Gluten Free in DC
(that has a nice ring to it…!)
I recently took a vacation to Washington D.C. with family. We were lucky enough to stay in a timeshare (Wyndham) outside the city (National Harbor), which meant I had a kitchen to cook in! This was fantastic and allowed me to cook breakfasts every day and a couple lunch and dinners. On Saturday however, we went in to the city and are lunch and dinner out. Check out the great restaurants I found!
Penn Quarter – downtown DC
I love love love Jaleo so much. I dined for the first time at this restaurant in Las Vegas for my 21st birthday and couldn’t wait to check out their DC location on my recent trip! Jaleo can only be found in 4 locations, with 3 of them being near DC (Penn Quarter, Crystal City, & Bethesda) and the last location in Vegas. The location we visited was the original, and it’s right downtown within walking distance to all the museums, capitol building, and the mall. It’s also not far from Chinatown, so if you’re in for the day, check out Shop House on 7th st. It is definitely a unique menu with tapas for sharing, suggesting 2-3 dishes per person. Not a cheap menu, but you will pay for the quality flavors and the experience.
The downtown DC location has a super quirky atmosphere, I assume because “Jaleo” means uproad or confusion in spanish. We were lucky enough to sit at a table with a real foosball game, which made waiting for food even easier. It was hard not to get really into the game and remember shouting is not socially acceptable in a restaurant! 🙂
I sat down and found a gluten free menu already ready, since mentioning it on the reservation! There was a huge selection of gluten free offerings. I also had to ask about dairy free options and found myself with lots to choose from! I chose the wrinkled baby potatoes as my “vegetable” (I know it’s a starch… but they looked so yummy!) which came with two sauce options – an orange sauce with a cumin flavor and a green sauce that tasted of cilantro. There was no dairy (or gluten) in either sauce or on the potatoes.
My family ordered the shrimp dish (Gambas al Ajillo), which was a famous one, and I thought it was okay. Not bad, but not a super strong flavor.
We also ordered a paella for the whole table. They only offer two flavors, out of the four options, each day. To my excitement, the chicken and mushroom was on the menu the day we were there! It is a huge dish that they bring out on a tray, plating and serving individually right there at the table. It’s a good deal and I was so happy to be able to taste it. I would totally order it again. The aoli shmear on the side of the plate was some sort of yummy garlic sauce (dairy free because it’s just eggs). I asked to sub the mushrooms for another veggie, but unfortunately they cannot accommodate that for paella.
The only dairy free dessert option is sorbet, but in Vegas before going dairy free, I got the flan, which was gluten free and had a twist – orange flavored. The sorbet’s daily flavor was lemon, but I skipped it due to the sugar. They have a great coffee selection, hot teas, and dessert wines. My family ordered the flan and loved it!
You will definitely want to try and make a reservation. We called about two weeks ahead and could only get a 5:45 pm reservation, but there were also 7 of us. Make a reservation here! Feel free to expand, Jaleo, and you will find me dining in your restaurant often!
Shop House – Chinatown/downtown DC
Locations throughout DC
This “southeast asian kitchen” is owned by the same group as Chipotle, and within minutes of walking in, this becomes obvious. Just by looking at the menu, I described it as an asian chipotle. However, there’s something so incredibly awesome about Shop House that puts it in an whole other category: It’s completely gluten and dairy free. Not kidding. Like, everything. Even better, the meats don’t have any crap in them (no antibiotics or hormones) and they are pretty impressively non-gmo. (Side note: I just read today that Chipotle has announced they will exclude GMO ingredients now, making them the first large fast food chain to do so).
Basically, you start with a bowl and make decisions in sections:
- Base: brown rice, noodles, jasmine rice, salad
- Protein: chicken, steak, pork & chicken meatballs, or tofu
- Veggie: eggplant, kale, green beans (spicy), corn
- Sauce: red (spicy) or green (not as spicy but still spicy!) curry, vinaigrette, or peanut sauce
- Garnishes: papaya slaw (yes), pickled veggies, herb salad
- Toppings: crispy garlic, toasted rice, crushed peanuts, thai chilis
The employee could tell I was new so he helped guide me and even told me the restaurant was completely GF & DF without my asking. I ordered a noodle bowl with chicken, green beans, green curry, papaya slaw, and toasted rice. Wow. I was impressed. I was hesitant on the noodles because they were cold, but they do warm up with the toppings a bit and they were so much thicker than I thought – but in a good way! Soft! I couldn’t stop eating!! My family went to eat at Shake Shack (not gluten free friendly) so I got mine to go and ate with them, but I finished much after them and had to stop myself. Be warned – it is spicy! I think next time I would try getting the green curry on the side to control the spice, or maybe try another sauce. I can’t even image what red curry is like!
Currently, they only have locations in California (3), DC (4), and Maryland (3), but I have a feeling these folks will be expanding rapidly (fingers crossed). It’s vegetarian/ vegan friendly too!
The Happy Tart: Gluten Free Patisserie
Alexandria, VA (just 3 miles from National Harbor) with a second location coming in Falls Church, VA
Tucked back in a corner at the intersection of It may be hard to find, but it’s worth the search. This cute french bakery has a strong focus on baked goods, such as quiche, baguettes and bread products, pies, cookies, cupcakes, cake pops, turnover, obviously tarts, and even macaroons. They have some beautiful petit fours and the wedding cakes on display are exquisite.
Some of the dairy free options I learned about included: petit fours, s’mores cupcakes (and some other flavors), chocolate chip cookies, english muffins, & baguettes. However, the quiche, tarts, brioche bread & buns and other items in the bakery were not dairy free.
Unfortunately being sugar free very much limited me in this bakery, so I only took home english muffins and a couple of baguettes. What I was able to sample in these bread items was delicious! They have a fantastic texture, especially considering I didn’t have a GF toaster at the hotel! Since they were in a freezer at the store, I popped each in the microwave for 15 seconds and was really amazed at how good they tasted from the zap-fryer. I spread mine with coconut oil and a sprinkle of salt and it made a great doughy-treat while surrounded by my carb-loving family. I grabbed a plain and an olive (Sunday’s) baguette and was also able to snag some english muffins.
The olive baguette actually had large chunks of olives inside.
When I got home, I was so excited to use my egg mcmuffin maker with the english muffins I found!
The bakery runs on a schedule, baking certain things each day. Sometimes you can find items from the day before in the freezer, but always best to call ahead if going for something specific. I was sad I missed out on Saturday’s rosemary bread but very impressed with the prices at this bakery. The Sunday I visited they even had a buy one get one deal on the baguettes.
I do wish this bakery (and the others in DC) had a dine-in, cafe option like I do at home. However, DC definitely has many other options for dining gluten free.
Update: I left my loaves of bread and english muffins out of the freezer, and within about 36 hours they were cracking and breaking. So I would definitely suggest freezing them when you get home and just keeping out what you’ll eat in the first 2 days. A little disappointing.
My short visit consisted of several homemade meals in our hotel kitchen, so I was limited in the meals I ate out, but DC proved to be a great city for gluten-free diners. I can’t wait to visit again and try more!
Some of other DC restaurant options I hope to try in the future can be found below.
El Centro DF
The Grill Room
Near National Harbor:
Fontaine Crepperie Cafe
Rise Gluten Free
One Dish Cuisine
Here is a great guide for celiac-friendly in Washington DC on BrightestYoungThings.com