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A Columbia Mom’s Guide to Allergy-Friendly Restaurants

a columbia moms guide to allergy-friendly restaurants

It’s Food Allergy Awareness Week, and now that you’ve gotten the lowdown on what food allergies are and how to deal with them, as well as an allergy mom’s POV, it’s time to talk local resources.

One of the most difficult endeavors when you have a food allergy is eating out safely, without a trip to the ER or severe digestive distress. It is also more difficult to find choices with several food allergies or sensitivities. Yet take heart, because the convenience and fun of eating out does not have to be completely out of the question.

My dream is to one day own a place that serves only allergy-friendly goodies. Until then, I keep perfecting the recipes at home! You can read about my journey here.

I wanted to give a few tips on making sure your food is safe, as well as a list of local restaurants that are known for taking extra good care of their sensitive customers.

Do’s and Dont’s of Eating Out With Allergies

Do tell the waiter exactly what allergies you have and keep the explanation short and simple.

Don’t assume waiters always know what food contains what ingredients. Do you research online prior to arriving to the restaurant and have a good idea about what menu items are safe for you.

Don’t feel bad for being a high-maintenance guest; after all, you did not ask for food allergies and sensitivities! Life is hard enough on you, so relax.

Do practice kindness and politeness always. When you ask nicely and express gratitude, you ensure good service, not to mention avoid seeming like a faultfinder.

Do simplify: Meat and veggies are almost always safe or can be made safe. Your meal may be more boring than the others’, but at least you didn’t have to cook it!

Don’t be afraid to bring along your own safe condiments to accompany your meal.

Do suggest the place first, if possible, when going out with others, so you can make sure there is something on the menu for you. Most people don’t mind at all, and you’ll save yourself 30 minutes of “Where do you want to eat?”

Open up the menu and order a great allergy friendly meal!

Open up the menu and order a great allergy friendly meal! Photo credit: Daniel Kulinski / Photo / CC BY-NC-SA

Are you ready to venture out?

The Midlands boasts several allergy-friendly restaurants, so you are in luck!  (Remember, just about anywhere you go, you can ask for accommodations, but here we are listing specific restaurants where dining out is made especially allergy-friendly with a separate menu, more knowledgeable staff or specialty food items, like gluten-free pasta.)

1. American

Outback Steakhouse

This is one of my favorite places, because Outback offers the easiest and safest food choices for me, as well as plenty of scrumptious dishes for my husband to enjoy. Outback is also known for using separate utensils, bowls and gloves for sensitive individuals to avoid cross-contamination. And since they serve lots of fresh meat dishes, customization is super easy, making it a number one choice for individuals with multiple allergies.

Outback is one of the very few places to serve a tasty dessert for the gluten-free crowd: a yummy brownie-and-ice cream sundae. Too bad it isn’t also egg- and dairy-free … but I guess we can’t have it all! Check out their menu here. (252 Harbison Boulevard, Columbia 29212; 7611 Two Notch Road, Columbia 29223)

Ruby Tuesday

They provide a detailed menu for allergies to gluten, egg, shellfish, MSG, dairy, nuts, fish and soy. Their restaurant is one of the few places with such a long list of  allergens, offering specific suggestions on what to eat. (120 Columbiana Circle, Columbia 29212; 511 Bush River Road, Columbia 29210; 4600 Devine St., Columbia 29205; 7490 Garners Ferry Road, Columbia 29209; 2504 Augusta Road, West Columbia 29169; 5464 Sunset Boulevard, Lexington 29072)

Smash Burger

I really enjoy a quick meal here, because the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable and the food is yummy. The cooks change their gloves and ensure food safety by paying close attention to what they prepare. I love that they offer a gluten-free bun and a lettuce-wrapped burger for a low-carb option — my favorite. Look at their detailed menu here! (4601 Devine St., Columbia 29205; 937 Lake Murray Boulevard, Irmo 29063; and opening soon at 5449 Sunset Boulevard, Lexington 29072)

Bonefish Grill

Similar to Outback, this restaurant also presents a dedicated gluten-free menu as well as various fresh (therefore easily customizable) fish and meat dishes to choose from. How about trying their flourless brownie? (4708 Forest Drive, Columbia 29206; 1260 Bower Parkway, Columbia 29212)

Craving pizza?

Craving pizza? Photo credit: Sebastian Mary / Photo / CC BY-SA

 2. Pizza

Uncle Maddio’s

This is a “create your own” pizza joint that offers a gluten free crust as well as detailed allergen info of all their foods. Another plus is that they serve vegan(dairy free) cheese as an option for topping. (601 Main St., Columbia 29201)

Mellow Mushroom

Boasting a gluten-free crust as well as vegan (egg- and dairy-free) options, you are sure to find something good on their menu to nibble on. (1009 Gervais St., Columbia 29201; 5364 Sunset Boulevard, Lexington 29072)

3. Mexican


My favorite about this place is that they aren’t only allergy friendly, Chipotle also makes sure their ingredients are non-GMO, hormone and antibiotic free and as fresh as possible. Find their detailed menu here. (619 Gervais St., Columbia 292901; 4840 Forest Drive, Columbia 29206; 276 Harbison Boulevard, Columbia 29212)

Try gluten free pasta dishes!

Try gluten free pasta dishes! Photo credit: smiteme / Source / CC BY-NC-ND

4. Italian

Olive Garden

They have gluten-free pasta on the menu, so you can enjoy your old favorites without the nagging symptoms afterwards. Of course, many other offenders are also listed, but it is fairly difficult to find safe foods here when suffering from multiple allergies. (10136 Two Notch Road, Columbia 29229; 274 Harbison Boulevard, Columbia 29212)


This place has a dedicated gluten-free menu, and the waiters are knowledgeable. They also ensure the cooks change gloves and use clean utensils and bowls to avoid cross-contamination. Always a plus in my book! Because their menu items often include special sauces, be aware you may have to modify even a simple steak dish for your own needs. (200 Graces Way, Columbia 29223; 370 Columbiana Drive, Columbia 29212)

5. Asian

HuHot Mongolian Grill

They have gluten free soy sauce! Since it’s a place with a “create your own stir-fry” option,  they definitely cater to sensitive individuals. The waiters are also knowledgeable and accommodating. View their menu here. (1260 Bower Parkway, Columbia 29212)

Red Bowl Asian

Another gem that conquered the difficulty of serving versatile foods for people with allergies instead of all the gluten containing, soy sauce laden Asian dishes. I am dying to give this a try soon. (Village at Sandhill, 481 Towncenter Place, Columbia 29229; 5166 Sunset Boulevard, Lexington 29072)

6. Fast Food

I am pretty anti-fast food, because everything is super processed and there are no good options for multiple food allergies; but if you must, here are the better options.

Chick Fil-A

I love the kind service here, on the rare occasion we go. Their detailed menu is helpful in deciding on a safe meal, mostly geared toward gluten- and dairy-free individuals. (Thirteen locations in Lexington and Richland counties; find the nearest at


The only fast food restaurant I know of that has egg-free ice cream, people! Otherwise, probably avoid it. (Locations across the Midlands; find the nearest at

When a dessert is allergy friendly, that`s a true treat!

When a dessert is allergy-friendly, that’s a true treat! Photo credit: smcgee / Foter / CC BY-NC

7. Dessert

Cupcake DownSouth

They offer gluten free Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, as well as Vegan (dairy and egg free) Wednesdays and Fridays. Definitely a treat! (1213 Lincoln St., Columbia 29201)

Desserts by Noelle

If you need a cake for an event, try this local shop. She offers gluten free, vegan, sugar free and other specialty cakes. Sounds like a fun place to try for a birthday cake. (420 S. Lake St., Lexington 29072)

Cold Stone Creamery

The only ice cream shop I know of that provides a dairy-free option: try their sorbet, it’s yummy! (285 Columbiana Drive, Columbia 29212; 914 N. Lake Drive, Lexington 29072)

8. Other

Good Life Cafe

Offering a big selection of raw juices, smoothies and more, check out the menu here. (1614 Main St., Columbia 29201)

What did we miss? Tell us about your favorite restaurant!

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2 Responses to A Columbia Mom’s Guide to Allergy-Friendly Restaurants

  1. Jenny Caughman August 21, 2016 at 9:31 pm #

    HI Hilda,
    My son is going to USC and has just moved into an apartment. This means he is shopping and cooking for himself. He has celiac, which means he must eat gluten free. Can you please tell me if you know which grocery stores near USC offer the best array of gluten free foods?

    We live in Tennessee, so can’t be of much help.

    Thanks so much.

    • Tiffany Nettles
      Tiffany Nettles August 21, 2016 at 9:37 pm #

      Jenny, hope your son enjoys USC! I’d say the closest grocery store for gluten free food to USC would be EarthFare. There is also a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s not too far from campus either (and all three are relatively close to each other). Publix on Gervais is also a popular spot, and is popular among all students. They have gluten free selections, but probably not as extensive as the other three. Hope this helps!

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