What and Why
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Going “gluten-free” (GF) is essentially following an eating plan that excludes foods containing these ingredients. For some, going gluten-free is a lifestyle choice for folks hoping to reap the benefits of improved health, weight loss, and increased energy. For those contending with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or sensitivity, gluten ataxia, or certain wheat allergies, it is a critical medical decision.
Several chain restaurants are beginning to tailor their menus to supply GF alternatives. For instance, Olive Garden has GF pasta, Chipotle’s menu is almost entirely GF (and their food preparers will even change their gloves for you to avoid possible cross-contamination), and both Corner Bakery and Jason’s Deli have a menu devoted to GF items. Even pizza chains such as Papa John’s and Domino’s are jumping on board with gluten-free crust to serve this group of customers. Domino’s even boasts, “Finally a gluten-free crust that doesn’t taste like the box it came in!”
If you are looking for something distinctive and local, I found several restaurants that will satisfy your GF search. Nestled in the middle of Truth or Consequences lies The Grapevine Bistro. Owner Mario Portillo’s cheerful and animated energy lights up this establishment! As he and I chatted during our visit, he made time to show off some dance moves and toss out music trivia facts to the entire dining room. The Grapevine Bistro can make any sandwich with GF bread and specializes in GF pancakes with a side of marvelous maple
“I wanted people to have a tasty gluten-free option that didn’t mean having to skip the bread altogether,” says Mario. A favorite among tourists and residents alike is the That’s the Jam sandwich, featuring locally made prickly pear jam, grilled ham, melted Swiss cheese, bacon, organic mixed greens, and your choice of chips, home fries, or a side salad. As I left the restaurant, I felt welcome in T or C, and Mario sent me on my way shouting, “Bye, Desiree! See you next time!” making me feel even more at home.
A Bite of Belgium in Las Cruces opened its doors in October 2012 and features a whole menu dedicated to GF breakfast, brunch, and lunch, including GF French toast. All their sandwiches include a choice of GF bread, a homestyle spread (sun-dried tomato, green peppercorn, pesto, garlic and herb, or Greek yogurt feta), and your choice of two sides (red potato salad, fresh green salad, potato chips, hash browns, home fries, or pasta salad, which is not GF).
Pastaggio’s has been in business in Las Cruces since 1995 and offers GF ravioli, penne, pizza crust, and a chocolate torte that serves as the perfect end to your meal. Their unofficial motto is “Dat’z Amore” because they cook and serve with love, passion, and pride. Owner Lorenzo Liberto states, “Years ago we had many requests for gluten-free options. Currently, we get a lot of orders for those options.” Customers can expect to pay from $12 to $15. They also have an amazing GF penne marinara that feeds at least eight people and includes salad and bread (for your non-GF family members) for only $47.95. If you like, you can also add a protein, extra bread, or upgrade to a specialty salad for a slight upcharge.
One evening I visited with owner Lorenzo and the rest of his busy staff. As I waited for my order, the phone rang off the hook and other patrons explored the unique frozen food section, filled with all their best sellers for you to stock up on. This is a great option to help folks feed unexpected company or for a speedy and delicious weeknight dinner. DoorDash workers were doing just as their title implies, dashing in to pick up orders and scuttling out to make their deliveries. Currently, Pastaggio’s is operating only on a carryout, curbside, delivery, and catering model, and I assure you, that certainly has not slowed down business!
Zeffiro’s Pizzeria Downtown recently underwent a major renovation overseen by its new owner, Ruben Vasquez. The menu includes a 10-inch cauliflower pizza crust, plus some delicious salads and a Caprese appetizer that should all work for those following gluten-free diets. Try the Las Cruces Pizza, the Lemon Asparagus Pizza, or the Wood-fired Chicken Salad for something different and delicious.
Skip across the state line to El Paso and you will find two locations of MOOYAH Burgers, Fries, Shakes. They offer a distinctive GF artisan bun or what they cleverly call an “iceburger,” which is their authentic burger wrapped in an iceberg lettuce “bun.” Although you can order any of their specialty burgers as an iceburger or with a GF bun, they have one dedicated burger on their menu called the Gluten-Free. It comes with a quarter pound of fresh, never-frozen Certified Angus Beef®, pepper jack cheese, applewood smoked bacon, jalapeños, Cholula Hot Sauce, and mayo on a GF bun. As their slogan promises, “It is ridiculous!”
Located in the White Sands Mall in Alamogordo, Pizza 9 is home to a family-friendly glow-in-the-dark golf course as well as a GF pizza crust offered in both 10- and 12-inch sizes (which is pretty special, since most GF pizza crusts I have come across were smaller sizes). Best of all, they have a GF brownie for dessert!
As you can see, going gluten-free certainly doesn’t mean you need to stop enjoying your favorite restaurants; rather, just think a little bit differently. Something to keep in mind when dining out is that it is important to know how a restaurant handles cross-contamination, staff education, and that items labeled as gluten-free are required to meet FDA standards of containing less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.
Gluten-Free at Home
Read labels! OK . . . this may seem obvious, but it is probably the single most critical step to making sure you don’t come across any hidden ingredients. Many GF products carry a visible GF label right on the package, and keep in mind some products may be GF but are just not labeled as such. The easiest way to avoid gluten is to eat unprocessed, single-ingredient foods. A few products to likely scratch off your grocery list or pay extra special attention to labels with are bread, pasta, baked goods, cereals, snacks (especially processed and pre-packaged foods), sauces, and beer (don’t fret, you can still have seltzers!).
If you choose to follow a gluten-free diet, rest assured many options are available in restaurants and for at-home dining. The market is making incredibly strong advances in the gluten-free arena and will likely continue to forge ahead on this path. I kept a big secret until now: The world’s top-selling cookie is now being produced in a gluten-free version. Not only that, I truly can’t even tell the difference. Way to go, Oreo!
Local Gluten-Free Restaurants
3199 N. White Sands Blvd. in White Sands Mall
MOOYAH Burgers, Fries, Shakes
8889 Gateway Blvd. West
7500 N. Mesa St.
A Bite of Belgium
741 N. Alameda Blvd.
3000 Harrelson St.
The Grapevine Bistro
413 N. Broadway St.
Story and photography by Desiree Bustamantes
Additional photography by Olivia Belcher
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2022
Posted by LasCruces.com