You don't want to be a pain when it comes to choosing a good restaurant to try. But you also don't want to be in pain if the eatery you end up at offers zero gluten-free options. One way to avoid the problem altogether is by seeking out establishments that either have gluten-free menus or enough GF options that you won't feel like the odd man out when it comes time to order. And in Washington, D.C., plenty of excellent restaurants fit the bill. If you're craving seafood – which, when broiled, baked or grilled, is often naturally gluten free – head to Legal Sea Foods. Adhering to its motto that "if it's not fresh, it's not Legal," the popular place doesn't just provide a few gluten-free dishes; it boasts an entire gluten-free menu. The same goes for Carmine's, a family-style Italian eatery in Penn Quarter that serves up an expansive gluten- and allergen-free menu to guests with food sensitivities. (Bonus, it even offers gluten-free pasta!) Since many Asian cuisines are naturally light on the gluten, places like Rasika and Izakaya Seki are also great – and delectable – options, as are Jaleo and Oyamel, whose Spanish and Mexican menus, respectively, feature dozens of small plates, many of which are flourless. So don't let gut issues keep you from enjoying a fantastic meal in the nation's capital. There are plenty of local restaurants eager to accommodate you!
Carmine's Restaurant - DC
Part of a small New York City chain, Carmine's in Penn Quarter is a vivid reminder of just why family-style Italian cuisine is so popular. The usual suspects – including Caesar salad, manicotti, lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, cold or hot antipasti, chicken marsala and good old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs – are all available on the expansive menu, but so, too, are less-typical dishes. That means if you're not in the mood for pasta, you can opt for the broiled porterhouse steak, prime rib chops or broiled lobster instead. And if you've got food sensitivities and don't know what to order? Turn to the special menu outlining the best choices for the gluten-, garlic- or dairy-intolerant, vegetarians and vegans. METRO: Gallery Place-Chinatown or Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter. (2027377770)
Minimalist in menu and decor, this 40-seat, two-story relative newcomer to DC (since 2012) serves up exciting Japanese dishes prepared by Chef Hiroshi Seki, who co-owns Izakaya with his daughter, Cizuka. Chef Seki has been carving fish since he was a boy and artfully slices fresh fish into creative small plates. The menu is subject to change, however, since it's dependent on the day's fresh catch, but you can bet there will be something spectacular on offer. Like other dishes, the highly recommended tuna sashimi pairs wonderfully with sake; ask your server for guidance if you're not sure what else goes best with the famed rice wine. METRO: U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo. (202-588-5841)
Legal Sea Foods – Downtown
Legal Sea Foods operates on the motto, "If it's not fresh, it's not Legal." And they make good on their word. The variety of tasty seafood dishes and their clam chowder are near legendary in the Washington, D.C., area. Appetizers are also popular, and Maryland crab cakes are a special (and totally worth the cost) treat. If you're ordering at the bar, lobster or shrimp rolls are terrific choices, as are oyster po' boys and lobster salad. (Sensitive to gluten? Legal Sea Foods has a separate menu just for you.) For dessert, don't forget to try the Key lime pie or Belgian chocolate mousse souffle. METRO: Gallery Place-Chinatown. (202-347-0007)
It's an indoor picnic at this neighborhood restaurant with an edge. From its cabin-facade kitchen to its lantern-hung tree in the dining room, Firefly understands that a night on the town should be fun, not fraught. So dress up or dress down (though not too far down) before stopping in and enjoying such "urban picnic" bites (a.k.a., appetizers) as salt-cod hushpuppies and chicken liver torchon. From there, move onto the main event: grilled bistro steak, pan-roasted duck, eggplant & lentil moussaka or half a dozen other clever options. If you and your camping buddy, er, dining companion have room for dessert, share a caramelized banana split, a sweet way to celebrate l'amore. (A nice touch: Firefly has separate gluten-free menus, too.) Metro: Dupont Circle. (202-861-1310)
Mon Ami Gabi
A classic French bistro in the heart of downtown Bethesda, Mon Ami Gabi specializes in fresh seafood and steaks. It's become a popular spot, thanks to terrific ambiance and fabulous cuisine. At lunch, try the refreshing lemon shrimp with cauliflower puree or the gluten-free frisee, kale & warm bacon salad. At dinnertime, opt for a signature Gallic dish (many also made without gluten) such as trout amandine, Gabi's fish & frites, beef Bourguignon, filet Mignon, steak tartare or chicken paillard. To drink? An exquisite French wine, of course! And for dessert? Try the sorbet...or the bananas Foster...or the creme brulee...or, what the heck, just order them all! (301-654-1234)
Clyde's of Gallery Place
With four bars and five dining rooms, the two-story Clyde's of Gallery Place offers guests plenty of room to spread out while tucking into traditional American pub fare – lots of it with a chichi twist. Start your meal with a pepperoni pizza or platter of nachos, or widen your appetizer-ordering horizons by opting for Korean steak tacos or rockfish chowder instead. For the main event, consider a French dip, hot pastrami sandwich, brown-sugar pork chops or barbecue sesame duck. But if all you really want is an excellent cheeseburger and a cold draft? Clyde's has you covered there, too. (If you've got food sensitivities, take heart: Clyde's will bend over backward to accommodate you.) METRO: Gallery Place-Chinatown or Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter. (2023493700)
Trendy, popular and frequently packed, Oyamel is one of those places that lives up to the hype. One of several restaurants launched by famed chef Jose Andres, Oyamel features dishes inspired by Mexico's many different regions. The menu is made up of antojitos – basically small plates, or tapas – which make it easy to sample a bunch of different dishes without committing to a huge entree. (Small plates also make it easy to accommodate diners with food sensitivities.) Known for its margaritas, tequilas and mezcales, Oyamel's cocktail list will loosen you up – perhaps even giving you the courage to try the Chapulines tacos (made with sauteed grasshoppers, a Oaxacan specialty). METRO: Gallery Place-Chinatown. (2026281005)
This Spanish restaurant's sleek, stylish decor is accented with hand-painted ceramics and colorful murals depicting flamenco performances. A long list of tapas (small plates) – including such fabulous dishes as Iberian ham, Canary Island-style marinated rabbit confit, stewed vegetables with quail egg and creamy rice with mushrooms and cheese – means you can order an array of dishes to satisfy everyone at the table (including those with food sensitivities). Of course, if the whole gang agrees to eat the same thing, go for the paella of the day. Brimming with such goodies as fresh seafood, chicken, vegetables and rice, one order of the classic Spanish showstopper feeds up to four. Business-casual dress; reservations recommended. METRO: Gallery Place-Chinatown. (202-628-7949)
With its stark white walls, high ceilings and dramatic glass facade, Zaytinya has emerged as a popular after-work gathering place. Hot and cold mezze ("middle-of-the-day" meals) enrich the dining scene with contemporary Eastern Mediterranean fare (much of it gluten free), including lamb with hummus and spiced sirloin with dry fruit compote. For more substantial appetites, the kebab platter or braised lamb shank with eggplant does nicely. An added perk: The wine list focuses almost exclusively on Greek, Turkish and Lebanese selections. A Jose Andres restaurant, Zaytinya consistently tops the best D.C. dining lists. Dress is upscale casual. Reservations are recommended for lunch and dinner. METRO: Gallery Place-Chinatown (202-638-0800)
Authentically gourmet takes on sigri (open barbecue), tandoori (oven) and tawa (griddle) dishes have enabled this elegant Penn Quarter establishment to garner a huge amount of popular and critical praise over the years. All the attention is justly earned, too, thanks, in part, to the place's smart, suave decor that features rich colors, imported fabrics and chandeliers. And the fare – including Lamb Dahiwala, Dum Ha Duck and Tandoori Trout – truly captivates the senses. Many of Rasika's dishes are naturally gluten-free, making dining a breeze for the gluten-intolerant at this, one of the District's most popular Indian restaurants. METRO: Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter or Gallery Place-Chinatown. (202-637-1222)
About Holly Smith
Holly is an award-winning writer and editor with 15+ years of experience working with newspapers and magazines primarily in the Washington, DC, metro area. She also has a Master of Arts in Writing degree from the Johns Hopkins University, a fact that no longer impresses even her own four children.
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