The 5 Best Chicago Restaurants for Gluten-Free Eaters
By Deirdre Kennedy
In only a few years, gluten-free diets have gone from a medical curiosity to a mainstream phenomenon. This is partly because a gluten-free diet is the only known treatment to Celiac Disease,
According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease that attacks the digestive process of the small intestine when gluten is consumed. The disease affects 1 in 133 Americans. Beyond Celiac, the diet has also gained popularity for those with gluten allergies.
“For health reasons, some people’s bodies don’t digest gluten well, so they have symptoms throughout their body,” Eve Becker explains. Becker, 45, writes for Living Without, a web magazine for people with Celiac Disease and other food allergies. She is also the editor of Gluten-Free Nosh, a blog dedicated to sharing gluten-free recipes, tips and experiences.
Want to give it a try? Here’s a gluten-free guide to eating in Chicago, no matter the occasion.
Best Quick and Affordable Lunch
The gluten-free lifestyle can sometimes get expensive. For instance, a loaf of gluten-free bread usually costs up to $4 more than regular bread. For those with an eye on the wallet as well as the waistline, Bountiful Eatery is a great restaurant alternative if you want to stay fit without breaking the bank.
“It’s great for a quick lunch,” says Becker. “Everything’s gluten-free and they have a lot of options.”
Their menu offers pita wraps, soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, and more. It will allow you to stay on your diet, Becker insists, because it puts an emphasis on healthy eating. “It’s a cheap, fast, casual neighborhood place,” says Becker.
Average entrée: $10
Location: 3312 N. Broadway (Lakeview)
Yelp! Rating: 4/5 stars
Best First Date Restaurant
Having trouble deciding where to take that gluten-intolerant special someone on your first outing? HUB 51 is the place for you. It has a separate gluten-free menu so the gluten-free and gluten-full can eat together harmoniously. Becker explained that separate menus are better because it means the staff is trained in preparation and can prevent gluten contamination with other items.
They have gluten-free sushi (a rarity, as soy sauce contains gluten) as well as tacos, sandwiches, fresh fish and more. While French fries are already gluten-free, Becker says most restaurants cook them in oil along with other foods. But at HUB 51 “you can ask them to prepare their French fries in a dedicated fryer so you won’t have cross-contamination,” Becker says.
Plus, Becker says the restaurant is loud and busy enough to fill those awkward first date silences.
Average entrée: $14
Location: 51 W Hubbard St. (River North)
Yelp! Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Best Upscale Restaurant
Senza is an all gluten-free restaurant in Lakeview. The menu has pre-determined prices—a four-course menu for $50 per person or a nine-course menu for $100 per person. Not for the penny pincher, Senza is the pinnacle of gluten-free fine dining in Chicago. The food, the drinks, even the bread – you won’t find a hint of gluten anywhere.
And it’s gained a reputation in Chicago beyond the gluten-free audience. “It’s been getting great reviews from people who are not gluten-free but just enjoy gourmet, fine cuisine,” says Becker.
If you want to eat gluten-free and never know the difference, Senza is the place for you.
Average entrée: $50 or $100
Location: 2873 N. Broadway St. (Lakeview)
Yelp! Rating: 5/5 stars
Best Pizza Place
Pizza has always been a tough bet for gluten-free patrons – as half the dish is made of bread. But Marcello’s Father and Son Restaurants has catered to a gluten-free clientele since long before it was popular.
“Marcello’s was one of the first to do gluten-free pizza and they’re really dedicated to it,” says Becker. “They got it early on and they’re really careful about using separate ingredients and baking it separately.”
According to Becker, other pizza places buy gluten-free crusts and make the pizza on the same surface as the rest of the pizzas, which risks gluten pollution. This is not the case at Marcello’s. And you can make it a meal – Marcello’s has other gluten-free options and even gluten-free beer.
Average entrée: Small pizza: $12.95, Medium: $16.95, Large: $20.95
Location: 645 W. North Ave (Lincoln Park), 2475 N. Milwaukee (Logan Square)
Yelp! Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Best Group Outing Spot
It’s hard for gluten-free eaters to agree on restaurants for group outings because their choices are so limited. In these situations, Becker says it’s best to head to Maggiano’s Little Italy.
“It’s good for groups because they have big family-style menus,” Becker states.
The family-style menu lets you to order entrees and salads that are large enough to serve the whole table. For those who worry about gluten contamination in the kitchen, Becker ensures that Maggiano’s chef will come to your table to discuss your allergies and put your mind at ease.
Average entrée: $19
Location: 516 N. Clark St. (River North)
Yelp! Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Here is a video with more information on gluten and gluten intolerance from a Kaplan Medical Center dietitian:
Graphic by Deirdre Kennedy