The Paleo Mama’s Guide to Dining Out Paleo-style

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dining out

When I started to eat Paleo, I was overwhelmed with where to eat, what to eat, and how to order. In fact, I don’t think we ate out much in the beginning because I didn’t want to stray from our diet. However, as time went on and mommy needed a break from cooking, we ventured out into the world of American chain restaurants and I learned A LOT about food. I remember asking so many questions that the waiter usually had to go ask the cook.

Now, I am easier on myself. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again…I am not 100% Paleo. I am more like 85% Paleo. The other 15% is covered with lots and lots of grace and the occasional pizza. Dining out seems hard in the Paleo world…but it doesn’t have to be.

Here’s my quick guide on what to eat and where to eat.  So GET OUT, stop stressing, and make the best choice you can. Leave room for grace :)

One thing restaurants confuse very often is REAL butter and fake butter. Make sure when you are ordering or eating that you ask for REAL butter. Also, most vegetables are cooked in vegetable oils, which is a no-no eating Paleo. Look for steamed options or request for your food to be cooked in olive oil. Avoid any dishes that have gravy. Gravy is loaded with flour. And when ordering dressings, remember that most are loaded with high fructose corn syrup, so ask for OLIVE oil and vinegar. Please use the word olive. They have, and will bring you out a bottle of canola oil and vinegar.

Always ask for NO SEASONING SALT in restaurants, wherever you go. MSG is added to this, as is sugar.

Also, I’ve learned that steakhouses are the BEST choice. However, I know I get tired of eating at the same places so I wanted to include other restaurants that offer good alternatives.

1) TGI Fridays - Fridays is actually very Paleo-friendly! It is one of the few restaurants where you get to pick your two sides.

Best Salad: The Grilled Chicken Cobb salad is great and you can request no cheese and ask for olive oil and vinegar for dressing.

Best Beef: The “Premium Black Angus Steaks” are great and a good Paleo choice.  Avoid the Jack Daniel dishes if you want to avoid dairy and any other questionable sauces. The burgers are also questionable in my option. Friday’s doesn’t disclose their gluten-free menu, so the burgers “may” have white flour in them. However, you feel like indulging and want a burger, get it…just ask for extra lettuce and eat it between two lettuce leaves.

Best Chicken: can’t recommend one since they are all smothered in sauce and cheese

2) Outback - Another great Paleo-friendly restaurant! Most steakhouses, for that matter, are! With all orders, ask for vegetables as a side or a baked potato.

Best Salad: The Aussie Cobb Salad, California Chicken Salad, Steakhouse Salad are all great. Just make sure you request only grilled chicken and no croutons.

Best Beef: These steaks (Outback Special, Victoria’s Filet, NY Strip, Ribeye, and Porterhouse) are a great choice and GF according to their menu so you don’t have to worry about weird sauces! The sirloin is the leanest cut. Also, Outback, burgers are 100% beef! So, order that burger if you want, just avoid the bread! Aussie fries come with the burgers so just request a vegetable substitute or indulge in a baked potato.

Best Chicken: Grilled Chicken on the Barbie (ask for them to put their BBQ sauce on the side)

Best Seafood: Norwegian Salmon or Simply Grilled Mahi

3) Applebees – their menu is pretty diverse. Obviously avoid anything that has chips, bread, pasta or is fried.

Best Salad: Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach Salad (ask for olive oil and vinegar as a dressing)

Best Beef: The Ribeye and NY Strip are the only two steaks that aren’t cooked in soybean oil.

Best Chicken:  The Chipotle Lime Chicken is the only chicken dish that doesn’t contain dairy. Ask for a salad substitute for the rice and beans that comes with it.

Best Seafood: Grilled Jalapeno-Lime Shrimp or Garlic Herb Salmon

4) Cracker Barrel: Breakfast is always a great option when eating out! Eggs, bacon, ham, sausage is all good Paleo-options.

Best Salad: Grilled Chicken N’ Fresh Vegetable Salad (just hold the corn relish and order olive oil and vinegar for a dressing)

Best Beef: 10oz Rib Eye Steak or the Grilled 8oz Sirloin Steak. The Hamburger Steak is also a great option.

Best Chicken: Grilled Chicken Tenderloins (make sure you specify you want them grilled)

Best Seafood: Grilled Rainbow Trout or the Grilled Catfish

5) P.F. Chang’s – I love P.F. Chang’s and they have lots of great options!

Best Starter: Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps or Egg Drop Soup

Best Beef: none I can recommend

Best Chicken: Quite a few chicken dishes are listed on their gluten-free menu: Moo Goo Gai Pan, Ginger Chicken with Broccoli, Philip’s Better Lemon Chicken, Chang’s Spicy Chicken,  and Dali Chicken. I should note that just because they are on the gluten-free menu, does not mean they are 100% Paleo. They are however a much better choice.

Best Seafood: Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, Chang’s Lemon Scallops, Catonese Shrimp or Scallops, and Wild Alaskan Salmon Steamed with Ginger

6) Red Lobster

Best Salad: Cobb Salad or Bar Harbor Salad with your choice of meat and without croutons. Ask for olive oil and vinegar dressing.

Best Beef: Center-Cut NY Strip Steak -ask for your steak to be broiled without marinades or sauces

Best Chicken: most their chicken meals have sauces. You may request to have a broiled chicken without a sauce or marinade

Best Seafood: North Pacific King Crab Legs, Chilled Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Snow Crab Legs, and Live Maine Lobster – ask for all these dishes to be steamed and served with melted butter (make sure it’s real butter)

7) Chili’s

Best Salad: Dinner House Salad – ask for no croutons and olive oil and vinegar dressing

Best Beef: Cajun Ribeye, Guiltless Carne Asada Steak, Flame Grilled Ribeye, or the Classic Sirloin – ask for no savory steak butter as this contains gluten. If you want a burger, the Bacon Burger or the Old time Burger (ask for no bun or onion strings) are good choices and listed as being gluten-free.

Best Chicken: none I can recommended

Best Seafood: Guiltless Grilled Salmon or the Salmon with Garlic & Herbs

8) Cheesecake Factory

Best Salad: Cobb Salad, Herb-Crusted Salmon, or any of their Weight Management Salads. Make sure you ask for no crispy noodles, beans, corn, or cheese on them. Also order olive oil and vinegar dressing.

Best Beef: Grilled Rib-Eye Steak and Filet Mignon are good steak choices. You will need to ask for them to hold the onion rings andorder a salad or other veggie side dish.

Best Chicken: Weight Management Grilled Chicken or Grilled Chicken Medallions. Ask for no white rice but extra veggies instead.

Best Seafood: Fresh Grilled Salmon or Fresh Grilled Mahi Mahi

9) Jimmy John’s - this is one of my favorite places to eat out! Get the sandwich you want, avoiding cheese if you wish, and any other questionable sauces and have them make it “Unwich” style. They wrap the sandwich all up in a lettuce wrap and it’s still oh-so delish!

10) Moes & Chipotle – this is another place I love eating at. Tell them you want a burrito bowl and just pile on the meat, veggies, guacamole, and salsa! Chipotle also advertises that their meat is hormone free!

…seriously…stop stressing. Life is short.

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32 Responses to The Paleo Mama’s Guide to Dining Out Paleo-style

  1. Kelly @ Primally Inspired January 19, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Love this!!! This is very helpful information! Thank you :)

  2. Martha Mauga January 20, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    Seems like Ruby Tuesday would be a good one too, They usually have a lot of veggie options that other restaurants don’t have, like squash and Spaghetti Squash, plus all of their meals, and the salad bar.

    • The Paleo Mama January 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      Ruby Tuesday is a good option! Salad bar is pretty good and I heard they were doing spaghetti squash meals. I didn’t include it in my list because I couldn’t find their gluten free menu so it’s hard to tell what meal items have things secretly added.

  3. Michelle February 1, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    Red Robin has a GF Menu and they will put any one of their hamburgers in a lettuce wrap for you AND they have sweet potato fries. Maybe not fried in the “right” oil but it’s an option!

    • The Paleo Mama February 2, 2013 at 1:36 am #

      I’ve never been to Red Robin! That’s great to hear though!

    • Tammy W February 2, 2013 at 3:08 am #

      I am a server at Auburn, WA Red Robin. There are MANY ways to modify foods at Red Robin. You can literally ask for any beef or chicken burger made “protein style” which is lettuce wrapped as Michelle says. It is served with your choice of salad or FF. OR you can sub steamed broccoli, carrots or apples for the side. You can order without mayo or sauces, ask for raw onion instead of onion straws, etc. We do have Gluten Free buns also, but I am not sure of ingredients. Just tell your server exactly how you want your food and we can Make It Happen!!! I’m just thankful when people let me know what they want so I can make their dining out experience the best.

  4. Angela February 1, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    Ruby Tuesday is our number one go-to besides Outback, Chipotle and Jimmy John’s. They print their GF menu for you on-site, so it’s updated with any seasonal or regional items. Their dry-rub ribs are GF and delicious. My kids order chop steak, steamed broccoli and apple/grape, with water. The salad bar is fresh and delicious with many options, and there are a handful of great sides as well. Spaghetti squash does come as an entree and a side. I’ve also ordered burgers without buns, guacamole without chips, steak, fish and chicken dishes. :) Thanks for the great list!

    • The Paleo Mama February 2, 2013 at 1:35 am #

      That is great about Ruby Tuesday! I had no idea they did that!!! Thanks for mentioning that!

  5. Sara February 1, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    My issue with Red Lobster though is on their allergens menu they list almost every single menu item as containing soy. Even the fresh fish, etc. Anybody know anything about that?

    • The Paleo Mama February 2, 2013 at 1:35 am #

      Wow, really? That’s interesting. I wonder if they have to say that since the food is cooked around soy products?

      • Brittany S. June 18, 2013 at 11:31 am #

        They probably spray the grill with soy oil since it’s cheap.

  6. Michelle February 2, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    I was excited to see your article as I have difficulty eating out – non-celiac gluten intolerance with a soy allergy symptom. I have yet to find a chain restaurant that doesn’t use GMO soy in their marinade or preparation or sauce. I eat out very seldom but when I do it has to be gourmet made-to-order places $$$$.

    That being said, I avoid most meats and stick with a salad, veggies, EVOO/balsamic vinegar, boiled egg, and occasionally their deli meats but only if I’ve checked their ingredients list for no soy (yes, lunch meats would have sulfites but I gotta live a little).

    Soy is taking over the world. Walk down the gluten-free “healthy aisle” and most box/pkgs contain GMO soy, unless it says 100% organic soy. Anyone trying to heal from gluten sensitivity or ANY thyroid underfunction should avoid soy too.

    The price to being healthy is high but so are the rewards! :-)

  7. Clay May 17, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Careful with the veggies from Chipotle. They are cooked in a heavy soybean oil

  8. Jenny May 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    Check out the hidden menu at Panera. You can find it online and then just tell them exactly what you want from the hidden menu when you order. This has been a total life saver when I travel for work!

    • The Paleo Mama May 19, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

      YES!!! I’ve been ordering off of it for a few weeks now. Found out about it after I wrote up this post! Great deal!

  9. Jamie June 11, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

    Thanks!
    I didn’t know about Panera’s hidden menu, that’s great! I usually get the chopped chicken cobb and avocado salad there, minus the cheese. It’s not too hard to find an option anywhere I go that I can ask for changes to and restaurants are mostly accommodating. Lots of salmon salads ha :]

    Pluto’s is one of those create your own salad places, or you can do just meat and veggie plates. Same with Salad Works. The Whole Foods hot/cold bar is nice for a quick lunch.

  10. Sarah @ CHAARG June 24, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    WOW. I am so happy to have found this list! As a recent paleo-goer and college student, cooking isn’t always an option. I can’t wait to try the un-which from Jimmy Johns…. especially because they deliver!!

    • Courtney C. July 3, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

      The unwich is definitely my favorite! Last week I ordered the Italian Night out unwich and it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve had from them in awhile. Yummy

  11. Amy July 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    Moe’s website lists soy as an allergen for all their meats except for fish. However I have never seen fish on the menu at my neighborhood Moe’s.

  12. Ogarrish July 27, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

    How can one be sure that the beef in these restaurants are 100% and are fed proper diets or that their foods aren’t genetically modified??

  13. Jessica August 1, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    I just started on this journey to a new and healthy lifestyle, and as a person that LOVES to eat out, this was super helpful! Thank you so much and I love this site!

  14. Natalie August 19, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    Unfortunately most of those restaurants serve MSG, even though they promote that they dont. A quick look at the ingredient list of food items and you will see MSG everywhere disguised under different names. I was wondering why I kept getting migraines after eating at Outlook, and sure enough after further research found their food contains hidden MSG. This is a big deal breaker from me and I will not eat at places that serve MSG. Must be careful!!

  15. Trevor August 21, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    Chipotle is not all paleo, in fact all meats EXCEPT carnitas are cooked in soybean oil, so the only way to do a paleo chipotle is get a carnitas salad, double meat (my personal choice) Guac, pico, and fajita greens

  16. Jared Klingler September 12, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Cracker Barrel’s grilled chicken tenders are marinated in Italian Dressing. You can ask for them to be grilled un-marinated.

  17. Ann Strickland October 10, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    I am totally confused, I have working very hard to be Paleo. But most of the resturants you refer to are not organic or even natural, grass fed. What am I missing? I thought grass fed and no hormones or antibiotics was one of the major things.

  18. Confused October 30, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    If you are trying to eat healthy and be paleo why are you eating at all these crappy places? These are all Sysco supplied, crap serving, sub par places. I be confused. I think someone does not know what paleo means. You should change the name of the website to “Fake Jive Ass paleo wannabe”. I mean Applebees!!!!!!!!!! I wouldn’t eat there when I wasn’t paleo. I would rather eat a bucket of my own waste. At least I would know where that came from.
    Come on……

  19. Alicia The Snowflake December 19, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    “…seriously…stop stressing. Life is short.”

    Love this bit of wisdom! I understand trying to eat as good as possible, but there are times when that is extremely difficult. We have to be able to give ourselves grace during those times…and make the best healthy decisions we can make. Thanks for trying to be a voice of reason!

  20. Tiffany January 3, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    We just went to Applebee’s to get one of the items you mentioned. They no longer sell any of them :o(

  21. Mimi January 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    Mongolian BBQ is also another option, ask for lettuce instead of rice or tortillas and you can make lettuce wraps.

  22. Teresa January 28, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    You have to be careful at Cracker Barrel if you need to avoid gluten – many of the items listed are cooked on the same grill as breaded and/or gluten containing foods and become cross contaminated.

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