be available to you (like fajitas, which are typically served with flour tortillas). Verify the corn tortillas are gluten free...don't assume anything.
- Ask if the corn chips are fried in a dedicated fryer. The chips themselves may not contain gluten, but if they're fried in a shared fryer with any other gluten-battered food, they should not be advertised as gluten free. Ditto for the hard taco shells, made from corn...they must be fried in a dedicated fryer to be safe for consumption.
- Be sure to inquire if any of the meat you're ordering -- like with fajitas -- is marinated in anything. Find out exactly what ingredients are in the marinade. Same goes for the sauce used with taco meat and any sauce used to top off enchiladas.
- Beware of the rice. It can sometimes be made with chicken stock that's not gluten free or other flavorings that are suspect.
- Ask about everthing else. Cheese dips and even sour cream can occasionally contain flour or other gluten-containing ingredient as a thickener. Some restaurants buy pre-shredded cheese that is floured for preservation and to keep it from sticking.
- Talk to the chef or manager about their kitchen practices and if they use any shared cooking surfaces which may have been used to prepare meals containing gluten. For example, if you order a quesadilla and request that it be made with corn tortillas, rather than flour tortillas, just make sure they grill it on a clean surface.
Please share your favorite gluten-free friendly Mexican restaurants by posting a quick comment below...and stay tuned for my next installment: Dining Gluten Free at Italian Restaurants.