By Laurie Paolicelli
We often use this space to highlight some of the four-star restaurants in Orange County, restaurants that everyone, visitor and tourist alike, should visit. But for some of us it’s not as simple as that. Dietary restrictions, especially for the traveler, can make dining out a challenge.
A challenge, but far from impossible. Gluten-free traveling, for instance, just takes a little extra planning.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune ailment caused by intolerance to the protein gluten. Approximately 1% of Americans have the disease. When gluten is consumed, the immune system reacts by damaging the lining of the small intestine — which prevents proper nutrient absorption. Sticking to a gluten-free diet isn’t a choice: it’s a necessity. Yes, it requires more effort and planning to eat healthily but nowhere is out of reach for the intrepid celiac diner!
It’s the same with almost everyone with food allergies/intolerances: attention must be paid, and when it is, a healthy, nutritious meal can be had. Eating out is about more than simple nutrition, though. It’s about the all-important social aspect of eating as well. Individuals with food sensitivities have to concern themselves with the limited or uncertain availability of safe foods, free of cross-contact. Banquets or large events layer the risks.
For instance, in addition to certain foods being gluten-free in terms of their ingredients, the food cannot come in contact with gluten-containing foods in either the preparation or serving of that food. For celiac disease sufferers and their families, it involves the constant concern over cross contact with the preparation and service of food as well as ingredients therein.
“Celiac disease is a true auto-immune disease,” says Josh Gurlitz, Chapel Hill architect. “You can’t see or taste the gluten triggering a reaction. As a person living with celiac disease, I have to have confidence that a restaurant treats this condition as a serious disease not just a dietary fad.”
The good news for us is that in Chapel Hill and Orange County more and more restaurants are offering gluten-free options. This is in keeping with the prevailing philosophy of our community: inclusivity and mutual care.
So many visitors ask for a list of safe, healthy and delicious eateries, we wanted to share some of them with you.
Coco Chapel Hill
Coco loves creating their delicious, sustainable, plant-based food and drink options, which include a variety of gluten-free choices. They serve breakfast, lunch, and now dinner (Thursdays through Saturdays).
The menu changes seasonally, but they offer a variety of GF apps, entrees, desserts, and cocktails. They have dedicated GF fryers and thoughtful, knowledgeable staff. A great option for lunch or dinner.
Lots of GF options. Great for breakfast or lunch. The GF pancakes and waffles are made in a designated area and they are delicious! GF items are clearly marked on the menu.
Known for an easy GF lunch or dinner. Ordering is easy because everything is clearly marked, with lots of GF menu items to choose from. They have a dedicated GF fryer.
Hawthorne and Wood
Excellent reputation for accommodating GF. GF kitchen space and fryer. Lots of options and knowledgeable, friendly staff. Check out their delicious GF dessert selections. Great fine dining/date night spot.
Huge GF selection (most of the menu is GF). Knowledgeable staff. Food is delicious and filling.
As it is for all of the options on this list, food is not just GF – it’s delicious! Staff is knowledgeable and eager to accommodate. This family-owned restaurant has high standards and can offer several GF options – just ask!
A knowledgeable staff. High quality food with plenty of GF options. Great for lunch or dinner. They also have one of the best outdoor patio spaces in Chapel Hill.
Authentic cuisine from the Middle East and Mediterranean. The deli specializes in GF, vegetarian, and vegan options. Everything is clearly marked on the menu and they have a huge selection, so if your looking for choices, this is your spot! House made/fresh baked GF pita . . . need I say more?
Lots of choices and the menu is clearly marked. Staff is knowledgeable and the food is delicious.
Radius Pizza Hillsborough
Terrific gluten-free pizza. Says one happy visitor, “Waiter was aware of allergens and ones that he wasn’t sure on he did not hesitate to confirm. I ordered the GF BBQ chicken pizza and Parmesan fries.”
Nomad delivers traditional ethnic dishes and craft cocktails with a unique spin, all in a cozy, rustic interior. Many GF options are available, from their signature bowls to their brined chicken wings in either traditional house buffalo or Asian BBQ, served w/ house ranch and pickles and a tall glass of their Green’s Gluten Free Amber Ale.
As you can see, there is no shortage of restaurants in the greater Chapel Hill/Orange County area offering a wide-array of choices for the gluten-free diner. Eating out here is as safe as it is delicious. Bon appetite!
See a popular gluten-free restaurant listing here, or check out, www.visitchapelhill.org and add Gluten Free to your search.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.