Eating Paleo at Restaurants

We all eat out, no matter how strictly Paleo we are. If you don’t, you should think about getting out more.

Here are some tips for staying as Paleo as possible on your excursions to restaurants.

  • First off, pick a restaurant that uses fresh ingredients. Honestly, the yuppier/hipper/foodier the restaurant, the better the hands you’re in. They’re often the ones who source local, organic, grass-fed, pastured products and know their menus and ingredients inside out.
  • Get a salad and order extra meat or hard boiled eggs if it doesn’t already come with enough protein. Ask for olive oil and vinegar as dressing.
  • Order a burger – no bun – and a salad with a side of guacamole or plain avocado.
  • Order a meat, chicken, or fish entrée with extra veggies.
  • At Asian restaurants, especially Thai, you can order curry without the rice. Remember to ask for your dish to be made with no MSG.
  • At Mexican restaurants, have the fajitas with no rice and beans.

Now, of course you’re probably still going to be making some concessions by doing even those things. At most restaurants, besides the hippest of them all, the oil they’ll inevitably use will probably be corn, soy, or some other atrocity. The meat will most likely be factory farmed. Nothing will be organic, and something might be breaded or full of dairy, even though the waitstaff might tell you differently. I once had to educate a waitress who insisted that butter was not dairy and I would be fine if I ate it.

So if you’re being as strict as possible, as these kinds of questions of your waitstaff:

• What kind of oil is (enter menu item here) sautéed in?
• Is the chicken (or any other meat) battered in flour?
• Is there milk, butter, or cheese on that?

Pretty soon you’ll get to know what things you can order at your favorite restaurants, or you’ll find new favorite restaurants. I like to go to H Burger in Boulder because they have grass-fed beef burgers with sweet potato fries. Granted, they’re fried in oil that has soy in it, but sometimes a girl’s gotta have her burger and fries.

Sometimes it’s difficult or even inappropriate to hammer the waiter with a bunch of specific food queries. Maybe you’re at an important business lunch and you need to seem easy-going. In those cases, it’s often easy to order individual sides rather than a normal meal on the menu. For instance, for breakfasts, you could order a side of sausage, a side of steamed veggies, a side of avocado, and a side of fruit. It’s often easier to order what you want than what you don’t want.

Remember though, most restaurants are in the business of serving food you enjoy, so don’t be afraid to ask for changes if you need them. Just make sure you are polite, smile, and tip for the extra effort you’re requesting.

There’s also a really cool app for the iPhone called PaleoGoGo that provides you with meal suggestions for over three hundred of the nation’s top chain restaurants. And if you want even more restaurants to provide you with Paleo options, sign our We Want Paleo petition to have restaurants in your city hear your voice. In the meantime, we can hope that a restaurant like this one will crop up in our neighborhoods…

Anyone else have any tips?


  1. Great post! I’ve found most restaurants will have their menus posted online, so if I know where I’m going, I’ll try to scout it out before I even get there, so I’ll know what my options are. Asking for a burger or sandwich without a bun seems to be fairly common nowadays, so if you let the server know upfront that you don’t eat bread, they may suggest a great substitute (once I got an awesome brisket sandwich with grilled eggplant instead of bread!).

  2. If you’re looking for a cheaper night out (bear in mind, we’re poor grad students trying to eat right, our food is paleo, but we sometimes have to sacrifice factors like eating organic simply because we would never be able to eat this way otherwise), we’ve been pleasantly surprised with Red Robin. Their burgers are fully customizable with options like lettuce instead of buns, and they have sides like plain steamed broccoli or bottomless sweet potato fries. Of course, it’s not organic, and I’m sure they use bad oil, but for a paleo night out, it’s not too shabby

  3. It may make me a horrible person, but I also find restaurants and their wait/kitchen staff pay much more attention to your dietary requests when they hear the word “allergy.” Quite a few restaurants (at least in the Northeast where I’m located) are getting hip to the idea of gluten or wheat “allergies” so when I’m asking if something is breaded or how it’s prepared and drop the magic word– I find their ears perk up and they are more careful about recommendations/instructions to the chef. Now, I’m in the process of actually having Celiac/gluten-intolerance panels/GI scopes/poop tests run because it’s a legit concern for me, but it’s not an allergy in the anaphylactic-sense. So does that make me a liar? Do I care, if it gets me good clean grub? :-)

  4. Thanks! This really helps. Going for a work dinner tomorrow at an Italian restaurant. I’ve checked out the menu and already know what I’ll be having.

  5. Great article!
    I feel will power is going to be the hardest part though. I am going to a Italian at the weekend and it will be very hard to stay on track with my family all having pasta.
    I have committed myself to Paleo for 6 weeks (I am doing a different diet every 6 weeks or so) before I change to a new diet.

  6. I travel a lot for work and am faced with many dilemmas when on buisness trips… A few tips…

    I try to get a hotel with a breakfast buffet… I like the Embassy Suites for that, they usually have a cook that cooks eggs and omelets behind a counter… A few bucks in tip and I have them break me 4 real eggs (not that omelet goo…) in real butter (I bring it from the buffet…lol) Naturally, as you can get from my comment, I still do butter, ghee and some cheese (old ripe cheeses…). They have bacon…and fruits… I am in breakfast heaven…

    In other restorants, steak is your friend… there usually is one somewhere and I replace the potatoes for more veggies… I would much rather eat industrial beef than any grain… Or I order a plate with other meats and just eat what looks good… Naturally, the more fancy the restaurant, the easier it is to get exactly what you want… I once asked what the steak was cooked in in a french restaurant and the waiter said… But Butter naturally sir…! Now that’s my kind of place…

    Otherwise I go to the grocery store and get a few cans of tuna, I will eat them right out of the can as a snack… few fruit, some vegies I keep in the hotel room… Salad is easy in the hotel room too… tuna, prepared salad…some olive oil/balsamic and tada… a paleo hotel room meal.. (and cheep too…).

    Its not always easy… but its worth the trouble!…

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