Unexpected Spots for Gluten-Free Dining in Chicago

[Photograph: Debbie Carlos]

I love living in a city celebrated for its culinary talent and top-notch cuisine. And until six months ago, I savored the experience of dining out without a second thought. Bialy sandwiches at Chicago Bagel Authority, heaping plates of pasta from Piccolo Sogno, DMK burgers and the occasional indulgence at the Doughnut Vault were part of my eating rotation. On average, I went out to dinner five nights a week and bought lunch almost daily.

Unfortunately, my ambitious appetite was creating a bigger problem than a substantial credit card bill. After struggling for years with a sensitive stomach—and carrying Pepto-Bismol tablets everywhere I went—I was diagnosed as gluten intolerant. Goodbye bagels, buns, cookies and cupcakes...along with the ease of eating freely and carelessly.

Initially I assumed I could never enjoy a traditional restaurant visit again. Preparing gluten-free fare is an effort and I didn't expect busy chefs to revamp their menu for a small population of diners like me. Fortunately, I was wrong. Very wrong. I'm continually amazed and impressed by the number of Chicago restaurants that cater to food allergies, from separate menus to specially prepared meals that don't sacrifice flavor. Here's my list of unexpected spots for gluten-free dining. Click on the slideshow to check them all out, or take a look at each below.