Home to Disneyland, the ever-growing Irvine Spectrum, and of course the original Real Housewives, Orange County is a beautiful place with not only incredible weather, but a pretty impressive understanding of what it takes to eat safely gluten-free. I made my triumphant return home to the OC for the holidays and did some exploring with friends, family and my powerful little Nima.
Location: 73 Spectrum Center Dr, Irvine, CA 92618
#nimatested Dish: Coffee and Cheesecake Frozen Yogurt
Notes: I started off the break with a quick cold treat with friends. There are a lot of gluten-free designated flavors so there are plenty of options here. The best practice at self-serve frozen yogurt places like Yogurtland is to do a Nima test of a sample before filling your bowl and paying. Once Nima smiles, then you can go back and fill up with confidence.
Location: 2667 Park Ave, Tustin, CA 92782
#nimatested Dish: Plain Cheeseburger and Side of Fries
Notes: Things looked promising at Red Robin. I researched beforehand and saw that across the chain, there is a solid understanding of gluten cross contamination. Since I had never been myself, I decided to keep things simple and order a plain cheeseburger and no seasoning on the fries (pro tip: many seasonings can come into contact with gluten in the production line and can be problematic… Nima and I have learned this the hard way). Unfortunately, the first round found gluten. I spoke to the waitress, who was very apologetic and sent the meal back to be done again with extra care. The manager also came out and spoke with me about their process, which included a dedicated gluten-free fryer. He was very kind and I was comforted by how they handled the situation.
Round 2: There was the addition of a purple flag in my replacement burger that marked it as gluten free. I was hopeful, yet it did not bring better news. The manager came back out and we discussed the situation further. To see whether it was the gluten-free bun that was presenting the problem, we did a separate test with it alone. It found gluten. I described how buns that are not certified gluten-free may actually come into contact with gluten in the manufacturing facility. The manager said he would look into it. So although I was unable to eat on this outing, I was able to spread some knowledge and awareness thanks to Nima. I think Red Robin has promise, but we need to keep a close eye on what brand they are using for their buns. Ultimately, I was absolutely impressed with the way the staff handled the situation. They were extremely kind and dedicated to keeping me safe.
In n Out
Location: 26482 Towne Centre Dr, Foothill Ranch, CA 92610
#nimatested Dish: Protein Style Cheeseburger and Fries
Notes: Anybody who has visited the area knows that In N Out is a staple of Orange County. Deprived of my burger at Red Robin, I made a bold attempt at an In N Out the next day before work. I had heard that they keep their buns separate from the rest of the food and that if there is a person who cannot eat gluten, they will take precaution to avoid contamination. Once again, however, I struck out. A bustling joint like In N Out is bound to accidentally make a mistake. That’s why my recommendation is not to necessarily avoid In N Out, but to only go with the help of Nima. It can be a quick, on-the-go meal for celiacs when done right.
Green Tomato Grill
Location: 1419 N Tustin St, Orange, CA 92867
#nimatested Dish: Mediterranean Chicken Bowl
About the restaurant: Um WOW! This meal easily became my favorite meal out since my celiac diagnosis. When I ordered, I let them know about celiac and they already had a plan in place to avoid cross contamination. The food came out quick and it was delicious. Highly recommend!
Location: 8505 Irvine Center Dr, Irvine, CA 92618
#nimatested Dish: Mediterranean Greek Salad
About the restaurant: My trusty Panini Grill. Although slightly ironic since there’s gluten in the name, Panini Grill has always delivered meals that smile. I have been to a few different locations and it is never been an unsuccessful trip. The staff is pleasant and knowledgeable, and the food is delicious.
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