Gluten-Free Fast Food: What Are Your Options?

Most of these fast food and fast casual restaurants offer something gluten-free

The growing popularity of the gluten-free diet means even fast food restaurant chains—which tend to have pretty gluten-filled menus—are jumping on the bandwagon, providing more options for those of us with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Just be careful: the risk of cross-contamination in fast food restaurants, even those with gluten-free menus, is extremely high, and it's unlikely the people behind the counter or in the kitchen have been trained in avoiding it. Keep your order simple and your instructions explicit for the best results.

Here's an alphabetical rundown of common fast food restaurant chains and their gluten-free menu options.

1
Arby's

Arby's, owned by the same company as Wendy's, features a fairly comprehensive gluten-free menu for a fast food restaurant.

If you're gluten-free, it's possible to dine at Arby's on most of the meats (without a bun, of course) and on the Farmhouse salad with roast turkey. The chocolate, jamocha swirl, and vanilla shakes also are listed as gluten-free.

However, unlike Wendy's and Chick Fil A (and like most other fast food restaurants), Arby's prepares its fries in the same oil as it cooks gluten foods, so Arby's fries and potato cakes are not safe. You'll also need to work with the person behind the counter to avoid gluten cross-contamination.

2
Bonefish Grill

If you like fresh seafood and you're looking for a more upscale restaurant (more fast casual than fast food), you'll be thrilled with the gluten-free menu at Bonefish Grill—almost all the seafood dishes are naturally gluten-free. The upscale chain, which is owned by the parent company of Outback Steakhouse and Carraba's, has locations in nearly 30 states.

It's possible to start with one of two or three appetizers or a salad, and then choose a seafood dish (topped with one of several sauces) or a steak or chicken entree.

Some possible gluten-free choices include:

  • Edamame and Mussels Josephine appetizers
  • Bonefish House Salad or Classic Caesar Salad (request no croutons)
  • Choice of grilled fish with a gluten-free sauce (mango salsa or lemon butter)
  • Lily's Chicken or Filet Minion

Dessert also offers a choice: two of the three desserts on the menu are gluten-free. I normally choose the Crème Brûlée, but you also can order the flourless macadamia nut brownie with raspberry sauce.

3
Boston Market

Gluten-free guests at Boston Market can order a comparably wide selection of entrees and sides from the chain's gluten-free list. And, you can have gravy, since it's also gluten-free.

Gluten-free options include:

  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Roasted turkey breast
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Mediterranean salad
  • Southwest Sante Fe salad
  • Holiday ham
  • Holiday turkey

Check out the Food Allergy Search section on Boston Market's website, which allows you to list only the gluten-free menu options. Sadly, there are no gluten-free desserts.

4
Burger King

Burger King unveiled its new gluten-sensitive list several years ago as part of its "BK Positive Steps" campaign to provide more nutrition information on its menu items. It also changed the recipe for its french fries to make them gluten-free, although the chain notes they may be fried with gluten-containing items, which is a deal-killer for us.

The Burger King gluten-free list includes both menu items and ingredients in menu items, and it can be difficult to decipher what on the menu actually will turn out gluten-free — for example, it states that "salad mix" and "lettuce" are gluten-free, but doesn't say whether a prepared salad would be safe. However, the Garden Fresh Salad with Apple and Cranberry and Tendergrill chicken is listed as gluten-free.

Still, the list might provide some options (especially if you're starving) if it was coupled by an understanding Burger King staffer. For example, it might be possible to get a bunless hamburger there with the gluten-free fries (just confirm that the individual location does not use a shared fryer).

5
Carrabba's Italian Grill

 You might not think of Italian food as being particularly gluten-free friendly, but Carrabba's Italian Grill—owned by the same company as Bonefish Grill and Outback Steakhouse, with locations in 33 states—provides lots of great gluten-free options.

Start your meal with one of the two gluten-free appetizers, chicken soup (request no pasta be added) and/or a salad (ask your server to skip the croutons and to fix it in a clean bowl).

Numerous entrees are gluten-free; however, if you choose a grilled item, request it without the grill baste, and be aware that it will be cooked on the same grill as gluten-containing items. If you're very sensitive, you might be better off with an entree not cooked on the grill, so ask your server.

6
Cheeseburger in Paradise

Cheeseburger in Paradise isn't technically fast food (it would fall into the "casual dining" category), but it makes our list because of its excellent gluten-free menu.

At this iconic restaurant owned by singer Jimmy Buffett, you can order a cheeseburger on a gluten-free bun with a side of gluten-free fries. The restaurant, which has locations in 16 states (including, of course, Florida), works with the Gluten Intolerance Group to develop GF menu items and prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen.

If you're not in the mood for a cheeseburger (or a hamburger), you can order one of many entree-sized salads, or potentially choose between ribs, salmon and chicken entrees.

For dessert, there's only ice cream, but you can consider a variety of non-alcoholic beverages, including a root beer float. There are also a few GF kids' menu items, including French fries.

7
Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A provides the best gluten-free list of any fast food restaurant — the six-page document lists a huge variety of menu options and provides the ingredients for each one, so people with additional food allergies or intolerances can determine what's safe for them to eat.

Chick-fil-A gluten-free options include:

  • Breakfast hashbrowns (cooked in a dedicated gluten-free fryer)
  • Grilled chicken nuggets
  • Grilled Market salad
  • Spicy Southwest salad
  • Waffle fries (cooked in a dedicated gluten-free fryer)
  • Fruit cup
  • Frosted lemonade

It's possible to enjoy several different meal-sized salads (with chicken or without), a couple of different breakfast items, and Chick-fil-A's waffle fries, which are cooked in separate fryers (be sure to check with your individual restaurant to be sure about the fryer status).

In addition, the fast food chain offers grilled gluten-free chicken nuggets and blended fruit applesauce on its kids' menu. Chick-fil-A's yogurt parfait and Ice Dream dessert cup are listed as gluten-free. Many people report good gluten-free experiences at Chick-fil-A.

8
Chili's Bar and Grill

Chili's Grill & Bar Restaurant, which has locations throughout the U.S. and in 34 other countries, has a fairly extensive gluten-free menu, with some caveats.This is another restaurant that fits more into the "casual dining" category than the fast food category.

Gluten-free options at Chili's include:

  • Loaded baked potato soup
  • Caribbean salad with either chicken or shrimp
  • Craft burgers without buns
  • Fajitas with corn tortillas
  • Baby back ribs with some sauces
  • Ancho salmon

Chili's notes that its gluten-free menu is based on information from food suppliers, and says it can't guarantee the absence of allergens in the food, in part because of the possibility of gluten cross-contamination in the kitchen.

9
Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill, which spans the gap between a fast food restaurant chain and a casual dine-in restaurant, offers a huge variety of options for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. In fact, everything on Chipotle's menu except for the flour tortillas is listed as gluten-free on the company's allergens list.

Of course, the flour tortillas could prove a problem if you're particularly sensitive to trace gluten, since workers routinely touch them and then reach into the containers of tortilla fillers.

In addition, those who react to distilled vinegar should avoid the red tomatillo salsa (see more on this: Is Vinegar Gluten-Free?). Also, Chipotle's notes that anything with corn might have been contaminated by other grains before ever getting to the restaurant (they've obviously done their homework!).

Otherwise, if you're lucky enough to have a Chipotle's nearby, enjoy. Just make sure to ask the people making your food to change their gloves first.

10
In-N-Out Burger

Devotees of In-N-Out Burger (and there are quite a few in the gluten-free community) order their burgers "protein-style," or wrapped in lettuce instead of in a bun.

This is such a popular item (both for the gluten-free and for Atkins devotees) that the fast food restaurant chain has it listed on its secret menu. In addition, the In-N-Out fries should be gluten-free and therefore safe (but never forget to ask).

11
KFC

There's basically nothing safe to eat that's gluten-free at KFC (with the exception of one or two salads), and the chain has made little effort to accommodate us. Honestly, there are much better choices.

12
McDonald's

McDonald's doesn't maintain a gluten-free menu, stating instead that since ingredients and suppliers change frequently, people with concerns should check back at the company's website. There, you can find wheat (but not barley and rye) declared in their various ingredients lists.

There's a tremendous debate in the gluten-free community about whether McDonald's fries are gluten-free. The oil they're fried in contains wheat derivatives, but McDonald's maintains the fries themselves contain no gluten detectable by tests that go down to 3 parts per million. Many people who are especially sensitive avoid McDonald's fries, especially since there are better options available.

13
Old Spaghetti Factory

 At the Old Spaghetti Factory, which has multiple locations in 13 states, you don't need to forgo spaghetti and other pasta—the fast-casual restaurants serve gluten-free pasta off their "gluten friendly" menus.

As long as you request gluten-free pasta, you can enjoy any of Old Spaghetti Factory's pasta sauces, including marinara, rich meat, clam, sauteed mushroom, Mizithra cheese and browned butter, and Alfredo sauce. You also can consider ordering baked chicken marinated in garlic and lemon juice. Several of the sides, including the Sicilian-style Italian sausage, also are gluten-free.

There's also a children's menu, mainly with child-sized portions of gluten-free pasta. Dessert (if you still have room) is limited to vanilla ice cream or spumoni.

14
Outback Steakhouse

 Outback Steakhouse, with hundreds of locations throughout the U.S., represents a real go-to fast casual restaurant for the gluten-free crowd, especially while traveling.

Outback features an extensive gluten-free menu, filled with steaks, seafood, salads, sides and an excellent gluten-free dessert, the flourless Chocolate Thunder from Down Under brownie. There's also a gluten-free kids' menu, with smaller portions and a gluten-free sundae for dessert.

Gluten-free options at Outback include:

  • Aussie Cobb salad
  • Brisbane Caesar salad (no croutons)
  • Ribeye steak
  • Victoria's filet mignon
  • Perfectly grilled salmon
  • Alice Springs chicken
  • Baby back ribs
  • Grilled Chicken on the Barbie
  • Loaded mashed potatoes
  • Chocolate Thunder from Down Under

Although attention to the problem of cross-contamination can vary from location to location, for the most part Outback's staff is well-trained. Definitely talk to a manager before ordering, however, since most locations are busy at peak times, which means problems involving cross-contamination can occur.

15
P.F. Chang's China Bistro

 P.F. Chang's is another favorite fast casual go-to restaurant for those who eat gluten-free, and many gluten-free diners have had good success ordering off the chain's dedicated gluten-free menu.

The choices include a wide variety of appetizers, gluten-free egg drop soup, a noodle dish, plenty of entree options and even vegetarian options. You even can order a great dessert, P.F. Chang's excellent GF flourless chocolate dome.

Gluten-free options at P.F. Chang's include:

  • Chang's chicken lettuce wraps
  • Egg drop soup
  • Fried rice
  • Spicy chicken
  • Mongolian beef
  • Shrimp with lobster sauce
  • Pad Thai
  • Berries and cream shortcake
  • Flourless chocolate dome

All of P.F. Chang's gluten-free dishes are served on a special plate with the chain's logo so that you know you're getting a safe meal. The restaurant uses gluten-free soy sauce in its GF creations.

16
Shake Shack

 This fast food chain, famous for its (gluten-containing) potato buns, also offers its burgers on gluten-free buns at all locations except for those at stadiums and ballparks.

Several Shake Shack milkshakes also contain no gluten-based ingredients, including basic flavors like vanilla and chocolate, and more exotic flavors like cinnamon dulce de leche and caramelized peach. You'll need to check with the staff to see if they can mix your shake using clean equipment.

Steer clear of the fries, as they are cooked in oil that's shared with gluten-containing food items.

17
Sonic Drive-In

If you like burgers without a bun, you can order one at Sonic Drive In, and the fries and tater tots are gluten-free, too, according to Sonic's allergen table. However, any fried foods (such as those fries and tater tots) may be exposed to gluten-containing items in shared fryers.

Sonic's shakes, which come with a huge variety of toppings, may be a better reason to go to the drive-in fast food restaurant. Many of the potential shake toppings are gluten-free (with the exception of obvious ones, such as Oreos, malt syrup, and pie crumb pieces, and not-so-obvious ones, such as Salted Caramel). Make sure before ordering a shake that you ask the worker to make it in an absolutely clean mixer.

18
Taco Bell

In a nod to the popularity of Chipotle, Taco Bell is now offering Cantina Power Bowls, all of which contain rice, meat, beans and vegetables and are marked as gluten-free on the chain's website. 

Hashbrowns also are considered gluten-free (although they may be fried in a shared fryer, so ask and avoid if the answer is yes), as are several sides, including black beans, chips and guacamole, chips and nacho cheese sauce, chips and salsa, nacho cheese Doritos chips, and premium Latin rice. Check out Taco Bell's allergen information here.

19
Uno Chicago Grill

Uno Chicago Grill routinely pleases gluten-free pizza lovers with its gluten-free menu, which includes cheese, pepperoni and veggie gluten-free pizza options. But the chain, with 150 locations in 24 states plus Washington, D.C., also offers a large selection of other gluten-free foods.

When dining at Uno, you can choose from two gluten-free soups, burgers (without the bun) steak, salmon and chicken entrees, many gluten-free sides, several different salads (make certain to tell your server to omit the croutons and bread sticks, and to mix it in a clean bowl), and an ice cream sundae for dessert.

Gluten-free options at Uno include:

  • Beef chili
  • Caesar salad (no croutons)
  • Classic Cobb salad
  • Lemon basil salmon
  • Top sirloin steak
  • Thin crust pizza (cheese, pepperoni, or veggie)

You also can enjoy Redbridge gluten-free beer at Uno Chicago Grill.

20
Wendy's

Many people with celiac or gluten sensitivity head to Wendy's as their first choice when looking for a gluten-free fast food restaurant. According to Wendy's published gluten-free menu, most or all of the chain's trademark baked potatoes contain no gluten ingredients, and Wendy's chili, chocolate and vanilla Frostys are on the list as well.

At Wendy's, you can eat the salads without croutons (assuming they're not pre-prepared with croutons—never, ever pick croutons off a salad!), and most of the salad dressings are listed as safe. You also can order a hamburger or cheeseburger without the bun. When ordering, though, be certain the people behind the counter know to change their gloves and to avoid cross-contact with any gluten-containing items.

In some Wendy's locations, you may be able to eat the French fries — you'll need to check to see if they're fried in the same oil as gluten-containing items.

A Word From Verywell

As you can see, there are plenty of gluten-free options out there, even if you're just stopping off for a quick snack right off the highway. Just make sure to follow the rules for ordering gluten-free, even if the restaurant you've chosen is one with a gluten-free menu. You can never be too careful when it comes to the gluten-free diet. 

Source:

Celiac Disease Foundation. What Should I Eat? Fact Sheet.

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