Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Restaurant Roundup--Part 1

Thanks to everybody who shared their restaurant experiences with regards to nut allergies. In my very unscientific survey, I was heartened to discover that many of us are finding safe dining experiences and a heightened understanding of what nut allergies are. That's progress!

And while it seems to be the case that many national chains appear to keep to more consistent menu items and standards, thus making them "safer," a lot of you found restaurants in your own neighborhoods that have become family standbys. For example, one reader found a safe Japanese restaurant in the college town of Champagne, Illinois; another a safe "hole in the wall" Mexican place in New York. So always ask questions and go with your common sense and gut instincts. You might just find a new family favorite for dining out.

Just so you know: the responses I got were for nut allergies only. I know that some of the readers of this blog have other food allergies besides nuts, so these restaurants may not work for you. Please feel free to share your own dining out tales--it would be helpful to so many of us.

And on a side note: for the restaurants listed, always ask about ingredients. This post is meant to steer you in an allergy-friendly direction, but unfortunately, there are no guarantees with dining out. Always ask questions and make sure you are comfortable before taking an allergic child to dine out anywhere. Be ready to leave if necessary and never leave home without the Epi Pen.

OK, with that said, here are some of my findings. Many of you cited Chipotle Grill as safe for nut allergies. In fact, this was the number 1 restaurant mentioned by respondents. Chipotle does have a clear "allergy" menu available online and in the store, so that's helpful to start. But let's face it--they use a lot of fresh ingredients, make up the food as you watch and have a limited menu. This is all helpful if you've got a nut allergy. Also, since Mexican food can be risky (nuts show up in sauces and chili, for example) it's refreshing to find a safe spot for this type of food. And how 'bout that guacamole!

Then, in the Chicago area, Wishbone and Palmer Place in La Grange got positive mentions. I can also recommend Athena in Greek Town--they told us that they even took almond garnish off all plates due to the increase in nut allergies. And then there's Bistro 110 just off of Michigan Avenue in Chicago--the French chef has kids with nut allergies and other food allergies. This is a beautiful eatery and in the nice weather you can sit outside--a nice option for those of us with little ones. If you're visiting Chicago with food allergies, it's a must-see.

On to the national chains: one dad mentioned Potbelly Sandwich Works. I do take my daughter there and have had a good experience. The PB sandwiches are prepared in a separate area with plastic utensils, etc. I ask the staff/management each time I go in about their peanut allergy awareness and each time the staff has a thorough explanation ready for me. I've eaten there with my daughter many times but some parents may not wish to be anywhere with peanut butter--that's your call entirely and I understand.

Another national chain restaurant that got frequent mention was Red Robin. They have a food allergy menu, a children's menu with simple foods and also they will identify your ticket with "nut allergy" written on it. At least one reader has had their child experience a mild reaction (hives) after eating at RR, so nothing is fool-proof. However, the majority of respondents had a good experience there, especially if they talked to the manager before ordering for their child.

This is just the beginning and in the coming weeks I will keep sharing restaurant recommendations, so please keep your comments coming! For the next Restaurant Roundup, I'd like to talk about "safe" pizza places. I've got several nut-free recommendations already, but please contact me if you'd like to share gluten-free or dairy-safe menu items as well.


Elaine at Matters of the Heart) said...

This is so great. We love Chipolte too.

jenny said...

Thank you Jenny for this roundup, especially that you made it clear that this particular post is mainly focus on nut allergies.
Even though we are dealing only with peanut allergy, but I find myself (or slowly educating myself) to be more aware of all types of food allergies. We are all in this big family and should watch out for each other!

Carla Burke said...

Red Robin is one of our favorite restaurants to take the kids. I don't know where I heard this, and would like to know if it's true: Is Red Robin totally peanut and nut free? I heard it is.

Jenny said...

Hi Carla,

I'm not sure if Red Robin is completely nut-free, but I too have not seen nut products on the menu. I'd check at the restaurant when you go there.

Also, I think some of their desserts may have nuts as an ingredient. You can access their menu online and it will show you all of the ingredients.