I'm going to focus primarily on places that have gluten free menus available, always look online beforehand or ask while there, which, unfortunately, tend to be chains. I've also included a few favorite gems from foods that don't tend to rely so heavily on flour. There are many places to get things like salads (watch the dressings for soy sauce, of course!), hot food bars (Whole Foods labels, Wegmans is hit-or-miss), or gluten free bread and cookies (Mom's markets are my favorites in this part of the world, and I only ever buy GF bread that has been made fresh that day or is frozen. Rudis and Udis are the best).
This is not the list for those things. But, it's the list for feeling like a regular person ordering off a normal menu in a restaurant where people can eat gluteny foods, too. It's the list for having your pizza and beer, too. It's the list that lets you say, "Hey guys! Let's go out for pizza!' and watch the expressions on your family's faces. It's that list.
Best Breakfast JointsSilver Diner: these diners are all over the DC area, and they're great. They're upscale diners that often feature food grown in VA or surrounding states. My mother loves the Huevos Rancheros with bison. Avoid the tortilla chip that comes with it if you're gluten free. However, you won't need to scrimp like you might normally here since everything is marked gluten free that is: breads, shakes, dressings, the whole nine yards, right there on the regular menu. From breakfast to dinner, you'll find something delicious here. Be sure to bring coins for the jukeboxes available at each table! This is our favorite spot for weekday morning breakfast dates. For dairy free folks who do soy milk, they advertise dairy free (soy milk) chai shakes. If you want a hot chai, they can heat up the chai mix if you ask nicely.
Community Canteen: this restaurant is in Reston, VA, and it's alongside its parent, Mon Ami Gabi. Mon Ami has things labeled gluten free on its menu, but they're often obvious things like steak or lettuce and aren't worth the high price, in my opinion. Unless you're lucky enough to eat dairy in which case order their creme brulee. Getting back to breakfast, Community Canteen doesn't label, but it is worth a visit for the fruit and yogurt bar and the to-order omelette station. Nice tea selection.
Best Bets for LunchMoby Dicks: You'll see these everywhere around DC, VA, and MD, too. This is a great place for basic meat and rice. Ask them not to give you any bread (even though the smell of it cooking fresh is divine) because they put it on top of your meal and it flakes all over. For dairy folks, the yogurt dressing/sauce is not to be missed. I've never had a problem after eating here, but their food is not marked GF or otherwise so be savvy.
The Counter: This is the best burger. There is one also located in Reston, but it's worth the trip. You can order your custom-built burger with a GF bun or on a salad bowl. Same menu as everyone else. Don't be tricked by the larger burger sizes, the smallest one is plenty! They don't label their French fries as GF, but they seem to be done in friers that are designated only for fries. Either way, they're delicious! For dairy eaters, er drinkers, my friends rave about their shakes.
If you're desperate, ask to see the nutrition facts or the secret menu at Panera, which identify GF offerings.
Best Dinner SpotsZeitoon Mediterranean Grill and Brick Oven Pizza: don't let the word "pizza" in this restaurant's title throw you off. All that means is that anyone wishing to order pizza can do so from a separate pizza oven that won't contaminate your food while you bathe yourself in delicious eggplant dip. Did I say that out loud? This clean, family-run spot is in a random location, but it's worth the trip even though they don't label food GF or not. Try the appetizer sampler (mmmm...olives....) and ask for cucumbers to dip instead of pita bread. The owners are happy to oblige.
Mellow Mushroom: they have gluten free pizza and gluten free beer as well as regular pizza and all sorts of salads all on one big happy menu. The gluten free pizza base isn't great, but if your family really wants pizza, this is a good place to take them. I find the dairy free cheese they use to be inedible, but if you are lucky enough to be able to eat cheese, the gluten free base is good enough to try.
PF Changs: I'm sorry to have so many chains on here, but in the DC area many of the smaller spots just don't have their food labelled. And there's no denying it: PF Changs is the best Chinese food for gluten free. They label on the same menu as the rest of the food, they bring special plates for us special people, and they have regular food for everyone else. I love the GF Singapore Noodles or the, higher calorie, Mongolian Beef. Note that the portions are intended to be shared so box up half before you start if you want a right-sized portion without double the sodium. Their sister spot, Pei Wei, is ok in a pinch but nowhere as good. Pei Wei hides their tiny GF menu behind the counter so be sure to ask if you go.
BoneFish Grill: this is the best place that serves fish and has a GF menu. I love their whole fish and salads. Their wine selection is good, too! Your gluteny family and friends will love the Bang Bang Shrimp, which you can wave at from across the table. PassionFish is another good one. For both, ask for the GF menu.
Also, there are lots of rotisserie chicken places (usually called something like Peruvian Chicken) around here where you can get an incredible, cheap dinner or lunch, as well as the usual sushi places where you avoid California rolls, any fake crab, tempura anything, eel sauce, and soy sauce.
Best DessertsOnce it became a case of eating one Lactaid pill with each bite of dairy, I called the whole thing off. I recently got some new digestive enzymes and tried out the old sheep's cheese with moderate success. So, my dessert options tend to be limited. If you eat dairy, there are many, many places to get frozen yogurt, creme brulee, or even frozen custard! If you don't, there are also places to get gluten free, vegan cupcakes in this area! If you go to Reston, VA or downtown at Penn Quarter, stop by Red Velvet. If you're early enough, they have vegan, GF cupcakes that are divine.
Best Gluten Free Restaurant Finder Website and AppUrbanspoon: there just isn't another website or app that comes close to this. The Find Me Gluten Free app is ok if you're looking for two restaurants nearby, but Urbanspoon in a national restaurant finder that allows you to search by category online and on your phone. Enter gluten free + the name of the city you're near, and you'll usually find something that is gluten free friendly. I've done this often when traveling to new cities; it's a great way to figure out your first meal while waiting in an airport!
Going downtown to DC? You'll get hungry. Check out some of these great ideas!
*Surprise! I'm not a doctor. I'm not giving you medical advice or telling you that you won't get sick if you try something at these gluten free friendly spots. Please always ask questions and listen to your own body. If you know of any smaller, local, non-chain restaurants that are safe for GF, please mention in the comments. If you were hooping for completely gluten free restaurants, let's take a trip together to Asheville, NC. It's like Heaven.