When doctors diagnosed Sean Workman’s wife, Betsy, and son, Taylor, with Celiac disease 12 years ago, the family struggled to navigate dining out. Lacking clear options for gluten-free restaurants, they didn’t know which safety precautions kitchens were using, if any, and even the most innocuous foods felt risky.

“My son loves French fries, as any kid does,” says Sean, who opened Acova—a mostly gluten-free eatery in Highland—with Betsy in 2018. “But we didn’t know what the dangers of cross-contamination might be with the fryer.”

These days, families like the Workmans face a different, much improved landscape. Most people know what gluten is—though if you need a refresher, it’s the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, semolina, durum, and several other grains—and understand that consuming it can make those with a Celiac disease diagnosis or a sensitivity feel pretty ill, with symptoms including stomach pain, bloating, and vomiting.

Thankfully, many restaurant owners now include some gluten-free options on their menu. But navigating the dining scene can still be challenging for many. Despite the best of intentions, some kitchens use less safe sanitary practices to keep gluten separate from gluten-free offerings than others. Plus, certain diners are more sensitive than their peers, so a restaurant that brings one person joy may leave another feeling queasy. (Not sure how to figure out if an eatery’s practices are safe for you? Experts offer advice here.)

To try and make some sense of it all, we rounded up several gluten-free-friendly restaurants and breweries, where chefs and owners are known for serving the Celiac and gluten-intolerant community. We also detailed some of their kitchen’s safety practices to help readers make choices that they (and their doctor) feel good about.


* There is at least one fryer set aside just for gluten-free foods.
^ The establishment uses zero gluten-filled ingredients (but might sell beer in a sealed container).
~ The business is a MyMeal participating restaurant. Oregon-based web developer Kayla King built the website and app, which allows users to enter their allergies or dietary preferences and sorts participating restaurants’ menus by ingredients to let diners know which foods are safe. Other features on the app detail each eatery’s safety precautions and note if a certain allergen is especially prevalent in the kitchen.

Acova/The Hornet *~

Acova’s Havana panini. Photo by Jon Phillips

When the Workmans opened Acova, they decided to make it as safe as possible for those with Celiac disease. Acova’s staff only uses gluten-free flour (particulates like wheat flour can become airborne and contaminate other menu items) and most dishes, like the Havana panini with braised pork, are naturally gluten-free. Those that aren’t are prepared using separate equipment. Bonus: Many of the safety practices at Acova have crept into another restaurant the Workmans co-own, the Hornet, which harnesses MyMeal to keep guests informed of safety practices and has a wide variety of gluten-free specialties.

Quiero Arepas *^

An arepa wrapped in paper with sauce on the side at gluten free restaurant Quiero Arepas.
The vegan La Original arepa at Quiero Arepas. Photo by Denise Mickelsen

From its start in 2010 at a farmers’ market, to its food truck days, to its current two locations—one on Pearl Street and the other in LoHi’s Avanti Food & Beverage—gluten never once appeared on Quiero Arepas’ menu. That’s because arepas use maize dough to cradle meats, cheeses, and other fillings. Owner Igor Panasewicz grew up eating them in Venezuela, and while he and his co-owner and wife, Beckie, make surprising remixes like the salmon and capers arepa, they keep gluten out of their kitchens. “We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Beckie says. “We’re just remaking my husband’s childhood memories.”

Just Be Kitchen *~^

A desire to avoid foods that cause inflammation led Jennifer Peters to open Just Be Kitchen six years ago this month and expand to the Denver Tech Center last October. The staff uses zero gluten-containing ingredients and also eschews peanuts, legumes, seed oils, grains, soy, and refined sugars. If that sounds joyless, think again. “Healthy eating should be about abundance and fulfillment, not about lack or sacrifice,” Peters says. To achieve that feeling of bounty, she collaborates with her team to recreate comfort foods like beef Bolognese and a chicken and dumplings dish that appeared on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Marco’s Coal-Fired

Marco’s Coal-Fired - Gluten Free Margherita
A gluten-free pizza at Marco’s Coal-Fired. Photo courtesy of Marco’s Coal-Fired

Flimsy gluten-free pizza crusts, begone. The magicians at Marco’s Coal-Fired in Ballpark and Englewood craft chewy, gluten-less altars for cheese and sauce using an Italian flour with gluten-free wheat starch (producers rinse the protein out until it’s considered safe for those with Celiac disease). The resulting dough can be stretched like the traditional Neapolitan stuff, though that process occurs away from where Marco’s pizzaiolos prepare the regular pizza. Bonus: Gluten-free pies even get their own oven.

Daughter Thai/La Mai Thai

A plate of reddish pad thai in the sun.
The pad thai at La Mai Thai Kitchen. Photo courtesy of La Mai Thai Kitchen

Coconut milk. Palm sugar. Rice noodles. Rice itself. Many of these core ingredients in Thai cuisine are naturally gluten-free, says Orrapan Botthaisong, the proprietor of La Mai Thai Kitchen in Edgewater and a co-owner of Daughter Thai & Bar in Highland. For that reason, gluten-averse diners can feel relatively safe at Thai establishments, though they should verify that soy sauce, a wheat-containing ingredient, hasn’t snuck into a sauce. At Botthaisong’s restaurants, the chefs will swap out egg noodles for rice noodles in certain dishes, taking care to prepare substitutions in sanitized pots and pans.

Vital Root *^

A spread at Vital Root. Photo courtesy of Vital Root

Part of a sextet of restaurants under the Edible Beats moniker (Linger, Ophelia’s, El Five, and two Root Down locations round out the group), Vital Root serves hearty meals sans gluten. Clever tricks, like frying rice paper, means dishes like the cobb salad don’t lack the satisfying crunch croutons typically provide. The other five eateries are good options, though just a touch riskier. They do use ingredients with wheat and other triggers, but employees receive thorough training about avoiding cross-contamination, says director and chef Justin Cucci. A metal bar delineates the gluten-free and gluten-filled sides of the flat top, and servers specifically discuss any allergen request with chefs to ensure everyone understands the guest’s needs.

Rivers & Roads Coffee *^

If you’ve grown wary of staring sorrowfully at the gluten-filled pastries behind the glass at coffee shops, head to Rivers & Roads Coffee. Each muffin, sweet bread, and quiche at the Curtis Park location is safe for those with Celiac disease. The company’s second location in City Park serves a larger selection of gluten-free dishes, like the Mediterranean hash slathered in spicy harissa sauce.

Lucina Eatery & Bar *

A blue corn tlacoyo on a wooden board.
A naturally gluten-free tlacoyo from Lucina Eatery & Bar. Photo courtesy of Lucina Eatery & Bar

Erasmo Casiano and Diego Coconati each grew up immersed in a blend of cultures—Mexican and Bolivian for Casiano, Argentinian and Puerto Rican for Coconati. Their one-year-old restaurant in South Park Hill celebrates the various cuisines from their childhoods via specialties that incidentally lack gluten. For example, alcapurrias, Puerto Rican fritters stuffed with braised chicken stew, use ground yucca root, not flour. The pan (bread) still contains gluten, but chefs bake it in the morning, then sanitize the kitchen to eliminate as many particles as possible before working with other ingredients.

Urban Village Grill

A gluten-free bowl of kale and lentils dressed chaat style at Urban Village Grill.
The gluten-free kale moong dal chaat at Urban Village Grill. Photo courtesy of Urban Village Grill/Prim + Co

Simple strategies, like storing gluten free and gluten-filled products in separate parts of the kitchen, help the team at this beloved Indian restaurant at Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree prevent cross-contamination. Head chef and owner Charles Mani marries French cooking techniques with the dishes he learned to make from his mother and aunties while growing up in Chennai, India, but skips using flour as a thickener in sauces like the rich coconut curry paired with charred salmon.

Holidaily Brewing Company ^

A brew at Holidaily Brewing Company. Photo by Jess LaRusso

Owner and craft brewer Karen Hertz’s gluten-free suds can be found across the country. But if you want the quintessentially Colorado, post-hike taproom experience, visit Holidaily’s location in Golden for a pour of malt-and-a-hint-of-lemon Favorite Blonde, pine-and-citrus Fat Randy’s IPA, and other classics. Or, for a Celiac-friendly two-for-one, visit its new-in-2022 location in the Denver Tech Center, where it shares space with Just Be Kitchen’s second outpost.

Deby’s Gluten Free ^

Monica Poole’s family decided to cut gluten from their diet after one of her twin boys received a Celiac disease diagnosis. She struggled to find safe, delicious products and experimented with gluten-free flour blends until she made a bread her kids enjoyed. Soon, though, the bread’s fans numbered far more than her family, so she and her husband, Doug, began selling it. Today, the Pooles run a dedicated gluten-free manufacturing facility, grocery store, and bakery near Cherry Creek Country Club. There, they sell more than 275 Celiac-safe flour blends, breads, pastries, and take-and-bake meals and supply products—the s’mores cinnamon rolls, served only on Saturday, are not to be missed—to retail consumers and a variety of local restaurants.

Angela Ufheil
Angela Ufheil
Angela Ufheil is a Denver-based journalist and 5280's former digital senior associate editor.