Q&A: What To Eat at Restaurants on Paleo


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This very common question is from a member of our Paleo Meal Plan service. I hope this sheds some light on some of your eating-out questions!

Just joined the meal plan. My wife and I already eat “fairly” paleo, and I’ve gotten the core info from mark’s daily apple. I’m a triathlete, and we do CrossFit together 3 times/week. Your plan really puts the organization in place that I need, so thanks in advance!

The question: I am in sales. I work home office a few days each week, and those will he no problem. But 2-3 times each week I take clients to lunch. That’s where I lose it, honestly. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I end up at every kind of restaurant you can imagine. Tomorrow might be Thai, then Friday is Mexican. I plan to schedule my appointments for a while so I can get back to my car and eat my leftovers, but I’m going to have to learn to eat in a carb-focused world and not completely blow it. Do you have advice for this?


Hi Michael,

Well, first of all thanks for joining the plan – we’re happy to have you :)

Secondly, I need to bring some attention to the whole carb thing with you as an athlete. Please don’t go too low carb with Paleo. The meal plan is designed for a not-super-active person, so you may start to feel depleted and fatigued if you eat off the meal plan as is with your workout schedule. If you do, just add in more carbs – sweet potatoes, white potatoes (as long as you don’t have a sensitivity to them), fruit of all kinds, tapioca flour (see our crepe recipes), honey, etc. “Sweets” are good for serious Paleo athletes, as long as they’re Paleo sweets. You need the carbs to keep you going on those runs and rides, and even through the CF workouts.

Ok, as for eating at restaurants on Paleo, it’s really about what you can tolerate well. For instance, if you do fine with white rice (many people do), go ahead and get a curry with rice at the Thai and other Asian places. If you don’t do well with rice (common symptoms would be bloating, diarrhea, gassiness, or personally I get hot itchy skin and headaches from it), then have the curry without the rice. Just make sure it has no MSG in it because who wants to eat MSG? That shouldn’t be too weird to order “curry no rice and no MSG” with your clients? Or maybe it is – it’s up to you.

As for Mexican, fajitas are the way to go. Just ask for fajitas and even if you don’t ask for it without the tortillas, someone else will probably eat them for you (suckers ;). Then just eat the meat, peppers, guac, and salsa.

Italian restaurants usually have a meat entrée with a choice of salad or veggies, so that’s pretty do-able. Grill-type restaurants, or American fare joints are easy. You can always just get a burger with no bun over a salad with olive oil and vinegar. If they have guacamole or avocado in house, you can ask for that on the side and just mix it all together. You’ll have yourself a hearty beef salad.

Or do the same with a chicken breast, fish filet, or pork chop if those are options. Sometimes there’ll even be a salad on the menu you can order. You just have to be careful with the salad dressings, since a lot of them have dairy in them. But again, it’s about what you can tolerate, so if you’re ok with dairy sometimes, go for it. But I can’t do dairy ever, so I always just ask for olive oil and vinegar. Throw some salt on it, squeeze a lemon over it, add some mustard, and it ends up being really tasty. That’s basically how I make my own salad dressing at home, anyway: oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, lemon, honey, and spices.

Or you can always ask for a grilled or roasted chicken breast with a side of whatever veggies they have, and/or a baked potato or baked sweet potato if they have them. A side of fruit is always a great option, too. Restaurants are where I splurge and get fries sometimes, especially if there are sweet potato fries, even though they’re cooked in vegetable oil. If you do that, make sure they’re not also battered with flour.

If I’m not in the mood to hammer my server with questions and hold up the ordering process by making him/her go back to the kitchen to get answers, I just go for the simpler options that I mentioned.

It takes some practice, and you have to get to know how your own body reacts to certain food items, but you’ll get the hang of it. Eating out is almost never ideal, as I know you know. Just do your best and do it as seldom as you can. Pay attention to what your body can and can’t tolerate, and order your food accordingly. And don’t worry about it while you’re eating because those two things don’t mix well ;)

I hope that helps!

Best wishes to you, and please let me know if you have other questions.



  1. Awesome response…..we ventured out the other day to Freebirds and had an AMAZING burrito bowl, with delisious meats, veggies, salsas,…wasn’t hard at all

  2. I, too, have a job where I travel. Whenever possible, I choose the restaurant. Some key search words I use in Yelp are “grass-fed”, “organic”, “farm-to-table.” I have found great cafes, gastropubs, burger places that have lots of great options. I have a reputation of being a foodie and picking the great places. Checking out the menu in advance can help you choose your strategy. Mediterranean is a great option with grilled meats and veggies. I’ve never had a problem getting extra veggies in place of the rice and/or pita. With so many great restaurants in the Bay Area, you shouldn’t have a problem. I also don’t stress about what kind of oil things are cooked in when I’m eating out, but if I’m getting an egg or something made to order, I’ll ask for it to be cooked in butter or olive oil if possible. I cook with duck fat, coconut oil, or ghee at home, but don’t dream those would be options at most restaurants.

  3. The last time I travelled to the States, I was pleasantly surprised to overhear a number of people ordering their meals at the airport without rice or tortillas, and that the servers didn’t bat an eye. One was a hot, fit pilot so he definitely would know how to eat out properly all the time!

  4. Lots of great suggestions here, I have a couple more. The chop salad is your friend, it’s available at several kinds of restaurants and the meat and eggs make it hearty enough to be satisfying. I have found I tolerate ranch and bleu cheese dressing very well, and they’re a nice change from olive oil/vinegar. Many of the better Italian restaurants offer grilled fish options, and shrimp scampi is often on the menu. At Mexican restaurants a taco salad is another good option, just don’t eat the bowl. :) Sushi is tougher, the rice on the sushi rolls is sweeter and more easily digested and have a higher GI than other kinds of rice… so have sashimi and a salad instead of the rolls.

    The carb-focused world is changing, and servers rarely bat an eye now at any request that limits flour or sugar. Substitute veggies for fries and you’re golden. By the way, lots of places add a sugary glaze to sweet potato fries, it pays to ask ahead of time. Most places will make you a batch plain if you ask, and if you can dip them in whipped butter, even better.

  5. sushi! fish and veggies and rice. skip the tempura, the crunchy toppings, and the “crab” fillings, bring your own tamari or ask for it, and you’ll have an easy wysiwyg meal.

    also, i second fajitas. excellent solution.

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