The holidays are the most challenging time of the year to stick to any diet. If you’re like me and already have a limited menu to work with, dining out over the holidays is a major feat. Travel, having guests or being a guest are all culprits for throwing off the routine and limiting gluten-free food options. And let’s face it, we’re all willing to face a tummy ache and a few extra pounds for Grandma’s Christmas cookies and the traditional turkey gravy dinner. It’s once a year and life is short, may as well enjoy it.
We all know however, that digestion breakdowns can put a crink in the holiday fun. Before you run screaming YOLO consider some advance preparation to limit the damage starting with this list of top gluten-free San Diego restaurants in the Downtown area. You and your holiday guests will equally enjoy it.
Turn On the Holiday Glitz
Here are two five-star restaurants perfect for celebrating special occasions while enjoying San Diego’s gem, the harbor. That’s what everyone comes here for right? There are surprisingly fewer quality ocean view options than you’d think. Whether it’s dinner before the Nutcracker or Christmas dinner you will not regret opting into fine service and opting out of doing the dishes at my top picks. Here you go…
Ruth’s Chris Steak House on the San Diego Harbor
This fine establishment never disappoints and it is strategically located for the perfect after dinner walk along the harbor. Enjoy a traditional menu ranging from steak and mashed potatoes to chicken, fish or lobster. If you want to catch a bay view during your meal be sure to make reservations in advance and ask to sit on a west-facing window table or on the outside patio. There is a single spot on the patio under a gazebo type structure that offers a prime view and full ocean air experience. Me, I prefer a cozy booth near the bar. Ask for the gluten-free menu and don’t be afraid to request modifications to customize your meal. They are all about service. Ruth’s Chris is open for Christmas if you want to get out of the kitchen and make it special.
Insider Tip: This place makes a killer Manhattan. If you are gluten sensitive to whiskey substitute with their corn-based whiskey.
Must Try: The gluten-free, milk free chocolate sin cake is worth going to hell for.
Top Of The Market on the San Diego Harbor
Have guests in town looking for a San Diego seafood experience? Top of the Market is a high-end restaurant perched, you guessed it, on top of The Fish Market. You might be surprised to find this much class packed into the same building as The Fish Market, a historic tourist trap… and for good reason. This place sells and serves the freshest local and imported fresh fish. You’ll find a few of the same favorites on the menu at Top of the Market including their famous clam chowder and cioppiono, plus a plethora of high-end dishes that properly spotlight their quality fresh fish. This tops the gluten friendly dining list because much of the menu is naturally gluten-free and they do not drown the food in sauces that pose higher risks. They are accommodating to modifications and in my experience make few mistakes. Unlike most restaurants they actually do double-check plates before they leave the kitchen to ensure your special requests were made. Arrive early for a cocktail. The specialty martinis are never too syrupy and they serve one of the best Manhattans I’ve ever had in my life. I come here specifically for it and I take mine up. They truly do serve fresh San Diego catches like local Opah, not so attainable high quality fare such as Scotland Salmon and an exquisite array of house smoked fish. The jumbo prawn cocktail is fresh, meaty and sure to impress guests.
Insider Tip: Sit at the kitchen bar for live cooking action as entertaining as The Food Network.
Must Try: Order the cioppiono without the pasta and you will be gluten safe. Ask them to skip the finishing butter to make it lactose free too.
A Casual Holiday Affair
Sometimes there’s nothing better than not dressing up for the occasion and kicking it casual with the fam. Here are gluten friendly establishments that are easy on the stomach and pocket book too.
Local Habit in Hillcrest
If you ate Celiac or have a strong gluten allergy you will appreciate the attention Local Habit puts into their gluten-free offering. Cooked on separate equipment in the a clean kitchen, the locally sourced, seasonal menu is crafted for the gluten-free or vegan diner and it’s delicious. (And, normal stomachs too) This is one of the few places that you’ll find both gluten free bread, pizza, and beer all in one place. It takes casual to a whole new level. After dinner enjoy the fun atmosphere in the heart of Hillcrest. Local Habit is open at 2pm on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day.
Insider Tip: If it’s pizza you’ve been craving, make it lactose free too by opting for the vegan cheese on gluten-free crust. To stay true to their hand crafted flavor their vegan ricotta style cheese is made from scratch using almonds.
Must Try: The brussel sprouts are seriously foodgasmic.
PF Changs Everywhere
PF Changs is a family favorite and a go-to spot when I’m traveling about because it’s a national chain. We have a few in San Diego at the Fashion Valley Mall and in La Jolla UTC. While not the traditional holiday fare, this delish option has a big enough menu to satisfy everyone in a group big or small. PF Changs offers a gluten-free menu and most items are naturally milk free too. You won’t feel cheated on the menu, it includes their top dishes like lettuce wraps, fried rice and stir fry. The revisions are close enough in taste for sharing with your non-gluten free family and friends without a yuck face.
Insider Tip: Ask for gluten-free soy sauce.
Must Try: The lemon scallops have a crispy taste as you’d experience with flour coated sauté. But, they use gluten-free flour making it taste naughtier than it is.
Kous Kous Moroccan Restaurant in Hillcrest
This little escape to Morocco is a local favorite and tops the list of places to go in San Diego for savvy European travelers. If you’re looking for something different with an International flare, Kous Kous is your jam. The authentic Moroccan fare includes tagines (stew) of lamb, fish, chicken and several naturally vegan, milk-free and gluten-free dishes. The rice will melt in your mouth and if you are a milk drinker you will also absolutely love the mashed potatoes. The interior decorated with Moroccan textiles and lamps offers a romantic environment but there are big enough tables to handle small to medium parties.
Insider Tip: Reserve the corner booth for a romantic evening.
Must Try: A Moroccan Kiss.
Holiday Shopping Eats
It’s a busy time with lots to do like shopping! Mall food is a killer to eating healthy so here are two great gluten-free options near Downtown that will keep you on your toes.
True Food Kitchen at Fashion Valley Mall
A conscious diner’s heaven plopped in the middle of a shopping mall. Score! You don’t have to be a die-hard Yogi to eat here but the servers do wear yoga pants making it much more comfortable for me as I love shopping in my yoga clothes, no make-up. True Food Kitchen’s concept:
“De.Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet isn’t meant to deprive a healthy body of great flavors, it’s meant to take popular trends in cuisine and pair them with healthy living.”
What’s amazing about this place is it doesn’t taste like super healthy food so you can bring your “normal people” here and they’ll still enjoy it. It’s a fun space with a bar, yes with amazing cocktails at that, and full view into the kitchen where there is no separation between you and the people preparing your food. These dishes might include pizza, street tacos, turkey bolognese, or steelhead salmon. All gluten-free! Pick up your shopping spirit with a “Spontaneous Happiness” cocktail. Or, an alcohol free elixir as well such as Honey Lemonade.
Insider Tip: Pre-order a healthy holiday pie to take home to the family.
Must Try: The gluten-free pasta.
Stacked at Fashion Valley Mall
“Food well built.” And, you are the builder. Geek out on Stacked where you can customize your order using their special menu iPads. The service is pretty hands off and some of us prefer that but if you’re old and need a traditional menu they will accommodate. You will be seated, you will be served, you won’t have a waitress hovering over your or slowing down your check. You pay right there at the table using the iPad. As far as the food goes, amazing. There are gluten-free options for bread so you can truly enjoy your burger and fries. For those naughty normal eaters, try the mac n’ cheese pizza, it’s a monster. Everyone will enjoy the variety of sauce options including curry ketchup or the sweet potato fries.
Insider Tip: If you are lactose intolerant be sure to ask which sauces are milk free, and remind them that mayo is not milk.
Must Try: The gluten-free turkey burger with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and cranberry mayo.
Print out this list of gluten-free restaurants and keep it with you this season. May you enjoy your holidays stomach ache free!