First rule of gluten-free eating? DEFINITELY TALK ABOUT GLUTEN-FREE EATING. Staffers at the below venues will be happy to discuss their ingredients and kitchen practices with you before you order, which is precisely what you should do before taking a bite. And for those living with gluten allergies – or simply trying to eliminate offending grains from their culinary repertoire – Orlando’s list of options is growing exponentially. At venues such as Dandelion Communitea Café or Infusion Tea, GF diners will find myriad selections rife with fresh crisp, crunchy ingredients, creamy spreads and hearty soups, but let’s face it: not every gluten-free eater is all about organic, sustainably farmed, green foodstuffs. Those with a penchant for the fryer will find sinful solace at either Downtown Disney or Universal’s CityWalk. At Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, you can have your cheeseburger in paradise with a gluten-free bun (not to mention Volcano Nachos and a decadent Chocolate Hurricane dessert). Over at the Raglan Road Irish Pub, they keep a whole separate fryer on hand, which means usually-off-limits delights such as fried fish, calamari and onion rings are on tap – along with some excellent GF cider. For those on the go, check out the drive-through at the Green Day Café, where gluten-free quesadillas are an everyday occurrence.
9 Mythos Restaurant
Mythos is a wholly immersive dining experience, removing you at once from the fray of Universal with its beautiful, mystical cave-like aura. Not only has Mythos received all kinds of "best theme park restaurant" nods from foodies and expert Orlando bloggers of all stripes, this Islands of Adventure lunch venue has all kinds of options for gluten-free diners that fall well outside the realms of uninspired salad and grilled chicken. No less than 11 options -- from appetizer to entrée -- either are or can be prepared gluten-free, from pad thai to Asian salmon, blackened fish tacos to a daily risotto offering. ((407) 224-4534)
8 The Virgin Olive Market
This fun favorite has a menu loaded down with fresh vegetables and meats, local, farm-fresh eggs, two homemade soups each day (most selections are gluten-free) and a plethora of from-scratch desserts to ruin your diet strategy moments after you proudly consume that vegan pita or brilliantly low-carb salad. Virgin Olive's impressive menu of salads, wraps and sandwiches can easily be made into gluten-free wraps (just add $1) and at press time, they said gluten-free bread would soon be on the menu. Friendly staffers, creative daily specials (these include dinner and beer-related deals; they have an impressive craft brew selection) have earned this independently owned small business a solid local following
7 Nile Ethiopian Restaurant
The Nile ain't just a river in Egypt, as the saying goes (sort of). In Orlando, it's one of a handful of independent restaurants amid I-Drive's sea of chain offerings, one serving up authentic Ethiopian fare in traditional style. What does this mean? For starters, no utensils. Getting the food to your face requires the use of injera, a spongy, tasty, vaguely crepe-like bread. Tear a piece off and simply scoop up the lentils, stewed chicken, seasoned beef or whatever other selections intrigued you and enjoy. Bonus? Most Ethopian dishes are naturally gluten-free! Call ahead at least an hour (more to be on the safe side) and let them know you're coming. They'll bake up a load of gluten-free injera that uses only teff flour -- actually more traditional than the wheat/teff hybrid Nile generally makes! The result, a thoroughly authentic Ethiopian experience that's enjoyable for everyone in your party. ((407) 354-0026)
6 Raglan Road Irish Pub
Cold pints and warm, convivial vibe are always on tap at Raglan Road, which isn't lying when it calls itself a genuine Irish pub. In fact, the whole place was built in Ireland and then shipped to Orlando where it was lovingly reassembled to the delight of locals and visitors alike. Think of it as Disney magic with a little help from the leprechauns. Granted, just about everyone loves the place, but gluten-free diners (especially locals) make many return visits. Why? How about onion rings just for starters? Like many Disney establishments, Raglan Road does its best to accommodate all special dietary needs -- check with knowledgeable servers and managers for input and suggestions. They offer gluten-free scallops, fish and chips, calamari, pasta dishes and more. (4079380300)
5 Cafe 118 Degrees
The raw foods at this Winter Park bistro are highly nutritious, free of animal by-products and processed sugars and heated below 118 degrees in order to preserve their rich vitamins, enzymes and minerals, which make them healthier and more digestible (and also gives the place its name). Dishes are creative (ravioli filling made from nuts? neat!), colorful and crispy -- and entirely gluten-free, as well! And those who enjoy bold juices that draw on every weapon in Mother Nature's nutritional arsenal -- beets and apples, basil and ginger, you get the point -- will have fun sampling the heady combinations. (4073892233)
4 Jimmy Buffett's® Margaritaville® Orlando
Lime, tequila and salt are all -- mercifully -- gluten-free, but one wouldn't think the same about a cheeseburger in paradise. But Jimmy, bless his heart, made sure that GF customers at his Universal CityWalk establishment could enjoy just that. But it doesn't stop there. Volcano Nachos (gobbed down with chili, cheese, guacamole -- all the good stuff -- may fill you up before you make it to burgertown). Additional selections include an array chicken and seafood options and the Chocolate Hurricane, a dieter's disaster, for sure, which piles a gluten-free brownie sky-high with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and macadamia nuts. (407-224-2155)
3 Green Day Cafe
Super Veggie, Holy Guacamole and the Big Tahuna are just some of the fun salads (make it a wrap, regular or gluten-free, it's your choice!) available at the Green Day Café, a newish healthy fast-food franchise with an outpost in North Orlando. Vegans and carnivores and everyone in between will find selections to suit their idiosyncratic palates and gluten-free diners will delight in a menu stocked with loaded potatoes, rice bowls and even GF quesadillas. What's more -- you don't even need to get out of your car. The Green Day Cafe boasts a drive-through window for health-conscious eaters on the go. ((407) 704-7877)
2 Infusion Tea
Infusion Tea: it's the happy hub of the College Park Sunday Brunch Market and a haven for both tea lovers -- and healthy eaters. Infusion boasts a wonderful array of healthful eats and pays heed to vegans, gluten-forgoers and a host of other quirky foodies. Add eggs or tempeh crumbles to salads for a protein boost. Make just about any wrap gluten-free for $1 extra. Come for the lunch and stay long enough to steep some loose-leaf tea and get comfortable. And be sure to check out in-house chocolate and dessert purveyor, Chocolate Provocateur, whose wares include gluten-free offerings, as well! (407-999-5255, 866-346-5135)
1 Dandelion Communitea Café
The dandelion, an edible flower that we're quick to call a weed, is a mascot of sorts for this quirky organic teahouse. You'll first be reminded of the café's namesake when you view the exterior (bright green with yellow shutters) and then again when reading the menu: vegetarian, sustainable and healthful. Diners with gluten restrictions? Seriously? This is your place. So many tiny GFs next to the menu items, your head may well spin like a wheat-free Linda Blair (sans digestive issues). Every salad. Every side. Most appetizers. All gluten-free. And served in pleasantly crunchy confines that may have you inquiring about the next full moon drum circle. (407-362-1864)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast (SeaWorld’s Manta is her current favorite), A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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