Taking a break from the kitchen and enjoying a meal at a restaurant is a delightful treat. However, for those of us following a soy-free diet, finding suitable dining options can be quite challenging. Many establishments provide allergen menus and ingredient lists, but soy-free options remain scarce. After extensive research, I’ve discovered a few places where I can safely indulge in a meal. But as with any dining out experience, precautions are necessary to ensure safety.
Prioritizing Your Safety
Even with comprehensive ingredient lists and reassurances from staff, there’s always a level of uncertainty when someone else prepares your food. Can there be a risk of cross-contamination? Despite being cautious, there have been instances where supposedly safe dishes caused unexpected reactions. To minimize risks, I often choose a plain salad with fresh vegetables, which is usually a safer option. However, it can be frustrating to pay for such a simple dish and have to bring my own dressing.
Restaurants Offering Soy-Free Choices
1. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
Red Robin has been a game-changer for me. Although their allergen menu is no longer available on their website, they kindly provided a copy when I reached out to them via email. They even offer gluten-free buns (Udi’s brand) that are both dairy and soy-free. Finally, I can enjoy a burger with a bun! Alternatively, they have a lettuce bun as an option. When I place my order, I always inform my waiter or waitress about my food allergies and politely request my meal without their soy-containing Red Robin seasoning. My go-to order is the Keep-It-Simple Burger with No Red Robin Seasoning, accompanied by a side of fruit. Occasionally, I take the risk of ordering their fries without the seasoning, despite concerns of cross-contamination. So far, my son Colin hasn’t experienced any adverse reactions.
Finding safe options at Panera requires some effort, but they deserve recognition for listing every ingredient in their food. This transparency is crucial for those of us who need to avoid soy and other allergens. While they provide a note about potential allergens, they don’t consider soybean oil as a soy allergen. Therefore, it’s important to carefully examine the ingredient list to identify soybean oil. However, they do acknowledge soy lecithin as an allergen. Thankfully, Panera offers a range of dairy and soy-free bread options, including Country loaf, Sourdough Roll, and Tomato Basil XL Loaf. When I dine at Panera, I choose turkey sandwiches, ensuring they use one of these bread options and excluding the mayonnaise. The Turkey-Bacon-Avocado sandwich, without mayo, is a personal favorite and a fantastic choice. The avocado adds a delightful moisture that compensates for the absence of mayonnaise.
3. Pei Wei
Pei Wei, the fast-food version of PF Chang’s China Bistro, offers a soy-free option. They provide a comprehensive document on their website that includes nutritional and allergen information. The only dish I can order there is the Stock Velveted Sweet and Sour with Chicken or Shrimp. “Stock Velveted” means that the meat is cooked in vegetable stock instead of being battered and fried. This dish is not only delicious but also lower in fat since it’s not fried.
4. Buffalo Wild Wings
Buffalo Wild Wings may not be as straightforward as the others, but it’s still worth considering. To make an informed decision, I gathered as much information as possible. Their allergen list indicates which products contain dairy or soy. However, they mention that soybean oil, present in their dressings, sauces, and products, is not considered an allergen. This slight uncertainty made me hesitate initially. However, after scrutinizing their sauce ingredient list and fry oil ingredients, I discovered that they are both soy and dairy-free. Based on this, I have enjoyed boneless chicken wings in sweet BBQ sauce and fries without any issues. While I don’t frequent this restaurant often due to health concerns, I feel confident in its safety.
5. Five Guys Burgers and Fries
Five Guys offers delicious burgers, and their generous toppings policy sets them apart. While their burger buns are not suitable for allergies (containing egg, milk, soy, and gluten), their meat and veggie toppings are safe options. Even the grilled mushrooms and onions, cooked in burger grease instead of butter or soy oil, are suitable for a soy-free diet. During a recent road trip, my family stumbled upon a Five Guys between Orlando and Tampa, and it was a pleasant surprise. If I plan to eat at Five Guys, I bring a pita pocket from home and assemble the burger and toppings inside. In the absence of a pita, I order the burger with plenty of toppings, discard the bun, and enjoy it with a fork. It’s almost like having a deconstructed burger salad. Fortunately, they now offer a bun-free option – a burger, toppings, and lettuce served in a foil box with a fork.
6. Au Bon Pain
Though I haven’t extensively researched this restaurant since it’s unavailable where I live, my recent experience at the Orlando airport left a positive impression. In the “To-Go” section, I found fresh fruit, a Naked Juice, and hard-boiled eggs – a much better alternative to the stale bagel I had initially planned to eat. A quick glance at their online nutritional information revealed an impressive labeling system, with icons indicating allergens present in each item. While I didn’t find any soy-free bread options, they offer various other choices like soups, apple cinnamon oatmeal, hummus and cucumber, and salads with raspberry vinaigrette. Additionally, their hot and cold bar provides several suitable options.
Maintaining a soy-free diet while dining out can be challenging, but these restaurants have consistently proven to be safe choices for me. However, it’s important to recognize that everyone’s food sensitivities and allergies differ. What works for one person may not work for another. When it comes to your health, it’s crucial to exercise caution and thoroughly research the ingredients and preparation methods at your local eateries. By doing so, you can savor a delicious meal without compromising your dietary needs. So why not explore these soy-free options at Hook’d Up Bar and Grill or your nearest restaurant?