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Low Carb Restaurant Guide

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Tips and options for eating low carb at restaurants

Tips and options for eating low carb at restaurants

Low Carb Restaurant Options

It may seem impossible to go out to eat while sticking to a low-carb diet. What's the fun if everyone else is pigging out on buttered bread and desserts? It doesn't make it any easier when you're with friends who insist that you order the taco salad with them or share their triple-layer chocolate cake.

However, it's not impossible to stick to your diet, be realistic, and still have a good time out.

Here are some ways you can keep to your health goals while still enjoying good food with good friends away from the safety of your limited foods at home.


Make goals ahead of time to stick to while at the restaurant. Designate limits and consider what kinds of foods are allowable within those bounds. You might also want to look up the menu ahead of time and choose items that are safe.

Go Easy at First

If you're not used to your low-carb diet, don't try to be overambitious. Start at places that don't lay on the carbs too heavily (i.e. Italian restaurants with pasta dishes). Try beginning with simpler eateries with items with fewer ingredients. You can pick off carby contents more easily on a burger than on complicated cuisines.

Be confident

You're not the only one who has special needs at the restaurant. It's ok to ask questions and make requests; the worst they can say is "no." Be polite and don't expect too much; they aren't obligated to serve your every need, though they should if they know what's good for them (fancier restaurants are more likely to accommodate you). By asking questions, you can also learn more about the restaurant business and how you might go about making special requests in the future.

General Tips

Easy-To-Order Low-Carb Items:

  • Plain, unbreaded meats with veggies and/or fruits. Try to go for extra greens rather than potatoes.
  • Salads as meals are healthy and often affordable. You can also order a sandwich but ask for the contents to be placed on greens as salad toppers.
  • Get a burger or other sandwich without the bun... you can also have a salad on the side!
  • Take advantage of the "breakfast all day" places by ordering eggs all day, like omelets with vegetables (spinach, peppers, etc.) perhaps with a bowl of fruit on the side rather than hash browns.


  • Just because you order a salad doesn't mean you're home-free... keep the carbs off your greens! No croutons or garlic bread!
  • Keep away from the fries and macaroni salads!
  • Stray from the complimentary chips or bread baskets. Focus on passing it to the person next to you.
  • No deep-fried items! Not only are the trans-fats bad, but often deep-fried items are breaded or coated with cornstarch before being fried.
  • Rather than ordering a whole dessert for yourself, you can make a goal to sample your friend's instead.
  • Keep your eye out for good dishes... you may want to try to make them at home!
  • The fresher, the better. Often, highly processed foods are filled with sugars and starches that you don't want while on a low-carb diet.

Ethnic foods

Craving a type of food but dreading a night out to eat it? Wondering which types of foods are better than others? Here are some tips specific to some of those restaurants you might be faced with in your quest to keep carbs low.


When you think "Italian," you might initially think of "carbs:" pizza, pasta, bread, etc. However, you can still stick to your diet while eating Italian at a restaurant. A real Italian meal should be balanced, however, so taking out the carbs isn't so bad.

Here are some things to keep in mind while perusing the menu in the restaurant:

  • Keep away from the pasta and pizza sections of the menu. There are plenty of other good things to order rather than pasta, bread, risotto, polenta, bruschetta, and crostini. Also, meatballs may have bread crumbs, so you may try to avoid those as well.
  • There are so many fresh, choice ingredients; try to stick to items full of them rather than baked goods. Fried foods (often appetizers are fried) are not so good.
  • Olive oil is good and is thankfully used in many items on Italian menus. The fats in olive oil have health benefits... thus the positive aspects of the "Mediterranean Diet."
  • Savor your food. If you eat too quickly, you can consume more carbs than you intend to. Enjoy the conversation around you instead.

Appetizers (Antipasti): Samplers often feature meats and other low-carb items, including carpaccio (thin slices of beef or fish with olive oil dressing and veggies), gamberoni (shrimp sautéed in garlic and wine) and steamed seafoods like clams.

Soups: Thankfully soup is served rather than pasta. Even those soups with beans or pasta have very little included in them. Don't eat bread with soup and keep to thinner soups (like stracciatelle), especially with lots of veggies.

Meats and Seafood (Secondi): Meats and seafood generally have few carbs; just make sure they're not breaded. Also, keep away from red sauces because often they include lots of added sugars. This goes the same for pasta sauces. Just be careful not to substitute the red sauce for super fatty cream sauces!

Desserts: The richer the dessert, the more carbs! Stick to none or share with a friend instead! This might be hard because Italian desserts are so savory and tempting, but may try some sugar-free ice cream later.

Italian chain restaurants with low carb options: Chris Madrid's, Cici's Pizza


This is such a simple option for those looking for a quick meal to eat at the restaurant or take home. These foods are stuffed with sugars and starches. The sauces themselves are so dangerous for low-carbers! It's difficult because each restaurant varies according to location and origin of the recipes. Try to set limits before you make it to the restaurant about how strict you'll want to be at the meal.


  • Rice (as in fried rice and steamed rice...sorry!)
  • Noodles (such as those in chow mein, lo mein, chow fun)
  • Wonton (especially deep-fried)
  • Breaded meats
  • Egg rolls (they're fried and it's hard to tell what's inside them)
  • Sweet sauces (sweet and sour, duck, plum, oyster, hoisin) and sweet foods in general
  • Thick soups (usually thickened with cornstarch, a tablespoon of which contains 7 grams of carbs). A cup of hot and sour soup may contain a teaspoon of the stuff.
  • Fried foods. Cooks may coat meats with cornstarch before frying; you often can't even tell by looking (though you shouldn't be having fried foods anyway!)
  • Water chestnuts (a few slices are ok, but ½ cup of them can have 7 grams of carbs!)

Instead, try:

  • Clear soups
  • Steamed foods, especially meats with various vegetables
  • Stir-fried dishes (without the sugar or starch!)
  • Walnut chicken, egg foo young, mu shu meats, black bean sauce, Mongolian barbeque, for example

Asian chain restaurants with low carb options: Sun Mongolian BBQ and Buffet, Panda Express


The rice, beans and chips are hard to avoid when eating out at Mexican restaurants, especially when the chefs make them look so good. However, try to focus on the great meats and veggie/fruit based sauces and you've got a good start. Also, Mexican food includes lots of fresh ingredients, which are great for your low-carb diet.


  • While chips are bad, guac is good... it's nutritious and good. Also try cucumber or other things to dip rather than chips. The salsa is great too, especially when made by the restaurant itself rather than in the jar... the fresher, the better!
  • Try putting meats on salads to make them less boring. They add great flavor without all the carbs.
  • Ceviche may seem strange, but the marinated seafood is often good and served with various vegetables. Give it a try!
  • Grilled meats are great for a low-carb diet! Fajitas feature grilled ingredients and are popular and easy to find.
  • Mole sauces include lots of spices and are good to have.


  • Tortillas... don't be too sad! Instead, try to get just the fillings or toppings of those tacos, taquitos, burritos, quesadillas, etc. Fried tortillas rather than the plain soft tortillas are even worse; get the taco salad without the carby, fried shell. Also, nachos are a killer.
  • Albondigas soup... it often has rice and carby meatballs.
  • Sugary margaritas... you can still get them sugar-free, though! Remember how many carbs alcoholic drinks have in them by themselves... if possible, keep away from them completely and maybe stick with plain iced tea. There are plenty of other sugary drinks, like Jarritos sodas and horchatas, that are dangerous to your diet. Be careful!

Mexican chain restaurants with low carb options: Acapulco

Remember, don't be afraid to ask for other options, even if it seems they may not be the most flexible. It's worth it to not corrupt your hard dieting work!

There are ways to eat low carb at Italian places!

There are ways to eat low carb at Italian places!

Additional information

  • Eating Out - Low Carb
    Lisa Shea, the “low-carb editor” of Bella Online, features some reviews of fast-food low-carb restaurants with links to other resources on the diet type. Use this to help plan your meals.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2007 glassvisage


glassvisage (author) from Northern California on January 02, 2012:

Thanks ktrapp... Good luck!

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on December 31, 2011:

I am getting ready to start reducing my carb intake and this article is certainly encouraging. Knowing that there are many low-carb options at many restaurants surely will make it easier.

glassvisage (author) from Northern California on July 12, 2011:

Thanks nicred! I'm at work right now and am hungry too :) It always gets to me when I read the Chinese Food section...

nicred from Cape Town South Africa on July 12, 2011:

Great tips, although it has left me feeling a little hungry ;)

glassvisage (author) from Northern California on July 07, 2011:

Sam, thank you very much for sharing this.

sam on July 07, 2011:

and here's the chinese one:

even more similar

sam on July 07, 2011:

all three are basically word for word copies of your article.

here's the mexican one:

the woman basically took your article and republished it without giving credit

sam on July 07, 2011:

all three are basically word for word copies of your article.

here's the mexican one:

the woman basically took your article and republished it without giving credit

sam on July 07, 2011:

whoops, sorry, I checked the dates on the articles, yours was first. has three articles, one on low carb mexican, one on low carb chinese, and one on low carb italian

glassvisage (author) from Northern California on July 05, 2011:

Sam, do you have the link to that page? I couldn't find what you were referring to.

sam on July 04, 2011:

this is basically a carbon copy of's low carb guide...

Sun-Girl from Nigeria on June 25, 2011:

Good and very brilliant guide you actually shared i here which is really fascinating and informative.

Pierre-Marc on June 17, 2011:

As a restaurant manager I find your article very interesting and clever. Thanks for the great advice, we will aply them to our restaurant.

Sinea Pies from Northeastern United States on May 28, 2011:

Steak houses and seafood restaurants are my first choices when I dine out while following a low carb diet. Great advice here.

orlando steakhouse and seafood restaurant on February 04, 2011:

Great information even though I hate not being able to eat what I want when I go out to nice restaurants.


italian dining in orlando on February 04, 2011:

Great hub and great low card restaurant guide information.

Glemoh101 on January 09, 2011:

If you like low carb diet so sure you will like fat burning foods diet . read this hub about fat burning foods from here==>

Eric on December 03, 2010:

Indeed Low carb meals are tough. But I tried these meals at that are superb and easy to prepare, I'm quite hesitant at first, after a while I loved it and there's no other way that I can think of losing weight and the extra calories.

fucsia on June 28, 2010:

these are great and useful tips!

michaelwilds on July 17, 2009:

Great hub. Love the burger guy. I could have been in that photo!

EcoAsh from Hemet on May 03, 2009:

hey thanks for the tips. i need to lose weight, so this helps a lot.

Low Calorie Diet on April 05, 2009:

This is very good information

perfectweight on February 12, 2009:

Great information. Eating out is one of the main struggles that all dieters face. Thanks for the wealth of information to make dining out much easier.

glassvisage (author) from Northern California on January 29, 2009:

Thanks Guru's and Julia, and thanks for the links!

Julia on January 29, 2009:

Whow! You got so much great info on this hub. Amazing. The biggest problem is discipline!! It is easy to read something and follow the advice for a day or two..but then....

Something I tried out recently was this 'Fat Loss for Idiots' thing:

There was so much buzz about it I had to try it.I am still struggeling - it is not easy but it works.Let's see if I can keep my weight - that would be great. Losing weight is one thing - not gaining it back another...


Guru's (Utah cafe) on November 19, 2008:

Planning is probably the biggest thing anyone can do to stick to their diet.

Luckily there are a lot of businesses popping up everywhere for strict diets. Cafes, restaurants, even bars designed for specific diets.

Great tips!

glassvisage (author) from Northern California on July 27, 2008:

Thank you everyone! I hope this has helped... and that the burger guy brightened your day a little :D

desert blondie from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen on July 24, 2008:

So much great information here! I agree with Andy Baker's comment...the guy with the huge hamburger!!! Does anyone really want a meal where the restaurant provides an entire roll of paper towels for clean-ups? NOT ME! Thanks for putting all this information together!

diet-angel on July 11, 2008:

Great Hub - Thumbs Up from me !

What helped me was getting a great summary of the exact Atkins diet plan. Atkins is not just eating a bunch of meat eggs and cheese. You need to follow the plan and I grabbed it for free at : 

AndyBaker from UK on April 03, 2008:

great hub - that guy eating the huge burger made me laugh!

Margaret Hampton from Florida on December 17, 2007:

You make it sooo much easier for people to honor their diets with this great Hub. Well done! I'm concerned with the health of the caregiver, because how else can she (or he) be able to give the care to the loved one? Thanks for your work here.

MrMarmalade from Sydney on December 14, 2007:

Excellent advice sometimes the will gets broken. Still as someone said 'We are only human.'

Thank you