Gluten Free Airports: Chicago O'Hare

Let's get this out of the way from the get-go: Chicago O'Hare is one of the worst airports in the country. If you land on time you're psyched that you might have enough time to meander over to your connecting flight. If that's the case, one of the following will absolutely happen: 

  1. Where you landed is a half hour taxi to the gate.
  2. Your gate is currently being used and you have to wait until it deplanes, is cleaned, boarded, and on the runway before pulling in.
  3. A luggage carrier is blocking your way to the gate and for some secret reason cannot be moved by anyone except one guy who's a 20 minutes walk away eating lunch.
  4. There's a weird sound your plane is making and the pilots don't want to move it to the gate quite yet.

If you make it past these, great! You'll have time for some of the best gluten-free airport food around and actually make it to your flight before you deal with one of the following:

  1. Your flight is immediately delayed.
  2. Your gate has switched to a different terminal a half hour walk ( or 17 minute jog) away 5 minutes before boarding is scheduled to begin.
  3. Your coworker goes in search of a snack before boarding and disappears for 30 minutes with her phone ringing in the boarding area seat she abandoned as you stand with her ticket and bags begging the gate to call her name. Which they won't because apparently that is against policy.
  4. You will board your flight and sit on the runway for two hours.

Regardless of what your O'Hare fate is, or will be, Frontera will manage to make you smile. This is almost like an upscale Mexican Panera - with a bar. You can take these bad boys (sans alcohol) to with you or sit down and hang around. But is anyone ever not in a rush at O'Hare? That's what I thought.

I always go for the Taqueria salad here - romaine and arugula with red onion, radish, avocado slices, cheese and a vinagrette with lime and avocado. It also comes standardly with poblano rajas and carrots, but I usually skip out because I can't manage too much spice or allergens respectively. 

And of course, when ordering a salad from a Mexican place you must get chips and salsa with a side of guac. Frontera's comes with two salsas - smoky chipotle (red) and tomatillo cilantro (green) and their standard guac from the guac bar. Yes. A guacamole bar. I forgo the toppings because their standalone guac is just that good. You can mess with it and add sundried tomatoes or Gunthorp bacon, but I'm happy in the corner with my two salsas and avocado-deliciousness.

Agua frescas are also a must (if you don't have time for a marg that is): tart with a little sweetness, these Mexican beverages on tap are the perfect accompaniment to this quick and salty meal.

As much as I hate O'Hare, I'm always a bit excited when I have to fly through. I know in advance I will have a BIG headache, but at least I'll have some insanely good food.

Have you been to Frontera outside O'Hare? Any other Celiac-friendly places at O'Hare I should check out? As always, I don't have Celiac, so if you've had a different experience somewhere trying to have a safe meal please let me know!

Gluten Free Restaurants: Houston

On a weekend between work trips, my sister met me in Houston for a long weekend together. We had to pick a location between my two site visits, but there are a lot of options between Georgia and Edmonton, Canada. We were pretty sold on Houston though for one obvious reason: Beyoncé.  Bey is a big fan of her hometown and we are big fans of Bey, so we had to pay homage and explore this beautiful city. It was also the first visit to each of us to Texas (not including airport sits), so we figured we'd start off with Bey's unofficial recommendation.

And did we ever. For three days we basked in the sun (and what I think might be the world's best Whole Foods - they had a bar!), joked around in beautiful museums, and - most importantly - ate a lot of insanely delicious food.

One of the food categories we were most excited about was the Tex Mex, and we were not disappointed. After a morning wandering the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston we realized we were starving and did a quick google search to find the top Tex Mex restaurants in the area that were an easy drive away. I'm a big enough foodie that I usually cross-check whatever comes up on my search with reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor, and the combination of the two has always steered me the right way.

As soon as we pulled into the Ninfa's on Navigation lot we knew we picked a good one - the lot was packed at 2pm and so was the lobby. This worried us a bit because we definitely get a little hangry, but we were shocked when we were seated within ten minutes! 

The service here was spectacular - immediate offers of drinks and friendly recommendations from our server, chips and salsa that magically appeared in front of us, and plenty of drop-ins to make sure we had everything we needed.

And did we ever.

In addition to our thick, hot, salty chips and ridiculously delicious salsas, we had this divine  (seriously, I had to whip out the word divine like a real hardo to accurately describe it) guacamole. This guac came on it's own plate - like a full size serving plate - alongside extra pico de gallo and onions to mix in. 

When you first walk in to Ninfa's you're greeted by employees making fresh corn tortillas to accompany your meal. With that kind of intro you really have to get something with those gluten free bad boys (although you'd obviously want to check with their staff about any sort of cross-contamination first). My sister and I split the skirt steak fajitas, which came garnished with peppers and onions with sides of rice and beans. Plenty of grilled jalapenos for the daring, too! Alongside some Navigation Margaritas we were in absolute heaven. The steak, peppers and onions had the perfect char, with plenty of flavor in the steak and thick corn tortillas to hold everything together. Each element was perfect on its own, but even more amazing together.

This was one of those meals that is so good your table stops talking. There is nothing like being so excited about your food that you forget where you are and who you're with, and this is one of those places. The food was so good that even after I was stuffed to the brim I kept picking at pieces of steak and bits of rice and beans, adding some guac to my fork to complete each mini-bite.

As always, I don't have Celiac and don't think it's fair I pretend I do to review the gluten-free service (and this was pre-Celiac discovery for my family), so please check with Ninfa's to learn about what they can do to help make sure your experience is safe! And let me know if you have any feedback after heading there or if there are any great gluten free places in Houston we should take the family to next time!

Gluten Free Restaurants: NYC

As part of my job, I travel across the country (sometimes outside of it too). This means I get to meet all sorts of interesting people, fail at attempting lots of local accents, and -most importantly - eat. A lot.

I have always taken pictures of my food because I'm a weirdo who likes to explain what she ate to other people, or visit the picture later when I'm trying to remember what I ordered or trying to inspire myself to make an easy version for dinner.

In these Gluten Free Restaurants segments I'm going to showcase gluten free meals you can enjoy across the country. A disclaimer from the start: I do not have Celiac and I do not travel for work with my Celiac family (that would be strange). It would be super inappropriate of me to claim I have Celiac just to review the experience, so I'll only write about the experience for Celiacs if I'm with someone who truly has it. Ergo I don't have specifics on how well the kitchen is prepared to manage Celiacs or what the true range of options are, but this is just a starting point. Even if you don't eat here, maybe you'll try out your own related recipe: if you do please share!

Alrighty then. There are loads of cities I could have started with, but NYC felt right. Mostly because this Mexican restaurant was just ridiculously good. Añejo is situated in Hell's Kitchen, and on a beautiful summer's day I sat on what may be the best people-watching corner with a marg.

What you see before you are: decimated nachos, which were insanely good, and a pork belly tostada (corn tortillas make this g-free!). This bad boy was like a Mexican style pizza in the best of ways - big pieces of a sweet caramelized pork belly with refried beans, pickled onions, radish slices and what the menu characterizes as a "burnt cilantro crema" that I can only describe as "nom."

Of course we stopped in at happy hour, which is my FAVE part of traveling as my state does not have drink specials at happy hour (so it's more like "pleased hour" or "okay hour"), so I had a few delicious margs. I enjoyed the Añejo, which was sweet and tangy in equal measureKnowing that we'd be meandering back to the hotel (walking and ferry's distance away) made it that much easier to relax with a bev and eat as much guac as I wanted. Which is a lot. 

How could you not have a lot of guac when it looked like that though? That is the classic guacamole I love, with no tomato business. Just fresh avocados, limes, sea salt and maybe some onions. Not enough to detract from that perfect color though. Ugh.

I sat outside, where the wicker chairs looked great but felt very uncomfortable, but who really cares when they're stuffing their faces in warm weather? The inside of the restaurant was dark and welcoming, with lots of long, thick wooden tables and smaller spaces squeezed in comfortably together, but as long as it's nice out I'd recommend grabbing some street space.

All in all, a delicious experience!