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. 

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

P.s. Don’t forget to sign up for my FREE Gluten-Free Restaurant Cheat Sheets for the USA! In these free restaurant cheat sheets I cover what’s gluten-free at different USA restaurant chains and cuisines in the USA PLUS I give you scripts to help build up comfort with ordering. Grab your copy of these FREE cheat sheets here!

Table of Contents

What is Gluten?

When talking about gluten-free Mexican restaurants, it’s important we know what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, contaminated oats, and wheat. It may be helpful to remember the acronym “BROW” when trying to remember what foods have gluten.

In baked goods, gluten holds things together working as a binding agent. It gives texture and chew to foods.

Most people can safely eat gluten. However, some people have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease which means they need to avoid gluten. It can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea and nausea as well as nonintestinal symptoms such as rashes, headaches, or joint pain.

A picture of Celiac Dietitian, Tayler, eating at a gluten-free Mexican restaurant with a smile

What is Mexican Food?

When understanding which Mexican food is gluten-free, it’s important to understand the Mexican cuisine as a whole.

According to Mexicali Cantina Grill, Mexican cuisine can be traced back to 7000 BCE, when Mexico and Central America weren’t colonized yet. Much of the cuisine was influenced by indigenous people who ate many plants and animals, including chile peppers.

Once corn was domesticated in ~1200 BCE, much of the cuisine was influenced and corn based breads and tortillas were included in the cuisine. Around this time, beans were also introduced.

When the Spanish started colonizing Mexico, many of their dishes influences this corn, bean, meat, and chile based diet. Now many Mexican dishes involve corn, beans, and chiles along with meat, rice, and cheese.

This is a brief summary and of course this cuisine is rich with way more history. However, if we look at a lot of what influences the cuisine, we can see at it’s base, Mexican food is usually gluten-free.

Gluten-Free Tex Mex vs. Mexican Restaurants

On the topic of what is gluten-free, I think it’s important that we take a minute to discuss the difference between gluten-free 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 tracks with what Mexicali Cantina Grill stated and what I found in my research shared above.

This is different from Tex Mex food which is a term 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, most of the gluten-free Mexican restaurants I share are actually Tex Mex restaurants. This is because authentic Mexican restaurants tend to be local establishments rather than nationwide chains.

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 Mexican Restaurant - 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 Mexican Restaurant with Gluten-Free Food

On the Border has gluten-free Mexican food. Actually, it’s Tex Mex. I’ve never been but 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 evaluate suitability and safety for yourself. This includes verifying the gluten-free status of menu items and asking for cross-contact precautions.

Chipotle - A Mostly Gluten-Free Mexican Inspired Restaurant

Chipotle is a common chain serving Americanized gluten-free Mexican inspired food across the USA. This one of the easier restaurants to go to because everything is gluten-free except for the flour tortillas they use.

Just make sure that when you order that you’re asking for cross-contact precautions like having them change their gloves and utensils before serving you. This may be a higher risk options because it’s a fast-paced restaurant, so assess safety and suitability for yourself.

Qdoba has Gluten-Free Mexican Food

Qdoba another Tex Mexican restaurant with gluten-free Mexican food. 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.

Gluten-free options here include much of their menu. The biggest things to avoid are their brownies, cookies, flour tortillas, and seasoned potatoes.

Barrio has GF Mexican Food

Barrio has gluten-free Mexican food. With locations in Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, and New Hampshire, Barrio is a lot like Chipotle but not as fast-food like.

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. This makes ordering more simple. However, I never let allergen protocols stop me from specifying the cross-contact precautions I need staff to take.

Condados Tacos is a Mostly Gluten-Free Mexican Restaurant

Condado Tacos is another  Mexican restaurant with gluten-free food. With locations in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, Condado Tacos is very similar to Barrio.

They’ve got a lot of 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 the 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.

And don’t forget, grab your FREE dietitian-made gluten-free cheat sheets here or with the button below!

Share this:

Like this:

Like Loading...