Cuisine ideas for non-overlapping food restrictions?
December 30, 2021 9:05 PM   Subscribe

A wonderful new friend and I have several non-overlapping food restrictions, but we enjoy dining together. What kinds of cuisines should we look for?

I'm looking for ideas about types of cuisines so that we can find corresponding restaurants in our area. We live in a pretty diverse area with lots of different dining options. I'm also open to vegetarian recipes that I can cook for both of us, though I prefer dining out (once COVID cases are down, of course).

We are in Orange County, CA - any specific restaurant recommendations would also be immensely appreciated. I am hoping for casual/mid-range, nothing pricey.

I know that we can consider non-food-related activities, but we seem to really enjoy bonding over a good meal, and I think that dining is what we're both comfortable with in our new friendship.

Her restrictions:
- No soy
- No legumes, including peanuts, beans, and lentils
- No gluten

My restrictions:
- Vegetarian (eggs & dairy are OK)

We found success with a wonderful vegan Vietnamese restaurant in our area (Au Lac). We had a papaya salad without nuts or soy sauce, broken rice with a salad and vegan nuoc cham, and spring rolls. We both LOVED it.

She tells me that she usually opts for salad when eating out, but she also said that it's not often that fulfilling. I cannot tell you how happy I was that she enjoyed our vegan Vietnamese meal so much. She seems dismayed by her dietary restrictions. I'd really like to find more options that we both would enjoy.

I've considered making us shakshuka with gluten-free bread, or kimbap without a protein.

Things I've considered:
- Indian-American might work, because she can have something like a chicken & cream dish over rice, and I can have something like lentils and flat bread.

- Ethiopian, if she avoids dishes that are typically served with injera (since it's often made with a mix of teff and wheat flours) - is this feasible?

- Sushi, if we can find a restaurant that can serve tamari for her and veg rolls for me.

- A burger spot that has gluten-free buns for her and veg patties for me.

- A restaurant that serves chilaquiles or huevos divorciados.

- There are some great vegetarian Chinese restaurants in the area, but it might be challenging to avoid soy sauce and wheat- and soy-based meat substitutes.

- Thai food, with curries and rice for us, if we can find a place that will avoid soy sauce for her and fish sauce/shrimp paste for me.

Thank you all for helping us to find dining ideas!
posted by aquamvidam to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Brunch? A lot of places nowadays seem to have gluten free versions of anything requiring bread, and the protein focus would be on eggs and dairy (likely bacon also available, but avoidable).
posted by eviemath at 9:58 PM on December 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Just fyi tamari is made from soy. It is, in my experience as a person who has had to avoid soy and gluten at different points, harder to avoid soy, which is a hidden ingredient in a lot of things. Mexican might work if you can avoid legumes (breads made from corn and uses a lot of rice, doesn't rely on soy as a core ingredient, does vegetarian).
posted by jojobobo at 10:51 PM on December 30, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I’ll suggest a vegetarian Mexican restaurant. Be sure to check it’s truly vegetarian, but it looks like there are quite a few in Orange County.
posted by Red Desk at 10:53 PM on December 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh also we find greek good for no gluten and I started with it after the soy thing was over but I think they'd be good for that too. If you find a high quality greek place they tend to use a lot of herbs as opposed to sauces, which is a good starting place for avoiding soy. There can be a lot of meat but Haloumi is a great protein? Sorry in less across the vego side of things.
posted by jojobobo at 10:54 PM on December 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I do this on hard mode fairly regularly, as I have considerably more extensive restrictions and friends who are vegan. I think you already have some great ideas. Really, I think you should be able to eat together at most types of restaurants, other than bread-centric places. Tip: she can always just skip the bun or bread and get lettuce or whatever instead, but she might need to subtly spell out to the server that she should get a little more of that lettuce, etc., to compensate. I had a very sad burger patty on a single lettuce leaf once....

There's an Indigenous restaurant near me that I've been eyeing, and they have some vegan options. In general, I'd recommend avoiding cheaper places if you don't know what you're getting into, as they are more likely to use ingredients with hidden gluten and especially soy. Places that focus on sustainability tend to be allergy- and vegetarian-friendly.

I think you might be confused about what tamari is (soy sauce), but sushi is one of my go-to options.

I'm sad that your friend is frustrated by her restrictions. She really still has a ton of options. I'm glad you are exploring together.
posted by Comet Bug at 11:07 PM on December 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Mediterranean? She can have rice based meaty dishes and you can do the vegetarian ones. They don’t usually have soy

Taco places that have the option of gluten free corn tortillas? They’re usually vegetarian friendly, and you can skip the beans.
posted by redlines at 11:26 PM on December 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Risotto? Rice with wine, vegetable stock and dairy, plus different toppings and flavorings for both of you, like springtime asparagus risotto with mint and fresh English peas for you, shrimp for her. Mushroom and squash risotto would work for you both, so would a tomato and caper one with fresh basil.

Similarly, rice based Spanish cuisine might have a lot of options, like a vegetarian paella (I had a wonderful one with artichokes and olives and a medley of other colorful summer produce once) and arroz con pollo. Culinarily related, Creole cooking might work for you both if you can find a place that does vegetarian red beans and rice and a gluten free (not made with roux) gumbo.
posted by Mizu at 11:32 PM on December 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had some of the same allergies/intolerances as your friend, and my ex-husband preferred vegetarian food. For us, Italian food worked very well (it isn't all pasta), and later when I found Vietnamese, that became one of my favorite cuisines, but you know that already.

I feel for your friend, I remember how my allergy made me feel cut off from a lot of social life, and also sad about the lack of options. I'm lucky that I "grew out" of most of my allergies during my late forties, but that depends on the root cause of the allergy/intolerance.
I learnt to cook for myself and my friends, and it has been a gift throughout my adult life.
posted by mumimor at 2:07 AM on December 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My partner has similar restrictions to your friend. Sushi has definitely worked well for us as long as we communicate the soy restriction in advance. Partner brings her own soy sauce substitute (coconut aminos) to use for dipping as well. Since you're in Orange County you should have some good options for Persian food which has rice as a staple grain, some flavorful vegetarian dishes, and doesn't tend to use soy.
posted by 4rtemis at 4:16 AM on December 31, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: One of our favorite Ethiopian places in Chicago has an option to sub in gluten free injera for a modest upcharge. Maybe check and see if any of the Ethiopian spots in your neck of the woods offer the same?
posted by merriment at 5:07 AM on December 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Fyi many breads use soy flour (gluten free and otherwise) and also gf bread is rarely good, so unless you are at a place that really specialises in it I would not do burgers (also, sadly, so many burgers have soy in them. Soy intolerance is really the worst!).
posted by jojobobo at 3:21 PM on December 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all. There are so many fantastic ideas here. Mediterranean and veg Mexican sound like great next ventures. Risotto is also a fantastic idea!

Whoops, I totally neglected that tamari contains soy. Thank you to those who caught that.

4rtemis - thank you for the tip about coconut aminos. Excellent idea. Comet Bug, thank you for the tip about sustainability-focused restaurants. And jojobobo, thank you for the tip about soy flour in gluten-free breads - I was not aware of this.

Before posting, I was feeling overwhelmed, but now I feel hopeful that we'll be able to find some wonderful restaurants. Thank you so much, everyone!
posted by aquamvidam at 10:42 AM on January 1

This is sortof a side suggestion, but since someone mentioned coconut aminos... I can't have soy and I'm obsessed with Ocean's Halo products. Their no-soy sauce tastes *just* like real soy sauce. You can get them at Whole Foods and Rite Aid.
posted by radioamy at 10:20 AM on January 4

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