I ate out a second time for lunch this week, this time on my boss's dime for a work lunch. I reviewed the menu and called Mission Grill (19th and Arch, Center City Philadelphia) the afternoon before to discuss GF and vegetarian options. The chirpy young woman on the phone gave me short answers. Yes, I'd have no trouble finding gluten-free and vegertarian options. No, all of their tortillas are corn tortillas. No, the corn tortillas never occupy the same counter space as their pitas. She did not do any of the things that reassure me: a) indicate an awareness of gluten sensitivity and b) note that care is taken to prevent cross-contamination. She gave me little to work with and no confidence in them to meet my needs. If it had been up to me, we would have gone elsewhere. It wasn't.
All that said, the menu did have quite a few vegan and apparently GF options. I talked to the server, letting him know that I needed a GF dining experience and asking him to wave me off of anything in the danger zone. Right off the bat he mentioned that their corn tortillas were 100% corn flour and he seemed a bit more committed to my positive experience than the chirpy girl was, so I felt a little better. My boss ordered chips and guac for the table, and I ordered the vegetarian tacos with grilled portabella mushrooms, zucchini and yellow squash. It comes open faced with rice and beans on the side. It was pretty good -- better with guacamole added -- but not terribly Mexican. If I go again, I might get this, or if I'm not with my boss and a bunch of colleagues, I might ask more questions about the southwest chili and cornbread. Or I might consider the black bean hummus served with corn tortilla chips instead of pita. It's nice to have a couple of options.
I'd eaten at Mission Grill a couple of times before the celiac diagnosis, but I find it to be a bit too expensive and pretentiously hip to think of it first when looking for a dining experience. Plus, the equally-hip-but-funner El Rey is only a couple of blocks away, makes it known that they are adept at doing GF, and are generally less expensive and serve bigger portions. Of course, the only vegetable on the menu is cactus, I always leave there feeling a bit too full and gross, so Mission Grill might end up being a better option, especially if someone else is paying. And, I still don't have 100% confidence that Mission Grill does GF with any intention, which opens the door to worrying about cross-contamination.
So, if you are a GF risk-taker, and want a tragically hip and kind of expensive lunch experience, Mission Grill is for you. Otherwise, Check out El Rey at 2013 Chestnut Street. Try the huevos rancheros. (Note: dinner at el Rey is not an experience I'd recommend. Stick to lunch.)