There are food allergies, food intolerances and just plain old food preferences. While diners with allergies aren't anything new, more and more restaurants are taking special care to make sure these diners are accommodated.
The menus may have special identifiers to indicate the dish can be made without gluten or nuts. Places like Masa 14 and Carmine's have menus specifically dedicated to diners with allergies (a garlic allergy: more common than one might imagine). Other restaurants cater specifically to a certain diet by theme, like gluten-free bakery The Happy Tart or anti-inflammatory diet-focused True Food Kitchen.
These places may go above and beyond for diners with allergies, but most restaurants do want to accommodate diners with allergies: sometimes the best weapon is merely to ask. Know of another restaurant that takes special care with the issue? Share it in the comments below.
Gluten: Celiacs, diners with gluten-insensitivity and those just indulging in the gluten-freee trend have more dining options than ever. Have your (gluten-free) cupcakes and eat them, too, at places like Baked & Wired and Rise; Del Ray's new Stomping Ground partners with gluten-free bakery The Happy Tart. For those seeking a taste of Italy without the gluten, several places offer gluten-free pasta, including Urbana, Bibiana, Carmine's, Lupo Verde and MET Bethesda, and places like Ledo Pizza, Mellow Mushroom, Rustico, Pete's New Haven and others have gluten-free pies. Even bars like Churchkey and the new Villain and Saint include a list of gluten-free beers and other alcoholic drinks that can be enjoyed.
Dairy: Sticky Fingers in Columbia Heights specializes in egg-free and dairy-free savory and sweet items and is a popular spot for anyone seeking a refuge from lactose (including vegans). CakeLove also has a line of vegan cakes and cupcakes for those who want either dairy nor egg in their sweets. In Petworth, Woodlands Vegan Bistro has plenty of savory options and even attracted the stars, including Kayne and Kim West. Cafes offer options for those suffering for dairy allergies. Aside from the many places carrying soy or almond milk, some are a bit more creative and offer coconut milk coffee beverages, such as the newly-opened The Royal in LeDroit Park.
Nuts: Restaurants accommodating nut allergies are fewer in number — definitely far fewer than those that are gluten-free — but there are places who keep the nuts at bay. Ardeo+ Bardeo, Bombay Club and Georgia Brown's all have menus that make sure diners are aware when nuts were used. The Korean restaurant Mandu doesn't use many nuts at all in its cuisine, but in its desserts section, it explicitly states which of the desserts has nuts in them. Rose's Luxury — the restaurant that prides itself for going way above diners' expectations— will make sure that if a diner has a nut allergy, he or she will be taken care of.
Shellfish: For those suffering from shellfish allergies, this one is relatively easy to avoid since it's a protein many restaurants will trumpet on their menus. But where the problem may arise are at restaurants that use shellfish-based pastes, such as shrimp paste. This is especially problematic at Asian restaurants that use these pastes as a base for some entrees. Chef Seng's popular Lao restaurant Thip Khao in Columbia Heights informs diners that any dish with a "V" included can be made without the use of shrimp or fish paste. And that menu has a lot of dishes where it's possible to go shellfish-free and not lose the flavor. Toro Toro uses a host of letters to indicate allergens, and "S" for shellfish shows up in unexpected places, like the lomo saltado empanada because of its inclusion of oyster sauce.
Plenty of resources are available to explore D.C.'s restricted dining options in depth. For those with Celiac's disease or gluten-related dietary restrictions, there's Gluten Free D.C. There's also Allergy Eats — a restaurant database listing those in a geographical area that cater to particular allergies (but be mindful that not all the information is up-to-date). But as every diner with allergies knows when walking into a restaurant, there's an element of risk that comes with the experience, and it's always best to be prepared for every possible situation which may unfold.