Friday, May 18, 2012

Our Allergy-Friendly Restaurants

If you or someone you dine with has food allergies, trust me when I say I know how frustrating and downright dangerous it can be to go out for a meal. I could regale you for hours with stories of Roo's uncomfortable, but thankfully not lethal, restaurant adventures. Too many hives, tears, and fist-clenching tummy aches to count. And the vomit. So very much vomit I've taken to carrying a Tupperware container and washcloth in my purse. You think I'm kidding.

This is the list I wish I had three years ago. It's definitely not exhaustive, but I hope it might give someone out there a starting point for traversing the restaurant scene with food allergies.

Roo's current allergies include eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, peaches, and beef. I do not claim that the restaurants listed below have menu options suited to every person with food allergies because there are just too many variables to consider. In our personal experience, however, these standouts have gone above and beyond in helping our family enjoy a safe meal time after time. Perhaps more importantly than what's on the menu is the restaurant's attitude about food allergies in general.


California Pizza Kitchen
Our personal experience here has never been bad, dating back to the days when Roo was off all dairy and apple (in addition to the eggs, nuts, beef, and peaches). The waitstaff has always been willing to check labels, ask questions in the kitchen, and use foil under pizzas in the oven to avoid cross contamination. They've allowed us to dress our own pasta at the table, which sounds so small but when you're presented with a plate of glistening noodles in a bowl, how can you really be sure that's olive oil and not butter? Better still, here's a link to their allergy information.

Chipotle is our safety net. Did you know that Chipotle is a nut-free establishment? It took me long enough to figure that out. Did you know they have kids meals that include a cheese quesadilla (or taco or whatever), a side of rice, beans, and a small bag of tortilla chips? They make their allergy information readily available and are always willing to put on clean gloves or grab a fresh tub of beans to avoid the potential of cross contamination. Perhaps the best part about Chipotle is that they are ubiquitous. We can almost always find one in a time of need. One word of caution, however, if you suffer from a soy allergy, Chipotle is not your savior. There is soy in almost everything.

Seasons 52
Interestingly, owned by the same parent company as Bahama Breeze, but SO much better equipped to handle allergies. 

Steak n' Shake
Health food it is not, but the service and attention to allergies we get here is fairly awesome for a fast food joint. Managers routinely let us read any and all labels, deliver food personally, and make sure everyone is breathing and smiling. Read the labels because everything is not transparent (for instance there is egg in the milkshake base), but I love the attitude toward allergy disclosure at Steak n' Shake.

Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants
How freaking awesome is it that all the Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, and there are a lot, have allergy info available and a responsible protocol in place for dealing with allergies? Many offer a gluten-free menu too! The downside is that Lettuce restaurants are not everywhere. We are lucky here in Chi-town that we can choose from a vast array of cuisines and varying levels of fanciness within the Lettuce Entertain You family. But, unless you're in Chicago, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, or Washington DC, you're out of luck.

Honorable Mentions

Noodles and Company
Tasty pastas and noodles, allergy info is available online and behind the counter (just ask for the allergy menu) but be careful of cross contamination. Remind them to use a clean pan or clean the griddle and watch out for the nuts.

Red Robin
They talk a big game about allergy sensitivity and they have allergy menus available but they probably shouldn't need to run up to the office to print them out and then act uncomfortable when we choose to order something.

Cracker Barrel 
Not the most consistent in handling allergies, but we always seem to be able to find something suitable and safe.

The Not-So-Good

Buffets scare the crap out of me. There is just way too much potential for cross contamination.
Five Guys (in case the peanut shells on the floor weren't a clue)
TGI Fridays
Bahama Breeze - Yikes! Read about our Bahama Breeze fiasco here.

And no, that doesn't mean that these are terrible restaurants and that no one should ever go there. It's just that in terms of allergies, we personally have had one or more sub-par experiences there.


  1. My daughter just had a reaction after eating at Sbarro on a youth group trip. She is allergic to peanuts, kidney beans and refried beans. They are not even listed on the menu.

    1. Ugh! So sorry to hear that, Theresa. We've been frustrated with Sbarro in the past especially in terms of which items contain eggs. They never seem to know for sure what's in anything and we've received different answers depending on who we ask. We just avoid it now. Hope your daughter is doing much better now. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. I know your comments were a while back about Sbarros....they use peanut oil in their pizza sauce!!

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