The eating season has begun: Time to pull on the elastic waist pants (kidding, no one in Los Angeles would be caught dead in those) and jump in with wild abandon. Unless, of course, you have dietary restrictions. If you’re gluten free–either by choice or medical necessity–you may be used to declining invitations for a fancy night out in fear that you’ll starve.
But don’t fret, gluten-free Angelenos! In recent years many chefs have been tweaking their menus to make accommodations for guests with dietary restrictions, in some cases offering entire gluten free menus.* And we're not just talking about steakhouses. In fact, we even found a few places with gluten free children's menus so you don't have to leave the kids at home (although, let's be honest, you may want to).
If you're looking for a place to celebrate the holidays, a birthday or a special night out, most of these restaurants will go the extra mile to make it memorable. Here are the 10 best bets for fine dining around the southland.
*Those with severe allergies or Celiac Disease should always call ahead and speak with a manager. While the staff at the restaurants listed here seemed savvy about the gluten free diet, there is always the possibility of cross contamination.
Brainchild of Chef Tal Ronen, Crossroads has taken a strong lead in the world of fine dining for those on restricted diets. In addition to offering an extensive amount of small plates that are gluten free, the entire menu is vegan (they prefer to say "plant based"). It's also delicious. If you thought vegan was just for hippies, think again. The interior is polished and elegant and the clientele upscale. Noteworthy guests have ranged from Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah to Bill Clinton. You may get lucky enough to sit beneath one of the gasp-worthy photographs of rock and roll photographer Jim Marshall. (323 782-9245)
The Melting Pot
The Melting Pot, which jumped on the gluten free bandwagon many years ago, offers diners a variety of safe options. In addition to naturally gluten free dishes, like salads and meat, their cheese and chocolate fondues can be made gluten free and are served with a variety of dipping items, including gluten free breads and brownies (in most locations). Most guests opt for the four-course menu: cheese fondue followed by a salad course, an entrée and the pièce de résistance: decadent milk, dark or white chocolate fondue. Locations in Pasadena and Torrance and other areas throughout Southern California. (626 792-1941)
True Food Kitchen
The menu of this Santa Monica favorite is based on Dr. Andrew Weil's anti-inflammatory diet, but don't think that means it's anything less than delicious. While the atmosphere here leans more toward casual--this is Santa Monica after all--it's still a great choice for a celebratory dinner. The menu offers unique spins on the latest food trends (think kale) and comfort foods, like gluten free lasagna and a kid's almond butter and banana sandwich. Other noteworthy options include the "inside out" quinoa burger (burger on the outside, toppings on the inside), roasted chicken tandoori, street tacos and Panang curry. The gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options are clearly marked on the menu. Locations in Santa Monica, Newport Beach and opening soon in Manhattan Beach. (310 593-8300)
Fogo de Chao
You don't have to be a meat lover to enjoy this Brazilian favorite but it helps. In addition to an expansive salad bar that includes gluten free salami, prosciutto, cheese and veggies, guests also receive crispy polenta sticks, mashed potatoes, carmelized plantains and pão de queijo--the soft, cheesy rolls made with tapioca flour. Yes, they are all gluten free. All of their meats, with the exception of the chicken legs (which contain gluten) and a few salads and breads, are safe... and delicious. Make sure you call ahead to speak with a manager and let the servers know upon arrival and they'll walk you through what's gluten free and what's not. (310 289-7755)
Water Grill Santa Monica
Seafood is always a safe gluten free bet and no one does it better than the well-regarded Water Grill. If you ignore the few flour-dredged seafood, sides and desserts, nearly everything else on the menu is (or can be) gluten free. Lobster lovers should visit during the winter months when grilled, meaty California Spiny Lobster --also known as rock lobster--hits the menu. The crudo from the daily changing raw bar is fresh and served with a selection of dips and sauces that make each bite sing. Locations in downtown L.A. and Santa Monica. (310-394-5669)
The Peninsula Hotel Afternoon Tea
High tea is no longer off limits to those who are gluten free thanks to The Peninsula Beverly Hills. With advance notice, their culinary team will prepare an entirely gluten free afternoon tea served in The Living Room. The spread includes strawberries and cream, finger sandwiches and sweets--and tea, naturally. (Champagne upon request.) While many restaurants charge extra for gluten free items, here the price remains the same. And it's not high tea without scones. In this case, gluten free and vegan scones served hot out of the oven with or without black currents, clotted cream and lemon curd. (310-975-2736)
Mastro's Steak House
It can generally be assumed that most steakhouses can accommodate gluten free requests fairly easily. But Mastro's has taken it to the next level. A gluten free menu is presented in a traditional leather bound cover and includes not only an extensive selection of appetizers, entrees and desserts, but also gluten free cocktails. Although Mastro's signature steak rub contains gluten, the chef can omit it and season the meat to your preference. Must haves: the signature bone-in filet and decadent lobster mashed potatoes. Save room for chocolate pudding cake with a mountain of freshly whipped cream. (310-888-8782)
Bouchon - Beverly Hills
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Bouchon, Thomas Keller's Beverly Hills outpost, offers a handful of amazing gluten free options. Keller and Lena Kwak are the brains behind Cup 4 Cup gluten free flour, which is used to make Keller's famous Ad Hoc buttermilk fried chicken every first and third Monday of the month. To ensure safety, call ahead and let them know you're gluten free. They'll even cook it in a separate fryer. Homemade gluten free crackers studded with fruits, nuts and seeds are delish and served with every cheese plate. And don't leave without a few French macarons--either in your belly or in a box to go. (310-271-9910)
Sushi Roku Santa Monica
Plenty of sushi and sashimi are naturally gluten free, but not a lot of sushi restaurants have tweaked their specialty items to accommodate gluten free diners. Consistently recognized as one of the best spots for sushi and Asian cuisine around SoCal, Sushi Roku has done just that and now offers a gluten free menu upon request. It includes their outrageously tasty yellowtail sashimi with diced chilies, tuna carpaccio with gluten free sesame soy and garlic chips, and a meat-eaters dream: filet mignon-wrapped asparagus. Locations in Pasadena and Santa Monica. (310-458-4771)
Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air
Tucked in the winding roads of Bel-Air, the signature restaurant at this posh hotel is named for Wolfgang Puck who took over the food and beverage operations for the entire property after an extensive renovation in 2011. The indoor/outdoor space is stunning, romantic, and discreet. The prices are not for the faint of heart but if you can swing it, it's an ideal and memorable place for a special celebration. A vegan, gluten free menu is available all the time but there are also a number of items on the main menu that are or can be made gluten free. If you call ahead, they'll ensure there are a variety of choices, including gluten free bread, a gluten free kids menu (ours included six different options), and their decadent chocolate soufflé with earl grey ice cream. (310-472-5234, 800-648-4097)
About Wendy O'Dea
Born and raised in western New York, Wendy O’Dea moved to Los Angeles to attend the USC School of Journalism and stayed for the innovative and creative lifestyle the city offers. Other than traffic and the drought, there’s not much about California she doesn’t love.
A foodie with wanderlust, Wendy didn’t let her daughter’s diagnosis of Celiac Disease clip her wings but set out to become an expert on gluten free dining and travel. She passed the travel bug on to her daughter who, at age seven, was incensed that she hadn’t yet been to Europe. They live in Santa Monica.
Read more about Wendy O'Dea here.
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