Gluten-Free at Subway, Starbucks, Five Guys and More


“Convenience” probably isn’t a word you’re used to. In fact, you could probably drive past dozens of casual restaurants and fast food chains before you found a place where you felt it was safe to eat a gluten-free meal or snack.

While nobody should eat fast food very often, many of us unfortunately find ourselves in situations where we need to eat quickly and inexpensively, and we need to attempt a gluten-free meal at a fast food restaurant.

If you’re following a gluten-free diet, you can be tempted to lower your guard at these restaurants. Allergen information can be tough to find and the staff may not be much help either.

Well, we’ve decided to help you out by shedding some light on just how gluten-free friendly (or, in most cases, unfriendly) some of these restaurants are. In fact, we researched the gluten-free options at 50 of the most popular fast food chains in the United States and we’ll be sharing those findings with you over the next few weeks.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that we certainly don’t recommend going out and eating fast food all the time (or even regularly). Eating a balanced gluten-free diet that targets key vitamins, minerals and fiber is crucial to everyone on a gluten-free diet.

In this first installment, we’ll explore the gluten-free options at Subway, Starbucks, Five Guys, Quizno’s, In-N-Out Burger, Church’s, Papa John’s, and Captain D’s.

Subway’s Gluten-Free Options

Subway thoughtfully offers a common allergen chart which lists all of their regular, non-specialty items. The chart lists 12 different problematic ingredients, and which products contain them – one of these ingredients is gluten. Nearly all of Subway’s salads are gluten-free except for the meatball marinara, seafood sensation and sweet onion chicken teriyaki. Surprisingly, all of the salad dressings look gluten-free as well. Obviously, hold the croutons, and don’t even think about dessert. Not only do all of the cookies contain gluten, but so does the yogurt parfait! Just like other places, they too caution that items may come in contact during preparation and to be safe, you should always notify the server of your allergy or sensitivity.

Of course, you could be lucky enough to visit one of the few Subways that is testing a gluten-free bread and even has a gluten-free brownie. However, these tests have been going on for some time now, and it doesn’t look like things are picking up very quickly. According to the GlutenFreeAndFull blog, there are Subways with gluten-free bread in Duluth, Minnesota; Dallas / Fort Worth and Tyler, Texas; Gig Harbor / Tacoma, Washington; and Portland, Oregon.

If you don’t live in one of those areas, click here to view Subway’s full allergen information on their products sold at every location.


Starbucks’ Gluten-Free Options

For a moment, it appeared as if Starbucks was really ahead of its time when it launched a gluten-free almond orange cake in 2009. However, after quickly discontinuing the gluten-free pastry, Starbucks doesn’t appear to make any accommodations for the gluten-free dieter.

Starbucks is now infamous for making no comments or promises of any kind regarding their prepared beverages. Various celiacs (including myself) who frequent Starbucks, however, report having no reaction to brewed coffee or espresso. Milk-based drinks such as Frappuccinos and lattes are another story. Starbucks makes it very difficult to find the full ingredient list for many of their syrups. For this reason, they’ve caused a good deal of frustration in the gluten-free community. The crummy part about that, is that even if you order a drink without syrup (e.g. a soy latte), you need to be cautious since the steaming wand could be contaminated from a previous drink that used a syrup. There are, however, bottled versions of Starbucks’ Frappuccino and various other beverages that are labeled gluten-free.

For food options, stick to the packaged goods like Food Should Taste Good chips, KIND snack bars and Lucy’s cookies. They do serve prepared salads but make no effort to guarantee their safety for the gluten-free.


Five Guys Gluten-Free Options

Five Guys Burgers and Fries does not list specific allergens in their food items, except to say that all of their buns have gluten in them. As their menu is fairly well limited to – as their name implies – burgers and fries, they do not offer chicken, breaded or otherwise, or onion rings, so there is little danger of gluten cross-contamination in the cooking oil. Safe items therefore would be bunless burgers and hot dogs, and fries. Sorry, no chili at this place.


Quiznos’ Gluten-Free Options

All breads and wraps at Quiznos have gluten, and like most other restaurants, all food is prepared in common areas with risk of gluten cross-contamination. That said, relatively safe bets are the harvest chicken, honey mustard chicken, cobb, peppercorn caesar with chicken or Mediterranean chicken salads. Any of the dressings are fine except the creamy bacon, Alfredo and Pan Asian. Also avoid the rice noodles, and the soups, including the chili, as well as all desserts except the yogurt parfait with mixed berries.


In-N-Out Burger Gluten-Free Options

While In-N-Out Burger does not publish an allergen guide, they control their burger-making process from beginning to end, starting with high quality premium beef chuck, prepared and ground in-house by butchers at their patty-making facilities in California and Texas. Burger patties are made with 100% pure beef, free from additives or fillers, and shipped fresh, not frozen, to their restaurants.

In-N-Out Burger only offers burgers, fries and drinks, so the fries, made from fresh potatoes and cooked in 100% pure, cholesterol-free vegetable oil, are in no danger of cross-contamination from breaded chicken products or onion rings. And In-N-Out Burger’s “not-so-secret” menu finally reveals offerings that fans have been ordering for years, including the “protein style” – your favorite burger wrapped in hand-leafed lettuce instead of a bun.


Church’s Chicken Gluten-Free Options

Like other chicken places, Church’s yummy fried chicken is all breaded in wheat products. The only items listed on their allergen guide as not containing gluten are the corn, jalapeno peppers, coleslaw, collard greens, green beans, cajun rice, red beans and rice, gravies, sauces, condiments and beverages. The French fries don’t contain gluten, but check whether they have a dedicated fryer before trying them.


Papa John’s Gluten-Free Menu

Papa John’s does not offer a gluten-free pizza. All of their crusts – thin, hand-tossed and original – are made from wheat. With no salads on the menu, the only gluten-free item is the roasted chicken wings. All of the dipping sauces are gluten-free, however, as are, of course, the beverages. But don’t even think about dessert!


Captain D’s Gluten-Free Options

Captain D’s no longer publishes their allergen guide, but a previous version from 2011 lists items that don’t contain wheat or gluten as the broiled catfish, wild Alaskan salmon, seasoned tilapia, shrimp scampi, shrimp skewers, wild Alaskan salmon salad, baked potato, side salad, roasted red potatoes, coleslaw, corn on the cob, green beans, broccoli, all dressings and sauces except the ginger Teriyaki sauce, and of course, all of the beverages on the menu. Hopefully, they will have an updated allergen guide available soon.

So there you have it. Hopefully, you’ll find this information helpful when you need to find something safe to eat in a pinch.

And, as always, remember to be vigilant about suspicious ingredients, hidden gluten and cross contamination whenever you eat out.


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Comments ( 50 )

  • Sue

    It is nice to see that some are making an attempt to offer gf food. However, cross contamination is a big risk and unless they educate the food handlers it will always be a big risk. I am not willing to take a chance. This is creating more problems because so many who see the words “gluten free” assume that I am just being neurotic. Have you seen how they make subs at Subway? They open the bread and reach for the toppings you tell them you want. Those bread crumbs are contaminating everything. Just an example!

    • Mary

      totally agree!!!

    • Chris

      Regarding Subway:
      I live in Portland where they are piloting the GF option. They do not take from the regular assembly line; rather, once you tell them you are celiac, they go in the back and open up ALL NEW ingredient that they place right on your sub. FYI- you need to ask them to do this and by stating celiac, it puts them into this mode versus “GF trendy.”
      Good luck!

      • RidleySW

        I had my first attempt at the gluten-free Subway while visiting Klamath Falls, Oregon last weekend. They were amazing at preventing cross-contamination! The gentleman who prepared my sandwich pulled out all new ingredients and prepared the sandwich in a completely separate space (which was still completely in my view!). He put down several new wrappers (from a brand-new package of wrappers so he wasn’t taking from a stack that was touched by anyone else who had touched bread) and even had someone else open, close, and open the oven door so that he never touched the same surfaces another person had touched. I am sure there are other Subways and workers, in general, who would not do all of this so I caution people and recommend they watch the entire process… but in this instance I was so impressed that I want to give the franchises doing it right a huge shout-out!!

        • Shelley

          Why can’t the Subway in Tumwater WA do that. I have celiac and they are not cautious at all. I have gotten very sick from eating “gluten free” there on three different occasions. The question is, why did I go back after the first “gluten free” vist! :/ very disappointing, it could have been a good option.

  • Teresa

    Our Mazzio’s has gluten- free pizza at a decent price compared to other places. It comes in it’s own disposable aluminum pan which I imagine cuts much of the possible cross contamination.

  • Mary

    Well, my thoughts of places advertising GF foods is… anyone who does this should be “certfied”.. which in my opinion means that everyone that works there should be well informed, and tested to serve GF foods.. they should also be informed on how sick a crliac can get if they get contaminated!! I don’t take any chances, unless they can prove to me they are certified, and I dont think they should be able to advertise GF foods unless they are!!

    • Pam

      I agree, you can never be too safe. I am also a celiac, I am not going to tempt fate. Unless everyone in the eating establishement is informed there is not enough of a precaution for me.

    • Natalie Laraba

      I understand where you are coming from, I really do. But there are many people out there who are gluten intolerant or who choose not to eat gluten, and I am glad the restaurant industry is becoming much more accommodating to the demand. If I was someone who became ill at any possible cross-contamination I would not be eating in public either. But I don’t think it’s fair to ruin the chances of everyone else being able to enjoy a GF meal out, because you know most restaurants would not get “certified” because of liability reasons alone. That’s why they have the disclaimer, even those who are most careful, “cross-contamination may occur. Because no one wants to get sued or be responsible for putting someone in the hospital.

      • Diane

        Why would you even want to “enjoy” a GF meal out, especially if you don’t have too? GF is not some fad diet. It’s an essential diet for those of us who happen to be celiacs or non-celiac gluten intolerant. I would much rather have normal food than to have to be GF. GF food is sometimes difficult to find and more expensive. Also very scary to order out due to the fear of getting sick. I just don’t get why you would like to enjoy a GF meal out if you don’t have this disease. What do you think you are getting out of a GF meal?

  • Margaret

    Thanks for all the reviews

  • Sarahh

    I live in washington state and we have pizzeria called garlic jim. they have gluten free pizza.they charge you three dollars morefor the gluten free crust. but the problem is, the peiple working there don t get no training. they will be working on a regular pizza and then go grab gluten free cruzt without wasing their hands, the will use the same ustensil and so on. my kids decided to stop believing the gluten free lie they tell us. She does not eat outside anymore and she is doing much better.

  • Theresa

    Thank you for this! Just a quick note about In and Out (where I eat frequently): I believe the grilled onions are not gluten free. Raw onions are, of ourselves, a safe bet

    • Lene

      My boyfriend works at in-n-out and he assures me that the grilled onions are definitely cooked seperately from the buns and meat. So we still get to enjoy the deliciousness of the grilled onions!

      • Alisha

        I’ve worked at In N Out for over ten years and I can tell you that while the grilled onions are cooked on a separate part of the grill we grill them with the same spatula that does occasionally come into contact with the bun so eat those at your own risk. I’ve had customers tell me they’ve never had a reaction to them, but I don’t want anyone to have a problem.

  • Sue

    I have been told of kids working in fast food restaurants who throw pen caps into the fryer to see what they will do. I have personally received insects in a breakfast burrito- (found when opened to add sour cream) In a large fast food restaurant, I am not about to take a chance that they will not try to see how fast a piece of bread will brown if fat fried.

  • Michele A. Shahar

    CBTL (Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf) which is similar to Starbucks but BETTER, does have a lot of gluten free info and they offer a gluten free cake many times. We have been very happy with their labeling and information. So far, no bad reactions to anything labeled as gluten free, or dairy free, etc.

    They have stores in Calfornia in the LA area, some in San Diego and a few other places. Las Vegas has quite a few in the hotels and in town. Not sure where else, but available on their website.

  • Miranda

    I wouldn’t take my chances eating at most of the places listed above, especially Subway because of the high risk for cross contamination. I also don’t trust Moe’s, they offer GF options but much like subway, they touch all the ingredients with contaminated gloves and utensils. Wendy’s however, offers many GF options on their menu such as baked potatoes, chili and salads and I have not gotten sick. Also, McDonalds french fries and hashbrowns are GF. McDonalds has a dedicated frier for potato products.

    • Natalie

      McDonalds French fries actually contain hydrolyzed wheat protein in the potato. They are definitely NOT gluten free.

    • Barb

      the McDonald near me is not gluten free fries. got sick once, never again. the website even does not claim them gluten free. be careful!!

  • Carina

    My daughter doesn’t like lettuce wrap burgers but when we go to In N Out I order her a “Flying Dutchman” it’s 1 patty, cheese,1 patty. since the cheese is on the inside of the 2 patties she can eat it to go no problem. As for Mc Donalds, even though their french fries & hash browns don’t seem to contain gluten, my daughter got very sick from them. Further investigating reveals that they spray their potatoes products with something to make them stay krisper longer and that may have gluten in it. Lots of my other GF friends have had similar reactions to Mc Donalds fries/hasbrowns. Also be aware that in many buffets that serve ground beef in a taco bar area, it usually has oats as a filler with the beef(of course it is just labeled as ground beef). Also found this out the hard way.

    • Lynne

      Not all Mcdonalds maitain a dedicated fryer system. Have gotten chicken ngget crumbs in my fries.

    • Stacy

      McDonald’s French fries and hash browns have gluten in them!! They are not real fries they are reconstituted that means they have flour in them. That is why she is getting sick!!

  • Karin Goodman

    I agree with Chris above. I live near Portland Oregon and have never had a problem with Subway. I do not eat there often, but when I do thier employees wash there hands and open new ingredients for my sandwich.

  • Kelly Stanchfield

    Five Guys is one of my favorite places to eat! Their fries are not only delicious, but I know they are safe. When I order a burger, no bun, they always ask me if I have an allergy.

    • Carol Churchill

      The Five Guys in Mount Juliet, TN will gladly accommodate gluten free by wrapping the burger in lettuce with any fixings offered. Then they wrap in foil to keep it together. They use a separate part of another grill and separate gloves. I’ve never gotten ill after eating there.

  • Pam

    It would be really nice if we had places where we as celaiac’s could go and know that the food is safe and good. The variety is wonderful, and the prices aren’t so steep, your pockets aren’t deep enough. I relize organic foods and special foods take alot more care and what not, but honestly, I fix my won food at home and I live on an extremely tight budget, I manage quiet well. It can be done, it would just be great to have alot more choices in our local grocery stores.

  • Kelly

    This has been an AMAZING help for us listing all the gf options for dining out. I have a 6 yr old celuac, & I cant tell you how fabulous this is & you all are. Many, many thanks!!!!

  • Patrick

    Dominoes has gluten free pizzas now.

    • Morgan

      Domino’s does have gluten free pizzas, but you have to be VERY careful about eating them. The store that I normally purchase from is near a college town, and lots of the people who work there are “in the know” about gluten free eating and cross contamination. The store that I have to order from to get delivery? Not so much. Different neighborhood. I’d eaten the GF pizza from the Domino’s I pick-up from many times and didn’t get sick. The first time I ordered delivery and it came from a different store? Sick as a dog. They say RIGHT on the box, and on the website when you order that the ingredients are gluten free, they do everything they can to make sure that they won’t cross contaminate, but they can’t certify it. So, it’s definitely risky.

    • Gail

      [quote name=”Patrick”]Dominoes has gluten free pizzas now.[/quote]
      I have been ordering Domino’s GF pizza for a while and have had no problems.
      BUT a couple of nights ago I placed my order online and about15 minutes after ordering I got a phone call that they were out of GF crust and wanted to know which crust they could substitute!
      I told him NONE and to cancel the order (had a regular crust for hubby). The guy couldn’t t understand why I wouldn’t substitute another crust and was unhappy that I was canceling!

  • Emma

    Believe it or not, but Domino’s now has GF pizza options in delivery. They cannot guarantee cross-contamination, but it’s been pretty yummy and safe for me.

  • Cara

    The Inn n Out Burgers in Southern California all seem to have a separate allergy grill and are extremely careful with a well trained staff. Just ask if they have a separate allergy grill, if they do the staff knows how to use it. I am so paranoid I watch every time to be sure and always they use fresh gloves, a dedicated spatula for only that grill etc… It’s the one fast food place near the shopping I do where I can truly relax and eat safe food. I do order the lettuce wrap without sauce as it gets very messy with the sauce, but the bunless burgers and fries are great. I eat only at home 99% of the time so this is really a treat.

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  • Cecilia

    We’ve started taking our gluten free udi’s baguette to subways and get subs. We ask for fresh ingredients when they are in the first row and from the bottom when further back.

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