Where To Go When You Don’t Want To Have To Explain Your Dietary Restrictions Seven Times20 spots that won’t make you give a PowerPoint presentation on what you can’t eat.
We’ve reached a point where most restaurants ask about food allergies at the start of your meal. And that’s great. But just because they ask doesn’t mean they’re equipped to handle the answer. Sometimes after explaining what you can’t (or don’t, or won’t) eat, you’re met with a blank stare, and/or the realization that water might be the only thing you can consume with confidence. To help avoid this situation, we’ve made a list of restaurants great for a variety of dietary restrictions - whether you’re pregnant, or avoiding gluten, meat, dairy, or the color yellow. These places either have separate menus available, menus that are clearly marked, or genuinely helpful service when questions come up (and often all three).
Note: These restaurants are not guaranteed to have 100% gluten-free, nut-free, or any other completely “free” kitchens. Make sure to discuss your specific restrictions with your server (hopefully only once).
This Mediterranean small plates restaurant in River North has a very flexible menu, and it’s particularly good if you’re avoiding gluten. Their regular menu is already close to gluten-free, but there’s also a separate, entirely gluten-free one. Plus, a lot of dishes here are adaptable, with plenty of meat- and/or dairy-free options (like falafel, salads, and spreads) available. And the servers are great about answering questions and helping you navigate the menu. So basically, you’re only going to have trouble eating here if you have a problem with sharing.
Aba is the sceney West Loop counterpart to Ema, and everything we just said about Ema applies to this place too. The only differences are that the menu here has more meat options (there’s a whole section devoted to steaks), there’s a rooftop patio, and this place feels like a club. So come here if you want to party and not eat stuff you don’t want to eat.
California is first in sunshine, earthquakes, and overall healthy-ness. So it’s not surprising that Left Coast, a casual West Coast-inspired spot, is very diligent about making sure people know what’s in the food they eat. The menu’s wraps, grain bowls, and salads are clearly marked if they include dairy and/or gluten. And while there are multiple locations, we prefer the Lakeview space for its beach house feel and outdoor patio.
True Food Kitchen’s menu is so thorough (with plenty of GFs, DFs, Vs, and even Os for organic and Ss for sustainable) that it will make you feel way less uncomfortable about your compulsion to ask your server where the fish you’re ordering went to college. This River North spot is perfect for lunch or dinner during the week, but also nice enough inside to be a weekend evening option. Come for sweet potato grain bowls, spaghetti squash casserole, and quinoa burgers. There’s even an interesting cocktail menu, with drinks like a yuzu martini, and a long list of non-alcoholic options, too.
Shouting your dietary concerns over loud music in a crowded restaurant might make you uneasy, so maybe sceney restaurants in River North aren’t at the top of your list. Siena Tavern (with its big booths and occasional DJ) definitely falls into the “sceney” category, but it also happens to make ordering with restrictions very easy. There’s a separate gluten-free menu, there are plenty of options if you don’t eat dairy or meat, and in our experience, the servers have a very good idea of the ingredients in every dish. Since most of the antipasti and entrees are easily modified, you won’t have to miss out on the trendy River North experience everyone deserves.
“Meat Free Since ’83” is the motto at the Chicago Diner, which means they’ve been dealing with people not eating stuff for a pretty long time. The vegetarian menu is full of diner-style options, like a reuben sandwich made with seitan and a lentil mushroom loaf, and many of the dishes here are clearly marked as gluten-free. Also, almost everything can be made vegan. There are two locations - the Lakeview original, and a newer one in Logan Square. Both are very casual, and each has food that manages to be really tasty even if you were actually eating bacon this morning.
Beatrix has several locations in Chicago (current count three, plus a grab-and-go market), which makes it a very convenient meet-up spot for groups. The well-rounded menu has solid options for brunch, lunch, and dinner, and was definitely put together with people who pay attention to what they eat in mind. This means there are a lot of healthy, gluten-free, and dairy-free options on the menu (like a roasted cauliflower salad, vegan tomato soup, and roasted sea bass). It’s a good choice for dinner with a group when everyone’s restrictions (or lack thereof) are different.
Eris is a cider-focused brew pub in a remodeled Masonic temple in Old Irving Park, and it’s a huge space that can easily fit large groups. Unlike most Chicago breweries, this place serves a lot of vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free dishes (all clearly marked), so while your friend can get a Polish sausage wrapped in bacon to go with her beer, you can get a gluten-free hanger steak or some vegan arepas. Consider this a crowd-pleasing utility spot.
This casual vegan restaurant in Edgewater indicates on its menu if something is gluten-, nut-, or sugar-free, so it works for people with other concerns besides animal products. And as long as you can handle eating next to motivational quotes like “share the world with all beings” on the wall, the Asian-inspired food is enjoyable. The fact that you can BYOB also doesn’t hurt.
Restaurants with separate menus for specific dietary needs are generally understanding about any additional questions you might have, and this is certainly the case with Sunda. It’s a pretty-people-filled Asian fusion restaurant in River North, and it has a dedicated vegan menu (with sushi rolls, tofu pad thai, and a version of the house crispy brussels sprout salad), but it’s also good about gluten or nut concerns.
This is the Chinese restaurant from the same people who own Girl & The Goat, and it has an extensive menu just for vegans and vegetarians, plus a long list of options for gluten-free diners (like the pecan cauliflower, which is vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free). It’s a busy place in the West Loop, and good for groups looking for a fun night out. The bigger tables with lazy susans make it easy to share a lot of dishes, so make some new friends and bring them here if you want to try as much as possible.
RPM Italian’s servers are very good about asking questions, and making sure you know they actually listened to your answers. This spot also has a long gluten-free menu (with fettuccine you can substitute for the regular stuff, and bruschetta made with gluten-free bread). Yes, it’s trendy and expensive, but for a nice night out, RPM Italian is a good choice.
Like RPM Italian, this restaurant seems like it’s just waiting to honor your restrictions. We’ve found the servers to be very good about knowing exactly how each dish is cooked, and making sure that specific menu items are prepared the way you need them to be. Plus, this place also has a dedicated gluten-free menu. In other words, it won’t just let RPM Italian do its own thing.
Generally everyone and their cousin can find something to eat at Summer House, and the staff here appears to have endless patience when asked for explanations about what’s on the menu. The wide-ranging American menu makes it versatile, and there’s a long list of gluten-free options that includes sandwiches and burgers made with gluten-free bread. There are also vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free treats in the bakery case near the entrance.
Daisies is a Midwestern pasta-focused spot in Logan Square, and we’re pretty sure the servers have to take some kind of exam to prove how well they know what the f*ck is in the food here. There are a lot of locally sourced meats and vegetables on the menu, which means you can expect an almost ridiculous accounting of details - like exactly where the beets in the beet agnolotti came from. This place is very good for vegans and vegetarians, and they’re quick to offer substitutions if you have allergies to other things (or think beets taste like dirt).
The Little Beet Table, a restaurant in the bottom of a high-end apartment building in the Gold Coast, is designed with dietary restrictions in mind. The menu is entirely gluten-free, and most of it is generally healthy, with vegetarian dishes like cauliflower steak and a chickpea and beet veggie burger. It’s light and bright, and kind of feels like a gallery space, with exposed painted brick and large pieces of artwork on the walls. Come here for lunch or a low-key weeknight dinner.
Handlebar is a mostly vegetarian (they do have some fish on the menu) restaurant in Wicker Park, and it’s an enjoyable place to eat, drink, and just hang out. The menu is pretty heavy on comfort food - so there’s stuff like a buffalo seitan wrap with ranch dressing and a Chicago-style tofu dish. A lot of dishes can be made vegan, and the servers are very careful about asking questions and making sure that you feel comfortable with what you’re ordering. If you’re here in the summer, make sure to sit in the beer garden out back.