Chef Jose Andres’ restaurants are always a safe bet for the gluten-sensitive when dining out in D.C., as his cooking style prioritizes fresh, whole produce. There will always be some that are off limits, but most of his dishes are small bounties of fruits and vegetables seasoned with flavors from around the world.
If you’re feeling like Mexican, Oyamel should be your #1. It’s more contemporary than traditional, which bodes well for the gluten-sensitive – you can go there knowing that you’ll have way more to choose from other than a spread of deep-fried this and that. You might be surprised when you ask for the separate gluten-free menu. No, your server didn’t make a mistake…. it really does have that many options. What’s nice is that it’s actually an “allergy-friendly” menu with a color coded key at the top – all dishes are listed and marked with the major allergens. And for those few dishes that don’t get the beloved “g” denoting a gluten-friendly dish, a simple removal of a fried tortilla strip or two will ensure the dish will be gluten-free (usually). Talk to your server – they’re all knowledgeable and accommodating…
All of the dishes are served “tapas” style – smaller portions meant to be shared (or not). The menu is broken up into sections based on the main component of the dish.
Ceviches y Mariscos – like seafood? Good news, most of these dishes are safe to order. Served raw, seared, or smoked, the dishes are safe from gluten although you may have to be cautious of the marinade or the add-ins. Two or three may be off the table, but the rest should definitely be ordered. The fish are paired well with complimentary tangy- sweet and spicy flavors.
Ensaladas y Verduras – this is where you can go crazy. Obviously the “Ensalada de Alex Caesar Cardini” is a no-go thanks to the croutons, and some dishes are dropped in the fryer, but no matter – the rest are rainbow concoctions of the freshest produce around. Try the “Ensalada de aguacate y remolacha.” The juicy-sweet beets, buttery avocado, and tangy tomatillo work well together, but if you’re not an orange juice fan, order the dressing on the side because that stuff is STRONG. And I’m so glad someone thought to put queso fresco on fruit – the “‘Gaspacho’ estilo Morelia” is nothing but a bowl of light, refreshing genius, and a great palette cleanser between the heat of the peppery dishes. Another must-try is the “Acelgas con nuez de Castilla:” swiss chard sautéed with cabbage, shallots, toasted hazelnuts and spiced fruit. If you like swiss chard, you’ll end up ordering three of these. If you don’t like swiss chard… you’ll still end up ordering three of these. The nutty hazelnuts and sweetness of the fruit will make you completely forget you’re eating vegetables.
Carnes – for something more substantial, these protein-packed dishes are hearty and filling. Like chicken and chocolate? Try them together in the “Pollo con mole poblano.” If you’re into yolk-porn, get your hands on the “Huevos enfrijolados,” or “fried eggs.” Take each bite with the addicting black bean sauce and their house-made chorizo – it’s heaven. For a BBQ fix, order the “Puerco en chile morita.” These pork ribs are the reason why “finger-licking good,” was invented. Smothered in a spicy sweet salsa, they literally fall off the bone.
Tacos – there’s always a 50-50 chance with tacos: corn tortillas or flour tortillas. But at Oyamel, ALL are made with corn. House-made, soft, and ready to be stuffed with the vegetarian or not so vegetarian filling of your choice… all of which are also gluten-free. BLESS YOU, JOSE. The “Taco de hongos con crema” will have even those die-hard carnivores singing, and the house-made mayo pairs well with the bite of the pickled chiles and seared mahi in the “Taco pescado baja California.” Here’s a tip: if you don’t like what you see, invent your own by ordering a side of tortillas and filling them with the contents of another dish.
Sopas – slurp away, all of these are gluten-free. The “Caldo Tlapeño” is the lightest – it’s essentially a Mexican chicken noodle soup… without the noodles. Veggies, rice, avocado and chicken floating in one flavor bomb of a broth. It’s super smoky, and the spice is mild enough that you can eat it without your eyes watering.
The next time that your bestie texts you “I WANT MEXICAN FOOD,” steer them to Oyamel for a worry- free meal of exceptional flavor that you’ll both enjoy. They’ll be able to have their enchilada gluten- bombs, and more importantly, you won’t have to sit there hungry.