Recently I have discovered yet another question that needs to be asked. Even though a restaurant might serve corn chips, which are gluten free, do they fry it in the same oil as flour tortillas or anything breaded? If corn chips (or anything for that matter) are fried in the same oil as anything with flour or anything that has been breaded, they are no longer gluten free. This is called cross contamination.
I guess I just assumed if a restaurant says they serve corn chips, or says that their corn chips are gluten free that they would be. That’s not always the case. I don’t usually like to call negative attention to a restaurant, but I’d like to share the experience I had to bring more awareness to this situation.
The husband and I were in Asheville, N.C. a few weeks ago and decided to eat at a local Mexican restaurant called Salsa’s. We have eaten there several times and love their unique, flavorful food and fun dining experience. They are known for being gluten free friendly and having many gluten free options.
The husband and I split the Steak Molcajetes which is “a hot lava rock bowl filled with yummy goodness… served w/roasted veggies, cilantro & pozole on top, a side plate of rice, beans, and salsa. It’s amazing. I ordered a side of corn chips and salsa as well.
I ate a few bites of chips with salsa and could tell they had just been fried. I had a weird gut feeling and asked our server if the corn chips were fried in the same oil as the flour tortillas. She said yes. I told her (as nicely as I could) that they are not gluten free if they’re fried in the same oil as flour tortillas or anything breaded.
I’m just thankful I asked when I did and didn’t eat a whole basket of chips filled with gluten! Hopefully they might make some changes to their fryer situation or to their menu because cross contamination with people with Celiac Disease is very dangerous.
After that incident, I have been doing some more research about Mexican chains and local restaurants as to which ones serve gluten free corn chips. I hope this provides you with some clarity on whether or not you can eat the corn chips are these restaurants.
Chipotle Mexican Grill: YES!
Chipotle states their allergy information very clearly in this Special Diet Information Grid. They clearly show that the only food they serve that contains gluten is their flour tortillas. I’m very impressed with the fact that they have one fryer and the only thing that goes in it are corn tortillas and corn taco shells. I even got a speedy response back from a customer service representative. When I wrote asking about their fryer situation, a woman named Olivia kindly responded, “Thank you for taking the time to write. I am happy to inform you that none of our restaurants fry flour tortillas in our fryer. Both the chips and the crispy taco shells are corn tortillas, therefore those ingredients are gluten-free. I hope this helps!” Chipotle also strives towards using local, organic ingredients and hormone free meat.
Moes Southwest Grill: NO!
Moes also has an Allergen Grid that is very helpful. While they do serve corn taco shells and corn chips, their grid shows that those both contain wheat/gluten. I spoke with a manager there and she said they fry their flour and corn tortillas in the same fryer oil. Their grid shows that nothing else has gluten in it except for their flour tortillas/chips and cookies, so there’s no hidden gluten in any of their ingredients. I love that their meat and cheese is hormone free and that their beef is grass fed!
On The Border: NO!
On The Border has a downloadable Allergen PDF that has menu options for those with various allergies (gluten, peanut, egg, fish, etc.) On the top of their allergen site it states, “Please be aware that during normal kitchen operations involving shared cooking and preparation areas, including common fryer oil, the possibility exists for food items to come in contact with other food products.” I called and asked if they serve corn or flour chips. While they do serve corn chips, the person I spoke with confirmed that they do use the same fryer oil for corn and flour tortillas.
Salsaritas provides an Allergen Grid on their website as well. While their grid does not show that there is gluten/wheat in their corn chips or fried corn tortillas, they provide a ** beside all corn tortilla items that states that “corn & wheat tortillas are fried in the same oil creating potential gluten transfer in cooking process. The materiality of this potential transfer should be assessed on a personal basis.” Something else to be cautious of when eating there is the following items (aside from the flour and corn tortilla items) are listed to contain gluten: pork, shrimp, refried beans, biscuit, flavored sour cream, and chocolate chip cookies.
Qdoba Mexican Grill: NO!
Qdoba provides an Allergen Information in a downloadable form. Their site provides an “X” for items containing gluten and a “triangle” for items that may contain gluten. The items that may contain gluten are their corn chips, corn taco shells, and corn tortilla strips. Their website states, “Fryer oil has contact with product containing wheat ingredients.” Some other items that are listed to contain or may contain gluten (aside from their flour and corn tortillas) is their cheese (really??), ancho chili BBQ sauce, potatoes and brownies.
Pacos Tacos and Tequila: YES!
This is a restaurant we have in Charlotte that has several other locations around the U.S. It is delicious and they were featured during Charlotte Restaurant Week. Here is their menu. While their website does not provide allergen information, I called and spoke with a manager and she reported that they have a separate fryer for their corn chips, so they are gluten free! If you live near the Charlotte area and haven’t been here, I highly recommend it.
Cabo Fish Taco: NO!
Cabo is local Charlotte Mexican restaurant that has been featured on The Food Network. They do not have any allergy information provided on their website. I called and spoke with a manager and he confirmed that they do serve corn chips but they are not gluten free. He told me that their manufacturer of the chips has reported to them that there is a small amount of gluten in their chips. They don’t have soft corn tortillas an an option there, so if you go be ready to get a burrito bowl or a salad.
Cantina Fifteen Eleven: YES!
Cantina is one of my favorite Mexican Restaurants in Charlotte. I wrote a blog about Cantina a few months ago. While they don’t have allergy information listed on their website, I called and spoke with a woman who works there and she reported that they have corn chips as a gluten free option. They do not fry their chips there but receive them bagged. They’re not served warm but they are safe!
Loco Lime: No!
Loco Lime is another great Mexican Restaurant in Charlotte. They don’t have their allergy information listed on their website, so I called and asked about their fryers. The woman I spoke with confirmed with her manager that they do use the same fryers for corn and flour tortillas.
Phew! That’s all I’ve got for now!
If you are GF, I hope you don’t feel defeated after reading this, but inspired with the knowledge to know where to go if you want to eat chips at a Mexican restaurant. I mean, it’s kinda the best part of the meal (at least for me it is!) For those restaurants that don’t serve gluten free chips, don’t forget you can always order soft corn tortillas (they aren’t fried), and that is always a safe, gluten free option.
As always, please feel free to ask any questions or make any comments you may have!