These days, it seems like there's always at least one person in your dining party who is gluten intolerant or trying to cut down on wheat. Lucky for them, the San Francisco Bay Area is full of fantastic restaurants that are not only tolerant of these special requests but even cater to them. Check out our slide show for 10 of the very best.
Everything on the menu is wheat- and gluten-free at these casual spots in the Mission and the Napa Oxbow Market hawking “fresh Venezuelan street fare." The specialties of the house are “arepas” (shown above) - “little corn pillows of goodness” with meat or vegetable fillings - and “maize’wiches” made with sweet cornbread. The gluten-free menu is not an afterthought - in fact, the restaurant is on the forefront of fighting celiac disease and has partnered with the North Bay Celiacs organization to help raise awareness.
401 Valencia St.; 415-400-5453
610 First St. #5, Napa Oxbow Market; 707-251-3757
It may not command the same crowds of the Slanted Door empire, but this "quiet" Vietnamese spot in the Castro turning out “great noodle soups” and an array of Vietnamese vittles is another great go-to spot for diners who follow a gluten-free diet, as nearly every dish can be made gluten-free (the menu clearly denotes the few items that aren't). "Reasonable prices," a “delightful” atmosphere and “excellent” service add to the appeal regardless of your dietary preferences.
4039 18th St.; 415-626-2260
When you think about Mexican food, one is more apt to think about binging on chips and margaritas than eating virtuously, but at Joanne Weir's affordable, seasonally driven tequileria and Mexican cantina in Sausalito, the menu is nearly 100% gluten-free. From rotisserie meats and corn tortillas to Dilsa's famous tamale trio (shown above) - filled with chicken verde, pork adobo and roasted vegetables (butternut squash, oyster mushrooms and queso fresco) - the restaurant is a haven for diners with gluten-free diets and their omnivore friends alike.
739 Bridgeway, Sausalito; 415-331-7400
Everything is gluten-free, as well as being responsibly raised and sourced at this take-out/eat-in/fast-casual newcomer in a Palo Alto shopping center, masterminded by Grace Nguyen (ex Slanted Door) and husband Chad Newton (ex Fish & Farm), presenting customizable to-go "boxes" of Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian street food (rice, rice noodles, veggies) with a choice of proteins, fixings and housemade sauces (including the “very hot Hot Box It”). The formula has already proven to be successful - the website FindMeGlutenFree.com awarded Asian Box a "Best of Find Me Gluten Free" award in 2012 - and the duo just opened up a second outpost in Mountain View, plus a third in Burlingame is in the works for spring, setting up the bar to become the first gluten-free, fast-casual destination of its kind.
855 El Camino Real, Town & Country Village, Palo Alto: 650-391-9305
142 Castro St.; Mountain View; 650-584-3947
Photo: Sonya Yu Photography
In addition to the usual slate of sushi and grilled meats, this darling mom-and-daughter shop in the Mission turning out thoughtful organic Japanese cuisine is a bonanza for diners with sensitivities (gluten, dairy, eggs). It offers its own separate gluten-free menu with the likes of GF versions of tempura and teriyaki dishes, and it even offers gluten-free soy sauce to those who desire it.
2154 Mission St.; 415-864-1888
This “chill” neighborhood spot isn't your usual Mission hipster haunt cranking out tasty brunch and late-night Southern-inspired greasy American eats; the menu is heavy on fresh veggies, whole grains and, most notably, wheat-free options including GF flatbreads and sandwich rolls sourced from Mariposa Bakery. It's also your go-to place for GF French toast and gluten-free pancakes on the weekends, washed down with bottomless mimosas. Who says celiacs can't have any fun?
3465 19th St.; 415-834-5441
You wouldn't think that an Italian restaurant would be a safe haven for the gluten-intolerant, but that's just the case at this Union Square spot that offers its own stand-alone seasonally changing GF menu. In addition to the usual suspects - antipasti, charcuterie and salads - the restaurant offers several different GF pasta dishes (with choice of spaghetti or penne) and half dozen or so GF main courses. To gild the lily, it even offers a handful of gluten-free libations such as Ace Pear Cider, O'Missions Pale Ale and Chopin vodka.
129 Ellis St.; 415-392-5500
Although it's famous for its fried chicken, this "inventive" American in the Mission has become a stealth GF dining option since new chef Emmanuel Eng upped the gluten- and dairy-free options. According to the restaurant, 10 out of the menu's 15 dishes can now be made gluten-free with simple modifications, without diminishing the dish.
3316 17th St.; 415-863-3061
The Mandarin Oriental in Downtown San Francisco doesn't bill itself as a gluten-free destination, but according to the management, gluten-free dining is a highly requested need from their guests. As a result, quite a large number of items on the California-inspired brasserie menu are GF, and even the in-room dining menus indicate which dishes are or can be made so. S&P also dutifully offers gluten-free alternatives during the holidays, making it a great destination for mixed company. Items run the gamut from omelets and a smoked-salmon platter at breakfast, crab Louis and sandwiches on gluten-free bread at lunch, and steak and fresh fish entrees at night.
222 Sansome St.; 415-276-9888
There's a comprehensive stand-alone gluten-free menu at this Art Smith-backed healthy fast-casual Palo Alto concept chock-full of options from fish tacos and a burger on a GF bun to a plethora of veggie-topped flatbreads handmade with egg, brown rice, tapioca and potato flours.
167 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto; 650-325-5933