Golden Gate and Gluten-Free: San Francisco's 10 Best Gluten-Free Restaurants
By Tom Molanphy
San Francisco Local Expert
What's the deal with gluten? For a myriad of reasons, some hard to pin down, this simple protein is getting a bad rap for being the meanest bully on the food block. Gluten-free diets are all the craze: celebrities from Miley Cyrus to Al Roker are forsaking the protein, and there's even a Gluten Free Expo in Sandy, Utah that drew thousands and thousands of eager devotees.
But for those who have the rare disease called celiac, the choice to go gluten-free has nothing to do with fads, celebrities, or expos. Since their bodies can't tolerate gluten, which is a protein found in rye, wheat and barley, they have to avoid it all costs. And since gluten can be found in almost all baked goods (and most beers..!), locating that expertly made gluten-free chocolate cake to accompany your after-dinner coffee becomes a must.
But since gluten is almost always accompanied by other necessary proteins and vitamins, such as zinc, B12, iron, phosphorous and calcium, those who don't really need to be gluten-free should talk to their doctor. Or approach your "gluten-free" diet the same as you would a vacation: it's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.
Pacific Catch San Francisco - Marina
Specializing in fish, Pacific Catch combines innovative cooking styles from Asia, Latin America and Hawaii with fresh, local ingredients to create a California-style cuisine all its own. Patron favorites include the raved-about island fish tacos (also available with chicken or steak), as well as the pan-Asian rice bowls. The signature sweet potato fries are a must-have accompaniment to any of the seafood baskets, which feature Thai coconut shrimp, crispy oysters or a mixed catch. The staff is very responsive to your specific order, including gluten-free options. Locations in the South Bay, North Bay and two in San Francisco - including one right next to Golden Gate Park. (415-440-1950)
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen
If you still have savory dreams from childhood of two slices of perfectly buttered toast squeezing out melted cheddar cheese, this restuarant is for you. And, even though the recipe is simple, they take their one product very seriously, with "Commander in Cheese" Heidi Gibson dreaming up delectable sandwiches such as "The Mousetrap," which has an unforgettable mix of Tillamook Cheddar, havarti and Monterrey jack. And since grilled cheese should go hand-in-hand with tomato soup, be sure to order a to-go cup of their house-made Smoky Tomato Soup. If you think you know grilled cheese sandwiches, swing by The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen and get an education about this simple American masterpiece. (415-243-0107)
High ceilings and awesome Bay views establish a unique atmosphere at this well-received waterfront venue. Style and spectacle are grounded, though, by Slanted Door's authentic country Vietnamese dishes, which get a California kick from local ingredients. Taste the results in the catfish claypot, crispy peppercorn duck, shaking beef, spicy squid and mesquite-grilled pork chops. Spring rolls also come highly recommended, and great cocktails and scrumptious desserts are worth indulging in. And with a world-famous chef/owner like Charles Phan in charge (author of the fantastic cook book "Vietnamese Home Cooking"), you'll get quite a crowd. And don't forget to keep an eye out for celebrities! (415-861-8032)
If you're on a late night bender in the Mission, and perhaps the last few Anchor Steams have you at your gluten limit, then head to Grub on Valencia Street for an impressive selection of gluten-free fare. Gluten-free doesn't mean taste-free, though. Grub is aptly named; some selections are fancy, such as the Chorizo with Lentil that comes with stuffed Monterey calamari and prawns in a tomato-fennel sauce. But most menu items fall into the solid comfort food category, such as their outstanding Mac and Cheese Bar, where you can pile everything from Chipotle bbq pork to Black Forest ham onto your big pile of macaroni - made gluten-free, upon request. (4154314782)
DOSA on Valencia
Dosa provides some of the finest authentic Indian Cuisine in San Francisco. The restaurant derives its name from its specialty dish, the dosa, which is similar to a crepe, it is made from rice & lentils (no wheat) and served with a variety of fillings. The excellent Indian cuisine is mixed with a casual yet refined atmosphere, making Dosa the perfect venue for a night out with a little bit of international flair. And DOSA was popular even before the recent surge of new restaurants opening up and down all of Valencia Street, so they're more tried and true than some of the more recent arrivals. (4156423672)
If you want to immerse yourself in California conscience cuisine, head to Source. Although they don't quite go as far as offering the complete ancestry of your meal (ala Portlandia), they do just about everything but that. From "vegan and vegetarian cuisine that supports love" to an "elixir bar that includes fresh-pressed herbal infusions that provide a choice of calmness, balance, euphoria and energy," this place will have you weaving flowers in your hair before you even touch your entree. Kidding aside, the food is unique and extraordinary, including fantastic brick oven pizza and delectable dosadillas: wraps served with cashews, cilantro, and jalape�o chutney. ((415) 864-9000)
One of three locations, the Valencia Street restaurant in the Mission District is where the magic that is Pica Pica first happened in 2010. Fitting in perfectly with its surroundings full of Latin flair, this Maize Kitchen is open for lunch, dinner and dessert. Most popular on the menu is the arepa (pocket composed of grilled corn and stuffed with vegetables, plantains, beans, cheese or meats. . .your choice). Also sample the ceviche or yuca fries as a starter. Don't leave without having a glass of sangria and a taste of dessert (yuca beignets or coconut quesillo). Bringing pure food, fantastic flavors and environmental awareness, all take-out containers are completely biodegradable. (415-400-5453)
The Plant - Cafe Organic
When a big popular tend like gluten-free comes along, it's definitely important to distinguish the posers from the true believers. If you want to eat where they take gluten - or the lack of it - very seriously, head to one of the Plant's six locations, including three in San Francisco. All of the food served at Plant is organic and locally sourced from some of the best farms in the Bay Area, including Wineforest Wild Foods in Napa Valley, County Line Harvest in Marin and Devoto Gardens in Sebastopol. If you still have room after your heaping plate of organic and gluten-free food, try the signature Plant menu item: the Cleanse, a raw, organic vegetable or fruit juice that will completely detoxify your system. (4159841973)
Millennium Restaurant is dedicated to supporting the essential earthly concepts of organic food production, small farms, sustainable agriculture, recycling and composting. The restaurant cooks with fresh produce delivered every day, and chooses all natural organic products whenever possible. With a belief that gourmet dining experience can be created out of vegetarian, healthy, and environmentally friendly foods, Millennium is proud to state that their restaurant is completely free of genetically modified foods. Being "gluten-free" is just one part of the extremely thoughtful food selection and preparation that goes on at Millennium. If you're as concerned with where your food comes from as what it tastes like, be sure to visit Millenium. ((415) 345-3900)
What do you get when you mix Yemenese, French and California cuisines? An unexpected and unforgettable dining experience for the adventurous traveler. Owned and run by husband and wife team Mohamed and Marmee Aboghanem, diners take a tasting tour of the world without leaving their seats. From the popular Saha sampler to the Beef Kibbeh, these dishes are a collection gathered by the head chef's diverse travels around the globe. And the menu clearly marks which dishes are gluten-free, as well as those that can be prepared as gluten-free upon request. Almost half the entire menu is vegetarian, so this a very food-conscious restaurant. (4153459547)
About Tom Molanphy
The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom. Tom has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 2000. He teaches writing, journalism and literature at the Academy of Art University in downtown San Francisco. His latest book, Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life, is available through Outpost19.
Read more about Tom Molanphy here.