Find out what types of Mexican food are gluten-free, how to order at Mexican restaurants, and what to look for on menus.
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If you love Mexican food like I do, you may have wondered almost immediately after going gluten-free if you’d still be able to enjoy your favorite dishes on this diet.
While there are plenty of options without gluten for making Mexican food at home and ordering at restaurants, sometimes it’s helpful to have someone point out exactly which foods are going to be a safe option and which ones you’ll want to avoid.
Many Mexican dishes at restaurants are made with the same ingredients but put together in different presentations.
For example, a protein, tortillas, rice, cheese, and beans are the staples of what you’ll find in many US-based Mexican restaurant menu items as well as recipes you’ll find online to make at home.
Once you know which of these ingredients are gluten-free, you can start to see where gluten may or may not be an issue for you when ordering at a Mexican restaurant.
In this post, we’re going to answer the question “Is Mexican food gluten-free?” and get to the bottom of which menu items and foods you can make at home are safe for a gluten-free diet.
Plus we’ll go over some tips for ordering gluten-free Mexican food while at restaurants and how to talk to your server about your needs.
Is Mexican Food Gluten-free? Does Mexican Food Have Gluten?
The good news for folks on a gluten-free diet is that a lot of Mexican dishes are naturally gluten-free. Many foods and ingredients used in Mexican cooking use corn and rice as a base ingredient over wheat and flour.
That doesn’t mean that all ingredients in Mexican cuisine are gluten-free, but a lot of the main dishes you’re likely to find at Mexican restaurants like tacos, nachos, and enchiladas use corn tortillas instead of flour based tortillas.
Of course, like any cuisine, there are foods you’ll want to be aware of that contain gluten. A lot of Mexican restaurants use flour tortillas for some of their dishes like quesadillas, burritos, and taquitos.
Vegetables, cheese, beans, and meat are all naturally gluten-free foods, so as long as these are not seasoned or flavored to add gluten to them, they are safe in most combinations for your gluten-free diet.
A few other places you may find gluten are any foods that have been deep fried, like chile relleno or churros (from the dessert menu). These use flour and are not gluten-free.
Another place you’ll want to be aware of gluten showing up in your Mexican dishes is if any foods use chicken broth or other broth to flavor rice or a dish. Sometimes flour or wheat is added to broth as a thickening agent.
Finally, the place you’ll want to be aware of if you’re extremely reactive to gluten even at trace amounts is a deep fryer. Many chips and tortillas are fried in these large vats of oil, but ingredients like chile rellenos may also be fried here, creating a potential for cross contamination with gluten.
Read on: Are flour tortillas gluten-free?
Read on: Gluten-free chicken broth
Tips for Ordering Gluten-free Mexican Food
There are a few ways you can be sure that when you’re at a Mexican restaurant that what you order is gluten-free. Let’s talk about a few tips to help you order with confidence.
Ask for a gluten-free menu
If you’re at a Mexican restaurant and looking for gluten-free options, first ask a server if there is a gluten-free menu available to look through. This will help you narrow down options.
Look for a gluten-free symbol next to menu items
If no specific menu is available, look to see if the menu offers any way that gluten-free options are annotated, with symbols or “GF” next to the menu item. This can help you find what’s available to you.
Scour the menu for potential gluten-free menu items
If neither of those are options, it’s time to start scouring the menu for any menu item that looks good and reviewing the details in the menu about what the ingredients are. Look for obvious signs of gluten, like flour tortillas or deep fried ingredients.
Talk to a server to help solidify a decision
With any menu item that looks like it passes the test of having no gluten in what’s shared in the menu, you can ask the server about specific ingredients and see if it will suit your diet. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to find out what you need to know to make an informed decision about what to choose from the menu!
Avoid flour tortillas
Flour tortillas contain gluten and will always be an ingredient to avoid on a Mexican restaurant menu if you’re following a gluten-free diet.
Be aware of shared fryers
Take note of how tortilla chips and tortillas are fried in the Mexican restaurant. Is it in the same place as other ingredients that may contain gluten, like churros or chile rellenos? Be aware of this, knowing there is a likelihood for cross contamination if the fryer is shared with gluten and gluten-free ingredients.
How to talk to a server about your gluten-free needs
The best way to discuss your gluten-free needs with a waiter or server is to try to speak with someone who speaks your language fluently and understands your requests.
When you’re sure you can communicate effectively, explain that you need to find gluten-free options and ask for a gluten-free menu.
If there isn’t one available, you may want to ask them to point out on the menu which dishes use corn tortillas or have no fried ingredients.
Another great way to communicate with your server is to bring a gluten-free restaurant card with you.
I found some great ones from Celiac Travel and they even have an app called Gluten Free Restaurant Cards to help you share your needs in different languages. You can show it to them so they can speak with the cooks about your options.
One other strategy I use is to look at menus online before I head out to a restaurant. This feels important to me, so I have time to review what my options are and take my time figuring out if there’s a possibility that I can make it work.
I know it doesn’t sound very spontaneous, and it’s quite boring to know exactly what you will order before you even step foot in a restaurant, but when you have dietary restrictions, that’s the name of the game.
Look ahead to be prepared or find another restaurant to go to.
If you’ve been wondering how to go gluten and dairy-free, you might want to check out my book The Gluten and Dairy-free Diet: A Beginner’s Guide.
Gluten-free Mexican food
There are a surprising number of options when it comes to Gluten-free Mexican food you can order at restaurants or make for yourself at home. You’ll really only need to know to avoid flour tortillas, or other foods that have been battered and fried, like churros or chile rellenos.
Other than that, it’s fairly straightforward. Here are some options and some considerations next time you’re out at a Mexican restaurant trying to navigate a menu.
Most tacos from Mexican restaurants are going to be gluten-free. The time to be aware of gluten in your tacos is if the meat has been marinated or seasoned with ingredients that may contain gluten.
Also consider your taco toppings: if there’s an ingredient that’s crispy, like fried onions on top, this may be a sign there is gluten in the dish.
Most meat and protein options
Chicken, beef, and pork options are almost always gluten-free at Mexican restaurants. The area to be aware of is any seasonings that have been added to the meat to give it flavor.
Many salad options are gluten-free at Mexican restaurants, but the areas you’ll want to be aware of are taco salad shells. This deep fried shell is made with a flour tortilla, so if you order this type of salad ask for it on a plate or in a bowl instead of the shell.
Since beans are naturally gluten-free, this side dish is considered generally safe for folks who follow a gluten-free diet.
This dip option is naturally gluten-free with avocados, onions, peppers, and lime juice. You can feel good ordering guacamole at a Mexican restaurant on a gluten-free diet.
Corn tortillas will almost always be gluten-free. The one thing to keep in mind is with any fried tortillas and where they are fried. If they share a fryer with foods that contain gluten, like chile rellenos or churros, you’ll want to be aware of the possibility of cross contamination.
Chicken tortilla soup
Chicken tortilla soup is likely to be gluten-free as long as the broth that’s included in the soup doesn’t contain gluten. You may want to ask a server if the broth used in their soup is house made or store bought to help you make a decision.
Flan is a gluten-free dessert option that’s made with eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. If you are looking for a dessert option, flan might be a good choice. If you also avoid dairy, you’ll want to skip this as flan contains milk and is not a good option for a dairy-free diet.
Read on: Is flan gluten-free?
Mexican Dishes that Contain Gluten
While it’s possible to find a Mexican restaurant that is completely gluten-free, it’s not too common. Here are some dishes you are may find gluten in Mexican restaurants:
Not all burritos contain gluten, but most you buy at Mexican restaurants are wrapped in flour tortillas. Be sure to ask before ordering.
This dish is dipped in a flour and egg mixture before frying, so it will likely contain gluten.
Enchiladas are commonly made with corn tortillas, but be sure to ask in case the restaurant you’re visiting uses flour tortillas instead.
Many quesadillas are made with flour tortillas. If you are hoping to order this dish, be sure to ask which type of tortillas are used and if you can make the swap, ask for corn tortillas.
Many Mexican restaurants offer some type of seafood taco, either fish or shrimp. Sometimes, but not always, this seafood is battered and fried. If fish or shrimp is deep fried, you can assume this ingredient contains gluten from the batter and should be avoided on a gluten-free diet.
This popular cheese dip is thickened with flour or starch so you may want to steer clear of this appetizer from the menu just in case.
Mexican rice, or Spanish rice, may or may not contain gluten from the broth or seasonings that have been added to it. You may want to ask what the ingredients are before deciding on this as a side dish for your meal.
Tortas are a Mexican sandwich that are served on a bun. This bun is made from flour that contains gluten, and should be avoided on a gluten-free diet.
Marinades and seasonings
Some marinades and seasonings used for meat and poultry contain gluten as a thickener, so be sure to ask before ordering what ingredients are used.
Flour tortilla chips
Many restaurants serve corn tortilla chips as their appetizer, but sometimes flour tortillas are used to make chips. It can’t hurt to ask what type of tortillas a restaurant uses for their chips before ordering. It’s also helpful to know if the fryer that is used for the chips is shared with other gluten ingredients so you are aware of the level of cross contamination possibility.
Churros are made with flour and contain gluten. You’ll want to opt for a different gluten-free dessert option if you’re at a Mexican restaurant.
What Mexican dishes can I make at home that are gluten-free?
Most anything that you love to eat at a Mexican restaurant that contains gluten can be made gluten-free at home. That’s the beauty of making your own food – you get to control the ingredients.
If you love making Mexican cuisine at home, try one of these options and be sure to check for gluten-free labels or review ingredients lists of all the ingredients you purchase.
- Burritos with gluten-free tortillas
- Taco salads
- Burrito bowls
- Quesadillas with corn tortillas or gluten-free tortillas
- Chicken tortilla soup
- Mexican casseroles
- Corn tortilla chips and salsa or guacamole
- Refried beans
- Black beans
- Mexican rice
Read on: Mexican rice bowls
Read on: Are tamales gluten-free?
Read on: Is rice gluten-free?
Read on: Easy Crockpot gluten-free chili
Read on: Super easy crockpot chicken tacos
Read on: Are refried beans gluten-free?
Are my favorite Mexican cuisine ingredients gluten-free?
I always get a lot of questions about different ingredients and think it would be useful to round up some specific ingredients for Mexican cuisine to help you make easy decisions next time you’re ordering from a restaurant or making a Mexican meal at home.
Do corn tortillas have gluten?
Yes, corn tortillas are made using corn, which is a naturally gluten-free food. Since corn itself doesn’t contain gluten, and most tortillas don’t contain other sources of gluten, corn tortillas are generally considered safe for a gluten-free diet.
Read on: Do corn tortillas have gluten?
Read on: Gluten-free tortillas
Is taco seasoning gluten-free?
Depending on the brand you purchase or if you make your own taco seasoning at home, taco seasoning can be gluten-free. Your safest option is always going to be choosing spices that are indicated by the manufacturer that they are gluten-free, then mixing up your own taco seasoning blend.
The next best option is to review ingredients lists of taco seasoning brands to look for hidden sources of gluten. Gluten may hide in taco seasoning in the form of wheat flour or yeast extract. These ingredients are both used as a thickener or preservative in taco seasoning.
If you find a brand of taco seasoning that has no gluten ingredients, you may consider that a safe choice for your gluten-free diet. However, if you are celiac or are extremely sensitive to even trace amounts of gluten, you may want to look for a taco seasoning that has a gluten-free label.
Read on: Is taco seasoning gluten-free?
Read on: Gluten-free taco seasoning
Are black beans gluten-free?
Black beans on their own are naturally gluten-free and safe to eat on a gluten-free diet. If you know that you cannot handle even the possibility of trace levels of gluten, then you might want to look for a gluten-free label on the black beans that you buy from the store.
Read on: Are black beans gluten-free?
Read on: Are beans gluten-free?
Are taco shells gluten-free?
Most taco shells are naturally gluten-free as they’re made from corn tortillas, and most corn tortillas are gluten-free.
You’ll want to be aware of the brand you buy, as some make gluten-free statements while others don’t. We’ll review a few taco shell brands you can look for at the store below.
Read on: Are taco shells Gluten-free?
Are tortilla chips gluten-free?
Since tortilla chips are mostly made from corn tortillas, and these are most always gluten-free, we can confidently say that most tortilla chips are gluten-free.
Unfortunately, some tortilla chips do contain gluten, meaning you can’t just grab a bag of chips off the shelf of the grocery store and assume they are gluten-free.
Depending on what other flavorings are added or other ingredients are added to the chips, they may not be gluten-free. You’ll want to look for a gluten-free label, which indicates there is less than 20ppm of gluten in the product as required by the FDA, before purchasing.
Read on: Gluten-free tortilla chips
Is sour cream gluten-free?
Most sour cream brands are gluten-free as there aren’t any gluten-containing grains in the products. However, like any other foods, you will want to check the ingredients list for hidden sources of gluten, just in case.
Read on: Is sour cream gluten-free?
Read on: Is sour cream dairy-free?
If you love Mexican food and have been wondering what dishes are considered safe for your gluten-free diet whether at home or from restaurants, I hope this post helps you feel like you can make informed decisions next time you’re craving this cuisine.
Many Mexican dishes are safe for a gluten-free diet, but you need to identify which ingredients are gluten-free before you start cooking or ordering from a menu.
Most proteins, corn tortillas, rice, beans, and vegetables are all safe ingredients so use that as a starting point to help you make a good decision for your gluten-free diet.