Going Gluten-Free in the Bay Area

Disclaimer! The establishments mentioned in this article are by and large not catering specifically to gluten-free diners. This post is an honest assessment of my attempt to avoid gluten while dining out. It is not an endorsement of any of these as gluten-free-friendly establishments. Except for Mariposa Bakery and Bota.

When I stopped eating gluten two years ago, I knew eating in restaurants and traveling would become more challenging. At first, the prospect of dining out and having to analyze every menu item for potential flour or soy sauce was disheartening. I did not want to become that person—the one who grills the waitstaff about ingredients and requests special substitutions. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to order a sandwich without bread.

Given that I don’t have Celiac disease and the only immediate consequence of eating some gluten is a stomachache and a bit of acid reflux, I don’t have to go to great lengths to have a pleasant dining experience in most restaurants. I don’t worry about cross-contamination or make sure they have a designated gluten-free fryer. I just stay away from pasta dishes and sandwiches, and modify as needed.

Whenever I want to dine out now, I use the Find Me Gluten Free app to read reviews from folks who have to be far more careful than I do. It’s reassuring to find places that label their menu items GF and take things like cross-contamination seriously. On a recent trip to San Francisco and the Napa Valley, I perused the app before making dinner reservations, but ultimately we ended up dining in several places that don’t specifically cater to gluten-free diners. Here’s how it went.

Wayfare Tavern, SF

A fancy salad, Wayfare Tavern

The thing about taverns is that authentic, old school taverns like I know from North Idaho do not typically use “tavern” in their names. These days, I have come to expect a bougie, overpriced gastropub when I see the word tavern, and the Wayfare lived up to this expectation.

We got into San Francisco around lunchtime, and I did a quick Yelp! Search to find open lunch spots within walking distance. There were plenty of fast food establishments near our Union Square hotel (and a Trader Joe’s in the basement), but I wanted a decent glass of wine and an upscale salad, so we hiked up to the financial district to this fancified pub in the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid.

Even on the outdoor tables—where we were seated off of an alley next to a giant heater—there were white tablecloths. The waitstaff were dressed in black and white, and the menus were bound in leather. We were surrounded by tech bros in fleece, talking about their Github repositories over whiskies with giant ice cubes. Welcome to San Francisco.

Nothing on the menu was labeled GF, but I already knew I wanted a fancy salad, which is typically a safe bet unless croutons are involved. I also ordered the Buffalo Deviled Eggs to share with my husband. No gluten in eggs, right?

Even with these safe bets, I was confronted in both cases with delicious, crispy chicken skin as garnish. Was this chicken skin dredged in flour before it was fried? Probably. But I didn’t ask. I just ate it. I got a bit of reflux later, but it didn’t ruin my day.

Dirty Habit, SF

Dirty Habit signage, Hotel Zelos

For our first dinner, we opted to stay close to home and ate at the restaurant inside our hotel. Dirty Habit serves upscale new American cuisine and craft cocktails in a dimly-lit, urban restaurant-scape on the fifth floor of Hotel Zelos. The outdoor dining space is in the interior courtyard of the hotel, where we found ourselves looking up at the window of our room two stories above.

The menu at Dirty Habit is small but ambitious, with eyebrow-flexing ingredients on almost every item. They also don’t mark GF items on the menu, which means grilling the waitstaff or rolling the dice. With so many sauces, you never know if some will be made with a classic roux. And flour.

We opted for the venison yakitori appetizer, which was delicious with the fermented blueberry tare. Don’t ask me what a tare is, because I don’t know. But it was delicious.

I chose the halibut entree with peas, tomatoes, and yuzu beurre blanc. The fish was cooked perfectly, and the beurre blanc was superb. There were no signs of hidden gluten on the plate, though I never did confirm that.

The fact is that most upscale restaurants will have plenty of options for gluten-free diners, even if some minor modifications need to be made. It’s easier to eat gluten-free at fine dining establishments than fast food restaurants, generally speaking, with the possible exception of Italian.

Heroic Italian, Berkeley

Patio at Heroic Italian

We didn’t have a specific destination in mind when we took the BART out to Berkeley on a Sunday, so we got off at the downtown Berkeley station and walked around looking for a likely lunch spot. Given the prevalence of fast food joints and bars catering to college students, my main criteria was: Do they have a decent salad on the menu?

A decent salad has become a staple of my diet since going gluten-free. I’m talking about a salad that has both style and substance. Iceberg lettuce with dressing from a bottle won’t cut it. Mixed greens tossed with a vinaigrette is not substantial enough to make a meal out of. I want a salad with some protein, a few veggies, and maybe some cheese and nuts.

We found Heroic Italian tucked away next to to public library, and I scanned down the menu posted outside to determine that it did, in fact, contain a decent salad.

I chose the Gladiator, a chopped antipasto salad full of cold, sliced meats and cheeses. It was kind of like eating a hearty Italian sub without the bread. They brought me bread on the side, which I slid across the table to my husband to augment his sandwich.

The outdoor seating on the patio was pleasantly shaded by palm trees and right next to the gorgeous, Art Deco public Library, so free Wi-Fi was available. It was a beautiful day, and a lovely space to sit and enjoy a bit of November sun, but unfortunately the salad was a bit over-dressed, and the meats and cheeses were all stuck together, like someone had just pulled them out of a pre-made sandwich and chopped them up.

Wanting another drink in the pleasant California sun, we walked up to the Triple Rock Brewery, where we sat at a picnic table out on the sidewalk. Beer is not really on the menu for me since going gluten-free, but the good news is that you can pretty much always get a good cider and/or a decent wine in brewpubs, and this was definitely true at Triple Rock. Their food menu was standard pub food, but there was at least a salad on there for me, had we been ordering food.

Berkeley is a renowned center for hippies and health foods, so I’m willing to bet there are some spots offering a more diligently gluten-free menu, but in this case we were just wandering without doing much research. It’s nice to know that I can still do that.

Ozumo, SF

Sushi at Ozumo. I may have eaten some already.

Ozumo is a renowned sushi restaurant just off the Embarcadero in the SOMA neighborhood. Sushi is always a good choice in the Bay Area, and I wanted at least one sushi meal during my birthday week, so I made reservations for our second night in San Francisco.

Given the generally balmy November weather, we decided to take the 25 minute walk down to the restaurant from our hotel. Walking in downtown San Francisco is always a random experience, with the homeless population very much integrated with the business district. We may have passed a couple of folks with random things to shout at passersby, but it never felt too sketchy.

The restaurant itself looked modest from the outside, with a sushi bar and small collection of tables surrounding it, but we were seated in the expansive dining room in the back, next to a window overlooking The Embarcadero and the Ferry Terminal Building.

Sushi can be gluten-free-friendly, but remember that soy sauce is made with wheat, and tempura batter and spring roll wrappers are also typically made with wheat flour. Most sushi restaurants will bring you tamari instead of soy sauce on request, but I was delighted to discover that Ozumo stocks their little ceramic pitchers with tamari by default, making it the most GF-friendly sushi place I’ve visited.

We ordered a chef-curated platter of sashimi and nigiri, and it was an opulent collection of delicate seafood. There was tuna belly, sea urchin, and some other rare treats, along with faves like yellowfin tuna, salmon, and poached prawn.

For dessert, we chose an assortment of mochi ice cream. Mochi is made from rice flour, so it is naturally gluten-free. In this case they also make their own dairy-free ice creams for those who may not eat dairy. The flavors (mango, matcha) and textures of the chewy little balls of delight were spot on.

Mariposa Baking Co., SF

Pain au Chocolat from Mariposa Bakery and green tea latte from Blue Bottle Coffee in the California sun

When doing my research on Find Me Gluten Free, I immediately wanted to check out the Mariposa Baking Company in the Ferry Terminal Building. This dedicated gluten-free bakery has a small retail stall with an amazing assortment of treats, and they also create pies, cakes and more by special order.

We walked straight down Market Street as the morning sun filtered between the looming high-rises. On a normal Monday morning, the sidewalks would be swarming with commuters on their way to the office, but in pandemic times most people were still working from home. The light foot traffic and smattering of shuttered businesses were reminders that this was a strange time to be on vacation.

The Ferry Terminal Building was teeming with tourists, despite the ongoing pandemic. We diligently donned our masks and soon found the little bakery stall. They had a selection of beautiful cakes and pies in an open display case, along with a pastry case stocked with scones, croissants, danishes, and cookies.

I already knew exactly what I wanted. Croissants are one of those things you just figure you’re going to live without when you go gluten-free. They’re a little bit too complicated to bother making at home, and it’s hard to find a bakery that does a GF version.

I ordered a pain au chocolate, and my husband got a glazed orange scone. After waiting for coffees from Blue Bottle for what felt like hours, we found a sunny bench out on the pier, with a view of the Bay Bridge.

I love a good pain au chocolat, and this one did not disappoint—especially after two years of croissant deprivation. The chocolate center was dark and rich, with just enough sweetness. The layers of pastry were flaky and buttery. It was just as good as any gluten-full pain au chocolate I’ve had in Paris. The main difference was that it lacked the chewy stretch that gluten provides. It tasted so good, I barely noticed this subtle textural difference.

Mariposa Bakery has a robust website for online orders that can be shipped or picked up in the Bay Area. I predict a box of pains au chocolat in my future.

Starbelly

I wanted to get out of the downtown SF core for at least some of our short time in the city, so I made a lunch reservation at Starbelly in the Castro district. I always enjoy wandering around the Castro, with its rainbow flags and vibrant bar scene. Starbelly is just a couple of blocks from the historic Castro theater and has been a neighborhood brunch staple for years.

After a long walk up and down The Embarcadero to burn off our gluten-free pastries, we masked up and descended into the BART station. Looking at my phone map, it appeared Starbelly was a mere four blocks from the 16th & Mission stop. Of course, blocks in San Francisco are a quarter of a mile long, so it turned out to be another long walk once we exited the station.

The small dining room and bar at Starbelly was mostly empty, with brunchers choosing to sit in the open air of the enclosed patio out back or the parklet out front. We were seated on the patio, which felt uncomfortably crowded despite the fresh air. I’m not used to being within six feet of strangers anymore.

The menu at Starbelly is humble but full of bold flavors. It is not, however, great for gluten-free diners. There’s an emphasis on pizza, sandwiches, and fried chicken, and nothing is marked GF on the menu, so it another case of asking or guessing. I prefer to guess.

There were a couple of decent salads on the menu, but I was beginning to tire of salads, and I was intrigued by the chilaquiles. Corn chips are typically gluten-free, if not exactly the healthiest choice. In this case the chips were combined with chorizo, eggs, avocado, cilantro and chili sauce to create a giant plate of spicy breakfast nachos.

The chilaquiles were tasty, but it was just too much food. The chorizo was spicy, but a bit greasy, which caused the chips to go semi-soggy. I made my way through about a third of the pile and did not bother with a to-go box.

The servers were sassy and efficient, but overall the meal took longer than it should have. There did not seem to be enough staff to cover the holiday-week lunch crowd.

Looking for transit options back to our hotel, we realized that there was a Muni station right next to the old Castro theater. I was somewhat flabbergasted to discover that San Francisco has a second, entirely separate subway system. I’d heard of Muni, but I thought it was just buses, so I was blown away by the clean and mostly empty station.

Bota Tapas and Paella Bar, SF

Octopus tapas at Bota

Spanish cuisine is typically not too gluten-focused, so a nearby tapas bar seemed like a good option for our third dinner in San Francisco. After drinks with an old pal at the old school bar/ museum Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum & Cafe (across from City Lights Books), we wandered back down toward Union Square and found Bota tucked in next to a fancy hotel lobby.

I had not realized that we were going to a hotel restaurant when I made the reservation, but it did not feel like the kind of space that is converted daily for breakfast service. The space had well-spaced tables and banquettes lining an elegant room with quirky abstract art on the walls.

We decided to stick with the tapas, rather than load up on paella. The menu was clearly marked with GF options, for a change, and it turned out that most of the tapas menu was gluten-free. It was very pleasant to be able to order most things on the menu, rather than sticking to two or three items. And what better way to try most of the menu than tapas?

Everything was delicious. I’ve had my share of tapas, including in Spain, and this was one of the best overall collections I have come across, in terms of both flavor and presentation. The patatas bravas were crisp and flavorsome, with just the right amount of spicy aioli. The octopus tentacle was buttery and perfectly seared, and not at all rubbery.

We ordered nearly every GF item on the menu and had plenty of food for dinner for two. My husband didn’t even miss the gluten. After dinner we wandered across the hotel lobby to the bar and sat in the window, people-watching until it was time to walk back to our own hotel.

Miracle Mile Cafe, San Rafael

Gluten-free avocado toast at Miracle Mile Cafe

A high school friend from Idaho had moved to the Bay Area about 25 years ago, and when she found out I was in the neighborhood, we coordinated a brunch on our way to the Napa Valley. She chose a place she knew had a wide array of gluten-free options: Miracle Mile Cafe in San Rafael.

It was my first time crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and coincidentally my 50th birthday. We picked up our rental car and headed North in the November sun. Unlike most of my previous visits to the Bay Area, I never once encountered the chilly fog that San Francisco is famous for. It was warm and sunny the whole time.

It’s sort of shocking how the landscape changes as soon as you are across the majestic bridge. One minute you are in a dense, urban environment, and the next you are enjoying sweeping water views and passing upscale small towns with marinas. San Rafael is about 40 minutes up the 101 from the bridge, and despite the dense traffic, the scenery is quite pretty, and a little bit bougie.

We got stuck in traffic at the exit to San Rafael, so we were a few minutes late for our noon meeting, but my friend was also running late. We found a sunny patio table and I ordered a grapefruit mimosa to get my birthday celebration rolling.

While we waited, I perused the menu and was delighted to see that they offered a gluten-free version of pretty much everything. I wouldn’t exactly classify Miracle Mile as healthy dining, given half the menu is pancakes, but all of those pancakes could be made gluten-free.

My friend eventually arrived and we reminisced about our wayward youth—getting high and living on French fries—while we waited for our food. As the sun moved, I began to realize our seating mistake. The midday sun was shining right on my face, and later that day I would have an itchy sunburn. In November, sunburns are just not on my radar.

The pancakes looked delightful, but I was looking for something a bit lighter, so I ordered the daily special avocado toast with smoked salmon on GF bread. My husband went for the cinnamon roll pancake, which was pretty decadent but not at all gluten-free (there was a GF version available, however).

The avocado toast was fine, but the gluten-free sourdough replacement was unimpressive. I like my avocado toast on a hearty whole grain toast, and the light, white bread just didn’t compare. The avocado and smoked salmon were all I really needed to accompany my mimosa. The microgreens and side of fruit added some extra healthy elements.

If I’m ever in the Bay Area and looking for a gluten-free pancake, I would definitely make the drive across the bridge again. San Rafael is just one of a handful of towns with many dining options to explore next time I find myself longing for some California sun (or fog).

Solbar, Calistoga

Happy birthday pudding, SolBar

I was supposed to spend my 50th birthday in Italy, but we postponed that trip until the pandemic slows down a bit. Given we hadn’t traveled for more than a year at this point, we decided to splash out on some fancier places in the Napa Valley for my birthday. While staying at the Indian Springs resort, we walked over to a fancy restaurant at another nearby resort for my birthday dinner.

SolBar is the upscale restaurant at the equally upscale Solage resort and hot springs, less than a mile from our less-upscale resort. We thought walking would be a good idea, as we both planned to drink with dinner. The weather remained beautiful and in the high sixties, which was a welcome break from the “atmospheric river” drenching the Seattle area back home.

Despite the bright, warm sun, I could tell I would regret not bringing a sweater as the sun began to sink behind the olive trees. The inland Napa Valley has steeper temperature drops at night than the city or coastal areas of Northern California.

After winding our way through a residential neighborhood nestled between the resorts we saw the warm glow of the SolBar restaurant, set back from a quiet highway, framed by palms.

We chose an indoor table to get out of the chilly air, though the patio seemed to have plenty of heaters blasting away. We were seated in a cozy booth with a nice view of the bar for people watching.

SolBar’s menu is upscale Californian, and their wine list is a compendium of local vineyards. We chose a bottle from grapes grown right across the street.

As a child, my go-to birthday treat was an old-school shrimp cocktail, so I was delighted to see that classic on the appetizer menu. The juicy chilled prawns with a zippy cocktail sauce went perfectly with the local Sauvignon Blanc.

Menu items were not marked GF, but I was able to narrow my choices to the halibut or the duck breast. In the end, it was my birthday and I love almost nothing more than duck. The duck was cooked to a beautiful medium rare with crispy, flavorful skin. It was served with seared peas and pea shoots over a butternut squash puree. Spectacular. And no gluten on the plate.

Duck breast and friends, Solbar.

The dessert menu was a bit of a disappointment in terms of gluten-free options. The only choices were a trio of gelati, and a butterscotch pudding with actual scotch in it. I chose the butterscotch pudding, which was tasty but far too sweet for my sugar-deprived palette.

The walk back was freezing and dark, with most side streets lacking any streetlights. We made our way with the help of our iPhone flashlights, and saw a few other groups of tourists doing the same. I guess Calistoga is not really meant to be walkable.

Cook, St. Helena

Risotto di giorno at Cook, St. Helena

The morning after my birthday, I indulged in a mud bath at the resort spa while my husband went for a drive to find breakfast. I’m not usually much of a breakfast-eater, so he often goes off on his own in the morning hours.

When we met back in the hotel room a couple of hours later, he suggested we go check out the nearby town of St. Helena for lunch. I checked OpenTable for reservations and found a quaint Italian restaurant called Cook with tables available.

During pandemic-times I always try to make reservations in advance, rather than winging it and hoping for the best. This does put a bit of a damper on spontaneity, but with so many restaurants closing unexpectedly or operating at limited capacity it seems wise. Plus, it gives me a chance to check the menu online first and make sure there are some reasonable gluten-free options.

If you go to the Napa Valley, make sure to take some side roads. The two-lane highway connecting Calistoga to Napa by way of St. Helena wound its way through trees that filtered the bright November sun, and hugged the miles and miles of vineyards occupying the valley floor. The grape leaves were turning shades of orange and produced the kind of flaming vista you might associate with New England in the fall.

St. Helena turned out to be a cute, historic, and touristy town. The brick buildings lining Main Street captured the Victorian opulence of the gold rush era. They all looked spiffy and well-kept, with fresh paint on the trim and high-end boutiques and galleries inside. It was surprisingly full of people for the day before Thanksgiving during a pandemic, but I suppose a lot of people had the same idea we did.

Cook was a narrow space inside of an old brick building. There were few tables and they were all full, so I was glad we had a reservation. It took them a couple of minutes to clear a table, but we were soon seated at a small two-top near the back of the space. I had a good view into the kitchen and enjoyed watching the staff gracefully turning out colorful plates of pasta. I also got to eavesdrop on the neighboring table, where they were discussing the challenges of operating a winery.

The menu was typical Italian, with a heavy emphasis on pastas. This was the first Italian restaurant I had attempted since going gluten-free, and there was one reason I chose it: Risotto. The classic Italian rice dish is a dream if you love Italian food, but don’t eat gluten.

I’ve been researching gluten-free dining in Italy, and it turns out they take gluten very seriously there. There are many dedicated gluten-free restaurants in any major Italian city, and they will gladly accommodate “senza glutine” on request at other restaurants. Celiac disease is widespread in Italy (maybe because of all the pizza and pasta?), and they don’t look at it as a health fad.

American Italian restaurants have not yet caught up, and nothing on the menu at Cook was marked GF, but I was willing to take my chances with the daily risotto. I neglected to write down the Italian name of the dish, but it was served with a tomato sauce, crispy pancetta, and fresh arugula on top. The flavors were beautifully rich and complex, though I found it to be a bit over-salted. Nonetheless, my Italian itch was scratched and I left satisfied.

Sam’s Social Club, Calistoga

Our final night in Calistoga, we decided to stay close to home and try the hotel restaurant. After spending an hour or so drifting in the steaming water of the thermal pool, I was in no mood to get dressed for dinner. I suggested we order in, which is not so much “room service” as a to-go order charged to the room. My husband was obliging and walked over to pick up our food.

Sam’s Social Club is a bit more oriented toward family dining, with options like a cheeseburger and simple rosemary chicken. The menu doesn’t denote GF options, but several entrees don’t contain any obvious gluten. I have been rediscovering my childhood love of pork chops, so I opted for the heritage pork chop with grits, broccoli, and bacon date jam.

Eating a giant, bone-in pork chop from a cardboard box is not the most elegant proposition, particularly with plastic utensils. At a certain point I just picked the whole thing up and ate it with my hands like the Paleo caveman I am becoming. The chop was well seasoned, and just a hair on the dry side, but the star of the dish was the bacon date jam. I love a sweet-salty flavor explosion, and it went perfectly with the pork.

Sam’s won’t top my list of culinary experiences for this trip, but next time I go to Calistoga I would definitely go back for a sit-down meal. They probably even provide real silverware.

Napa Whole Foods

Random gondolier, Napa

Sometimes it’s Thanksgiving Day and you have no lunch reservations. We decided to go wander around downtown Napa en route to our final destination in Petaluma. We thought we might find a restaurant or two open, but I wasn’t too optimistic about getting a table without reservations.

Downtown Napa is historic and full of classic brick buildings, but it feels more like a real city than the tourist strip of St. Helena or the quasi-rural town of Calistoga. However, on Thanksgiving Day the sidewalks and streets were almost deserted, and most businesses were closed.

While wandering down the Main Street adjacent to the river, we came across a bizarre tourist attraction that was in operation on Thanksgiving: a gondolier. We wandered over for a look, and sure enough there was an authentic-looking Venetian gondolier, navigating his gondola and its passengers around a concrete support of a nondescript bridge across the river, singing Volare.

Despite this strange sign of life, the rest of the town seemed shut down. We saw a French restaurant with an open door and enquired about a table. They were not open yet, but they would soon start serving their holiday lunch. They could seat us at the bar an hour later, but we decided to try our luck elsewhere.

There’s always a fast food salad in desperate times (very desperate, but it has happened), but given the ongoing beautiful weather I suggested we pick up something to make a picnic in a park. A nearby Whole Foods was open, and I knew they would have plenty of options for me.

Going to Whole Foods at noon on Thanksgiving Day is…not recommended. It was a zoo of last-minute shoppers with desperate eyes peering over their festive face masks. We bee-lined to the deli and I assessed what was left in the picked-over salad bar. I loaded up some sweet broccoli salad and cooked chicken. My husband got a gluten-y wrap of some kind and we made our way to the end of the long, socially distanced checkout line and hoped for the best.

My husband photographs the view from our Thanksgiving lunch picnic

Luckily, Whole Foods knows how to run things smoothly for a holiday rush, and within a few minutes we were back in the car, navigating to a nearby park. We parked and hiked up a steep hill to a hilltop bench with a view of the town and the mountains rising up from the far side of the valley.

The sun was warm, the view was beautiful, and I had a to-go cup full of a local white wine. I can’t think of a better Thanksgiving lunch.

630 Park Steakhouse, Graton Resort and Casino

Truffle butter filet mignon at 630 Park Steakhouse, Graton Resort and Casino

We spent the last night of our vacation at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Petaluma. With a midday flight the next day, we wanted to be closer to the city without paying for another pricey hotel night. The hotel was in a red brick refurbished factory, which made it the coolest Hampton Inn I’ve ever seen.

Spending Thanksgiving in a relatively small town, our dinner options were slim. The designated Thanksgiving meals we found online were all in towns thirty minutes or more away, and we didn’t want to drive that far for dinner. But there was a fancy steakhouse inside a Casino only 15 minutes from our hotel, so we figured, “Why not have Thanksgiving Dinner in a casino?”

The Graton Resort and Casino has a relatively upscale vibe, but it’s somewhat marred by the acrid cigarette smoke and plinging slot machine sounds that fill the air. We skirted the edge of the casino floor and found the 630 Park Steakhouse with tall windows facing the sea of slot machines. There was a live pianist in the corner, giving the place a sort of classic Vegas vibe.

Their special was—of course—a full turkey dinner with all the fixings. Tempting though it sounded, between the traditional stuffing and the gravy it would have been hard to make a satisfying gluten-free plate. I decided to go big on my final night of birthday vacation and chose the truffle butter filet mignon. I’m not sure that I have ever ordered an eighty dollar entree before, but we were in a steakhouse, and I wanted a steak. My husband kept it a bit more low-key and ordered a cheeseburger (the size of his head).

The pianist really made the atmosphere with her jazzy tinkling and lightweight renditions of Elton John and Joni Mitchell songs. I found myself quietly singing along more than once. She also blocked out most of the casino noise, but we couldn’t forget where we were, because our table was next to the window facing the little old ladies at slot machines.

View into the casino from our table

Who spends Thanksgiving at a casino? I do, apparently. The vibe of the place was somber, and you could kind of tell that the people here did not have any loving families or friends inviting them over for feasts. The man drinking alone at the bar inside the restaurant and staring at the screen silently broadcasting football did not seem particularly sad, but he added to the melancholy air of the place.

My steak was delicious. It was cooked to a perfect medium-rare with a flavorful sear on the outside. The truffle butter was rich and savory. The steak was perched atop some creamy mash and tangy red wine reduction, and framed by perfectly cooked asparagus.

I could not finish the giant hunk of meat, so I took it in a to-go box and ate the rest for breakfast. Cold steak covered in congealed butter is probably not the breakfast of champions, but it was still delicious the morning after. One thing that has come out of my gluten-free/ Paleo diet is a real appreciation for good meat cooked well. It’s quite a turnaround for a former vegetarian.

Farmerbrown, SFO

We gave ourselves plenty of time to return the rental car and get through security at the airport, so we had over an hour to kill inside SFO before boarding our flight back to Seattle. There are many plenty of healthy dining options which likely offer gluten-free items at SFO. We went for the restaurant directly adjacent to our gate and chose a table with a good view of the boarding signs.

The Farmerbrown menu seemed country-American with sould food overtones. There were plenty of familiar salads, soups and sandwiches to choose from, as well as a full bar. I chose a classic Cobb salad for its bacon, egg, and avocado combo. A perfect followup to my cold breakfast steak.

When you eat at an airport, you lower your standards. I’ve never had a truly great meal at an airport restaurant, but my salad was just fine. The dressing was served on the side, which I appreciate because I don’t enjoy soggy, over-dressed lettuce. The bacon crumbles were abundant and the avocado was at the perfect level of ripeness. Of course, it was larger than it needed to be—this is America after all.

It has been a new challenge to travel while avoiding gluten. During a short trip early in the pandemic, I ended up eating fast food salads because we just couldn’t find any other dining options. Now that most restaurants are functioning again, I am learning how to seek out the menu items that naturally preclude bread or flour. If you are thinking about going gluten-free but fear the dining restrictions, don’t worry! There are plenty of options for gluten-free diners, and you might even get to try some new foods or cuisines.

I’m not one to get on a high horse or a soap box about gluten consumption, but the research that has been done on how gluten affects humans indicates that it is hard for ALL humans to process, not just those with a serious allergy or Celiac disease. I recommend trying a break from gluten for a month to just see how you feel. Personally, my acid reflux disappeared, my sleep improved, and my thinking got clearer. For me, it’s just not worth the insidious effects.

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