Cooking Healthier Meals

Is Mexican Food Gluten-Free? 3 Tips For Gluten-Sensitive Diners

by Paul Watson

Eating out at any restaurant can be challenging when you're on a gluten-free diet. Ethnic restaurants can pose a particular challenge if you're not familiar with the cooking style or the ingredients commonly used in those dishes. When you have a sensitivity to a particular ingredient, like gluten, you can't afford to let the details of unfamiliar dishes remain a mystery. Take Mexican food: are those tortilla chips safe because they're made of corn? Is there any way to get a gluten-free burrito? Take a look at some tips that will help you navigate a night out at a Mexican restaurant without exposing yourself to gluten.

Tortilla Chips

Great news! If you're eating at an authentic Mexican restaurant, there's a good chance that the tortilla chips on the table are safe for you to eat. Authentic Mexican tortilla chips are usually made from corn flour, not wheat flour, and corn flour doesn't contain gluten. Incidentally, taco shells and tostada shells are also usually corn flour based, which could give you some more safe menu options to choose from.

Don't assume that you're safe without asking first, though. Some restaurants dust their corn tortillas with wheat flour, rendering them unsafe for someone with gluten sensitivities. Cross-contamination is an issue as well — unless the kitchen takes steps to prevent it, it's always possible that gluten from another dish could be mixed in with your tortilla chips. If the chips are packaged and not made fresh at the restaurant, you can ask to see the package — it should specify whether or not the chips are gluten-free.


Burritos are often among the most popular dishes at Mexican restaurants, and unfortunately, most of them are off-limits to gluten-sensitive diners. Typically, the burrito ingredients are wrapped in a soft tortilla shell made of wheat flour, which contains gluten. However, you do have a couple of options.

Some Mexican restaurants will make burritos wrapped in soft corn tortillas. Though you might ordinarily think of corn tortillas as hard and crunchy, not soft like burrito shells, corn tortillas can be made into more flexible shells by soft-frying them in oil. As long as the fryer used to make the shells is not also used to make items containing gluten, a burrito wrapped in a soft corn tortilla is safe to eat. Another option is to simply ask for the contents of the burrito in a bowl. The meat, beans, vegetables, rice, and peppers found inside a burrito are gluten-free — it's only the shell that's a problem. Asking for a burrito bowl eliminates the gluten issue.


When you're ordering Mexican food, don't forget to inquire about whether the sauces they use on the food are gluten-free. For example, it's not unusual for rojo sauce, the sauce that's usually served on enchiladas, to contain gluten. Cheese sauces and dips sometimes contain wheat flour that serves as a thickener. Mole sauce also can contain a wheat thickener containing gluten, but this depends on the restaurant. Mole can take days to make, so a restaurant that doesn't have a dedicated gluten-free menu may not be likely to have a gluten-free version on hand, and they can't make one up quickly. But there are nearly as many versions of mole as there are Mexican restaurants, so you should definitely ask — you might get lucky.

Salsa and guacamole are both usually safe, and they go well with a great number of Mexican dishes. They can also stand in for dressings on a taco salad, if the ordinary dressings contain gluten. (If you prefer something a little lighter, try a spritz of lime juice on your salad instead.) Many hot pepper sauces commonly found in Mexican restaurants are gluten-free, so if you like your food spicy, you're in luck.

Because of Mexican cuisine's reliance on gluten-free grains like corn and rice, it's easier to accommodate a gluten-free diet in a Mexican restaurant than it is in many other types of restaurants. Still, it's always best to play it safe and ask before ordering. Try this site to learn more about the food Mexican restaurants might offer.