Gluten-Free Mexican Restaurants

Looking for gluten-free Mexican restaurants in the USA to enjoy? Here’s a celiac dietitian’s tips and tricks for enjoy gluten-free Mexican food that’s free from gluten cross-contact at common chains in the USA.

Because if there’s anything I love? It’s unlimited corn chips and salsa. I love to enjoy delicious gluten-free whole grains from the corn chips. AND I also love to enjoy my favorite condiment: salsa!

Where are all my gluten-free corn chip and salsa lovers at?

A picture of Celiac Dietitian, Tayler, eating gluten-free corn chips and salsa with a smile

Table of Contents

Gluten in Mexican Food

First things first, when talking about gluten-free Mexican restaurants, we need to first understand what Mexican food can have gluten. Because if you don’t know what can have gluten, it’s kind of hard to avoid it!

  • Flour tortillas – whether you’re ordering burritos, enchiladas or tacos, the tortillas can either be made of 100% corn (which would be gluten-free) or it can have flour. Flour tortillas can be a source of gluten and cross-contact in Mexican restaurants, so it’s something to be aware of.
  • Shredded cheese – It is SO rare that shredded cheese has wheat starch added as an anti-caking agent anymore, but it’s still something to check on.
  • Corn chips – my favorite part of going to Mexican restaurants are the unlimited chips and salsa you can get. The only tricky thing is, the chips can be fried in house. If that’s the case, you want to make sure the corn chips are made in a dedicated gluten-free fryer or bring your own.
  • Salsa – while rare, I’ve found mostly at Tex Mex restaurants that the salsa can sometimes contain gluten, so never assume and always ask!
  • Guacomole – you’d think this would be safe, and I wrongfully assumed this would be safe until one day I came across a restaurant that put BEER in their guacamole. First, it was the best guac I ever had, second… I definitely got glutend. Let this be a lesson – never assume something is gluten-free…
  • Queso – while often gluten-free, queso can sometimes have gluten. This is because flour is great for thickening cheese dips like this, so you want to check to make sure the queso isn’t thickened with flour before ordering.
  • Marinated meats – while more common in Tex Mex restaurants, meats can be marinated with seasonings that may contain gluten, soy sauce, or beer. It’s important to always double check and when in doubt, order plain unseasoned meat.
  • Beans – on a very rare occasion, beans can be thickened with flour or flavored with beer. Again, always check to be safe.
  • Margaritas – pure distilled alcohols are considered celiac-safe regardless of starting material. The only risk of gluten here is the restaurant uses a margarita mix. Usually if there’s gluten in it, it’s in some form of malt. You’ll also want to make sure they wash the blender or shaker when ordering.
  • Rice – Mexican or Spanish rice can contain gluten depending on how it’s seasoned. You’ll want to check to make sure everything is gluten-free when ordering rice, or ask for plain rice.
  • Sauces – sauces like mole can be thickened with flour so you always want to check.
  • Maggia seasoning that is like soy sauce that has wheat and can be used in Asian cuisines but also can be found used in Mexican restaurants. Both in the USA and in Mexico.

Now that we’ve got that brief summary of how gluten can show up in Mexican food, let’s chat about gluten-free Mexican restaurants and how to avoid cross-contact when ordering.

Gluten-free Tex Mex vs. Mexican Restaurants

But first, I think it’s important that as we wrap up discussing gluten in Mexican food that we take a minute to differentiate the difference between Mexican food and Tex Mex food.

According to the Twisted Taco, Authentic Mexican food is influenced by Mayan Indians, the Aztec Empire and the Spanish who invaded Mexico in the 1500s. It typically involves pork, dairy, garlic, and other herbs and spices.

This is different from Tex Mex food which is used to talk about American influenced Mexican food. It includes foods that are not always authentic to true Mexican cuisine and includes fajitas, nachos, and more.

I want to acknowledge that throughout this post I will be mainly referring to Tex Mex restaurants as authentic Mexican restaurants tend to be local establishments rather than nationwide chains.

Gluten-free Mexican Restaurants - Gluten Cross-Contact Questions to Ask at Mexican Restaurants

Mexican Restaurants With Gluten-Free Options

Now let’s get into the meat of this post, where are the Gluten-free Mexican Restaurants you can enjoy? Now before we dive into my list of Mexican restaurants, I want to throw out a disclaimer that no restaurant listed below is a guarantee that you will not get glutened.

Management and staff attitudes can vary by location so always do you due diligence in investigating the safety of your restaurant locations to ensure a safe meal. That said, here are some Mexican Restaurant Chains in the USA that offer gluten-free options:

  • On the Border -According to the 2022 On the Border Gluten-free Menu, there are a lot of gluten-free options like tacos, soups, salads, fajitas, and bowls. You’d still want to verify the gluten-free status and ask for cross-contact precautions before going.
  • Chipotle – a common chain serving American Mexican inspired food across the USA, this one of the easier restaurants to go to. Just make sure you’re asking that they are changing their gloves and utensils before serving you your bowl.
  • Qdoba – another Tex Mexican restaurant with gluten-free options is Qdoba. See their allergen menu here. It lists risks of cross-contact for some menu items, which is a  great indication for you to ask for specific cross-contact precautions.
  • Barrio – with locations in Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, and New Hampshire, Barrio offers many gluten-free options. Here  you can build your own tacos, burrito, burrito bowl, and nachos. Bonus: at the locations I’ve been to, they’ve had strict allergen protocols.
  • Condado Tacos – With locations in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, Condado Tacos also has many gluten-free options. In fact, unless the menu has changed, only 2 things have gluten: the flour tortillas and the Korean BBQ Pulled Jack Fruit. PLUS this locations I’ve been too have had great cross-contact protocols.
Gluten-free Mexican Restaurants - Generally Safe Gluten-free Order to Make at Mexican Restaurants Complete with Cross-Contact Precautions

Preventing Cross-Contact With Mexican Food

Gluten-free Mexican restaurants out of the way, let’s talk about preventing cross-contact when ordering.

If you have celiac, no matter where you are eating, you always want to verify and ask for specific cross-contact precautions. It’s not enough to see good restaurant reviews or to order off a gluten-free menu.

So here are some cross-contact questions to ask when ordering GF Mexican Food:

  • Is your spanish rice gluten-free?
  • Are your corn chips made with 100% corn?
    • Are they made in a dedicated fryer?
  • Do you thicken the sauces, beans, or queso with flour?
  • Do you add beer to your sauces, dips, or beans?
  • Are the seasonings or marinades for the meat gluten-free?
    • Do you marinate any of them with beer?
    • Do you add soy sauce to your meat?
    • Do you season your food with Maggi?
    • Or ask for plain meat if you don’t feel like asking
  • Is the meat cooked on a grill that also cooks gluten?
  • Are your tortillas 100% corn tortillas (or do you have 100% corn tortillas?)

Hopefully this guide helps you feel empowered in ordering safe food at Mexican and Tex Mex restaurants. And if you found this helpful and you need more help with dining out and feeling comfortable speaking up with restaurant staff, check out this course!

And for more in-depth help in ordering gluten-free Tacos, check out this post.

Now help me out! What Mexican restaurants have you eaten at successfully?

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