If you’re a foodie like me, you understand the power of food to turn hangriness into happiness. However, since I have quite the list of food allergies, eating out can be difficult for a gal like me. Being gluten and dairy free (though not by choice, that’s for sure!) means it can be pretty tricky to find a place to eat that is not only safe, but affordable.
When I moved to the Richmond area for school, I needed to find some places that would satisfy my taste buds while not killing my stomach. If you’re in a similar boat, here are three local restaurants I’ve found that are dedicated to satisfying customers no matter their dietary needs.
The Daily Kitchen & Bar:
From a wild mushroom frittata for brunch to a juicy certified-angus burger, The Daily has the cure for your cravings. This environmentally conscious cafe uses organic, local ingredients to create a versatile menu.
As healthier food trends caught on in other cities, Michelle Williams, co-owner of The Daily, sought to turn over a new, greener leaf in the Richmond food industry.
“Virginia has always been deeply rooted in southern tradition, which is wonderful, but people are wanting healthier options,” said Williams. “So it was a [question] of: how can we offer things that people still are enjoying, but in a healthier manner?”
When asked about their allergy-friendly options, Williams laughed. “Oh my gosh; there are so many!” she said. “Our kitchen staff will work directly with any specific allergies, and people have the confidence in us that they can come to us with those things. Most everything we do, we can modify to meet the needs.”
For The Daily, having allergy-friendly options was a priority, for both professional and personal reasons. “One of my business partners is vegan, so that was important to him,” said Williams. “I suffer from food allergies, so I definitely know what it’s like to not know if I can eat something, or end up having a reaction.”
Though the menu indicates major food allergens (gluten, dairy, nuts), customers with specific concerns are able to request an ingredients list, or ask for their food to be prepared to fit their dietary needs. “We’ve become the beacon for ‘we can work with you to meet your needs’,” said Williams.
So for all my fellow gluten-free friends… get your sandwich on! Check out The Daily’s Instagram page here.
Tio Pablo Taqueria:
Not feeling a classic American-style meal? Say “hola” to Tio Pablo! Tio’s is proudly one of the only restaurants in RVA dedicated to being 100% gluten free.
Never having been to Tio’s before, I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to find it on the busy streets of RVA, but my directionally challenged nerves were eased when I saw the bright purple sugar skull signage.
As soon as I walked inside, I heard a Hispanic cover of “Deep End” by Lady Gaga playing softly through the speakers. I was surrounded by beautiful artwork, and the ambience was peaceful, yet lively. My seat even had a nice view of the rainbow soda bottles on the wall.
We were greeted by our lovely server and one of the co-owners, Paul Keevil, who invited me to come try their authentic Mexican cuisine for myself.
I asked him what his recommendations were, and he chuckled and said, “everything’s good.” I ended up getting these delicious tostadas de carne asada with rice and beans, and my guest got carnitas with nopales (cactus) and fried potatoes with jalapenos.
Gluten allergies are not the only issue Tio’s is cautious of. I eat a dairy-free diet, and I was easily able to order my tostadas without any dairy products. “[Other allergies] are something we are always cognizant of,” said Keevil.
Keevil said that people have come to realize that food being gluten-free doesn’t affect its integrity. “It’s not a compromise,” he said. “It’s not anything where you get less flavor. You actually get a healthier alternative.”
Keevil told me he battles with Celiac disease, so being gluten-free is very important to him. I also have Celiac, so I appreciate being able to feel safe ordering anything off the menu.
“The majority of Mexican cuisine is gluten-free, so it’s a very easy option,” said Keevil. “Not only is Mexican food mostly gluten-free, but it’s also a very healthy alternative.”
Having been in the food industry since 2008, Keevil has learned there are different degrees of severity and types of reactions to gluten. “For some people, it’s very dangerous for them,” he said. “Some people can’t even go to a bakery.” It’s important to him that none of his customers feel excluded, or have to worry about having a reaction.
“People are delighted that Tio’s is completely gluten-free. There are people who are absolutely happy, because everything is gluten-free, so they can order anything,” said Keevil. And I can definitely confirm his statement.
Check out their Instagram page here.
Being dairy-free, the food I miss most, hands down, is ice cream. Ever since my last bite, I haven’t been able to find a dessert that butters my biscuit quite like it. But now that I’ve found DeLuca Gelato, I think my search may be over.
Finding a common passion for authentic Italian food, Nick and Terrie DeLuca decided to open DeLuca to bring some of that authenticity to RVA.
Inside the store is a Candyland dream. With an array of colorful gelato and sorbets, as well as fresh brewing coffee in the back, the shop’s aroma matches the deliciousness of the treats themselves.
DeLuca offers dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free, and gluten-free sweets. Though their gelato recipe contains milk, sorbet is traditionally made without dairy. “Its texture seems creamy due to its slow churn and freshness,” Nick said.
DeLuca not only offers at least nine allergy-friendly options each day, but they also have a certain production order, and train their employees how to scoop safely. “Sorbets are always the first run in production,” said Nick. “This way we’re sure there’s no contaminants.”
The scooping order is the same as their production schedule, “always striving to avoid cross-contamination. All of our nut flavors are made at the end of the run, then the machine is taken apart, washed, and sanitized before making anything else,” Nick said. “There’s always someone on staff who can confirm and discuss ingredients.”
Offering allergy friendly options was not originally a deliberate choice for the DeLucas. “I don’t think we ever set out to specifically be an allergy friendly place,” said Nick. “We just made the conscious decision to make our product the right way, and in doing so, that means focusing on what’s in, or not in, each item.”
Though the DeLucas do not have any allergies of their own, they feel that creating a safe food environment is “just the way it ought to be done.” For Nick, a core memory from learning the process of making gelato was when his instructor said, “Going out for ice cream shouldn’t be a life or death situation.”
Nick agreed, and added, “Going out for gelato should be a pleasant experience, where the biggest concern is deciding which flavors to mix, not whether or not you’ll have a reaction!”
So whether you’re in Richmond for a while or just passing through, consider checking out one, or even all three, of these restaurants! Whether you deal with food allergies or not, you are sure to leave satisfied.
The Daily Pictures courtesy of Christa Gibbons
Tio Pablo pictures courtesy of Emily Villacrusis
DeLuca Gelato pictures courtesy of Nick DeLecua