Paleo-friendly restaurants: Where to go and what to eat

by | Sep 11, 2022 | Last updated Sep 28, 2022

The paleo diet tries to mimic what our ancient ancestors ate, and we’re pretty sure there weren’t any fast-casual restaurants 2+ million years ago. 

But eating out is a part of modern life. It’s almost unavoidable these days, whether you’re traveling, stuck at the office, or need to feed your family in a rush. Unfortunately, most restaurant menus aren’t paleo-focused. 

At Noom, we don’t focus on restrictive diets, but we understand that people make different food choices for different reasons. And if you choose to go paleo, we want to make healthy eating as easy as possible for you—starting with this list of paleo-friendly restaurants. 

Ready to make a lasting change?

A healthier you, wherever you are.

10 Best paleo restaurants for sit-down and fast-casual

You can eat paleo (or at least get close) at many sit-down and fast-casual restaurants if you’re willing to ask your server for a few modifications. 

Here are our 10 top picks for national chain restaurants with paleo options, listed in order from best to just acceptable.

  1. Outback Steakhouse

Our favorite paleo option: Outback Center Cut Sirloin (11 ounces) with mixed or seasonal vegetables.

Runner up: Grilled Chicken on the Barbie (skip the BBQ sauce) with mixed or seasonal vegetables.

Steakhouses are a fairly straightforward option for paleo eaters since the menus tend to be meat heavy, and meat is one of the staples of the paleo diet. 

At Outback, the delicious—but fried—Bloomin’ Onion is sadly not paleo-friendly. But the restaurant’s steak, chicken, and seafood are all delicious and compliant as long as they’re cooked without butter or sauce. 

When you order, ask that your protein be prepared with minimal seasoning to avoid extra sugar or additives and request a double side of veggies instead of fries (or any form of potato if you’re doing low-carb paleo).

  1. Red Robin

Our favorite paleo option: Guacamole Bacon Burger (wrapped in lettuce, no cheese or mayo).

Runner up: Avo-Cobb-O Salad (without the bleu cheese or croutons).

Red Robin offers a wide variety of paleo-friendly options—including chicken, salads, and even seared salmon. You’ll just need to ask your server for a few tweaks. 

For the chain’s burgers and sandwiches, ask to have them wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun, and swap out the fries for avocado slices or steamed broccoli. On salads, ask that any non-paleo-compliant foods (cheese, croutons, and most dressings) be left off. 

  1. Bonefish Grill

Our favorite paleo option: Wood-Fired Atlantic Salmon with (paleo-friendly) chimichurri sauce.

Runner up: Florida Cobb Salad with Shrimp (skip the bleu cheese crumbles and dressing—ask for lemon and olive oil instead).

You’ll find another protein-heavy menu at the popular seafood grill, Bonefish. Talk to your server about how your food is prepared—some entrees are made with non-paleo-compliant sauces and cheese. 

But you’re not limited to seafood here—the wood-fired chicken breast and pork chop are also solid choices, with seasonal veggies as the side.

  1. Red Lobster

Our favorite paleo option: Live Maine Lobster with the house salad (no cheese, croutons, or dressing).

Runner-up: Rainbow Trout with two sides of broccoli.

If you forgo the Cheddar Bay Biscuits®, Red Lobster is another ideal option for paleo eaters. Ask your server about preparation—several entrees are cooked in butter—and skip the tartar and cocktail sauces.

  1. BJ’s

Our favorite paleo option: Enlightened Seared Ahi Tuna Salad (ask your server to leave off the crispy wontons).

Runner-up: Bacon-Guacamole Deluxe Burger (skip the bun, cheese, and chipotle mayo) with a side of broccoli or asparagus.

Paleo eaters will want to skip over a few pages of the sizable BJ’s menu (no pizza or Pizookie®, sorry).

But between BJ’s burgers (sans bun), salads, and their Enlightened Entrees®, there are plenty of paleo options to choose from. 

  1. Applebee’s

Our favorite paleo option: Grilled Chicken Breast with double veggies.

Runner up: 8-ounce Top Sirloin with double veggies.

The family restaurant Applebee’s offers a handful of paleo-compliant options. Just skip right past the appetizer menu, where most items are deep fried. 

To keep things simple, ask your server for a protein (like a steak or chicken breast) and a side of vegetables, and you’ll be good to go.

  1. Cheesecake Factory

Our favorite paleo option: Chargrilled New York Steak (pass on the mashed potatoes, choose a second veggie side instead).

Runner up: Fresh Grilled Salmon (swap the mashed potatoes for a second veggie side).

It takes some parsing, but once you get past the specialties and pasta items, you will find some paleo-friendly selections within the enormous Cheesecake Factory menu. 

Again, your safest bet is to stick with a simple protein (meat, chicken, or fish) and vegetables—just be sure to check with your server to make sure they’re not cooked in butter.

  1. Denny’s

Our favorite paleo option: Loaded Veggie Omelet (without cheese), swap fruit for potatoes, and skip the bread.

Runner up: Sirloin Steak, add caramelized onions and mushrooms, with broccoli and squash sides.

A longtime favorite of travelers and night owls everywhere, Denny’s American Diner offers several options for paleo eaters—from breakfasts to burgers (sans bun, of course).

  1. sweetgreen

Your best bet at sweetgreen is to create your own custom bowl that you can load up with paleo-friendly items, starting with lettuce (skip the grains) and adding more veggies and protein.

Our favorite paleo option: Guacamole Greens Salad (skip the tortilla chips).

Runner up: Garden Cobb Salad (leave off the bleu cheese and sweet potato).

Vinaigrettes (like the ones that come on these salads) can be paleo-friendly, but commercial dressing is often made with vegetable oil and sugar. If you’re being super strict, you could request fresh lemon and olive oil instead. 

  1. Panera

Our favorite paleo option: Green Goddess Cobb Salad with olive oil instead of dressing.

Runner up: Greek Salad with chicken instead of feta cheese and olive oil for dressing.

We know—Panera may seem like an odd choice for this list (its name comes from the Latin term for “bread basket”), but it’s actually a pretty paleo-friendly restaurant. 

Just breeze by the display case of bread and pastries and go straight to the salads, which can easily be made paleo with a modification or two. 

Ready to make a lasting change?

A healthier you, wherever you are.

6 paleo fast food restaurant options

Things can get a little trickier for paleo eaters at fast food restaurants—our Paleolithic ancestors definitely weren’t munching on cheese fries. If you’re looking for quick paleo takeout, here are your six best bets, in order of preference. 

  1. Chipotle

Our favorite paleo option: Make your own bowl with a salad base, pick your protein (chicken, steak, or barbacoa—the Sofritos, which are made from tofu, are not paleo-friendly), salsa (not the corn one), then load it up with delicious guacamole.

Runner-up: Paleo Lifestyle Bowl, which includes romaine lettuce, chicken, fajita veggies, tomatillo salsa, and guac.

It’s safe to say that Chipotle is one of the safest paleo fast food options—even before they introduced their “Lifestyle Bowls” in 2019—as long as you forgo the rice, beans, and tortillas.

  1. Chick-fil-A

Our favorite paleo option: 12-count of grilled nuggets and a side salad.

Runner up: Spicy Southwest Salad (no cheese or dressing).

The original Chick-fil-A sandwich is tasty, but sadly, not paleo-friendly. Their grilled chicken, however, is—so you have plenty of options. 

  1. El Pollo Loco

Our favorite paleo option: Double Chicken Avocado Salad, hold the dressing, corn, and cheese.

Runner up: 3-piece Chicken Meal with broccoli and a side salad (hold the cheese, crushed chips, and dressing).

El Pollo Loco’s popular Mexican-style grilled chicken is a good option for paleo eaters, as long as you skip the rice and beans. The restaurant has also added “Pollo Fit” items that can easily be made paleo. 

  1. Shake Shack

Our favorite paleo option: Avocado Bacon Burger, wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun, without cheese or ShackSauce.

Runner up: SmokeShack burger, but ditch the bun, cheese, and ShackSauce.

Skip the bun, and you can make almost any fast-food burger paleo-friendly. Shake Shack’s patties are 100% beef with no antibiotics or hormones, which is a plus for paleo eaters. 

Their chicken, however, is breaded and fried in soy oil, so stick to the burgers. 

  1. Wendy’s

Our favorite paleo option: Avocado Chicken Salad (with no cheese or dressing).

Runner up: Avocado Chicken Club, sub a grilled chicken breast for fried, no bun, and no mayo.

In addition to bunless burgers (with 100% beef patties), Wendy’s offers a nice variety of salads that can fit into a paleo diet with just a few tweaks. 

  1. Taco Bell

Our favorite paleo option: Power Bowl with chicken (no rice, cheese, sour cream, or sauce—but you can add onions and jalapeno for an extra kick).

Runner up: Power Bowl with beef (same rules apply).

No, really—you can eat paleo at Taco Bell if you put in a bit of effort. Obviously the rice, beans, cheese, and tortillas are a no-go, but you have a few options on their “Power Menu.” 

How to eat out on paleo: 6 practical tips

If your favorite restaurant isn’t on the lists above, don’t worry. We asked registered dietician nutritionist Ashley Bannister, MS, for her tips for folks who need to eat out on paleo. Here’s what she suggests.

  1. Plan ahead

    You can find almost any restaurant menu online. If you can’t, call the restaurant and ask if they can accommodate paleo eaters.
  1. Order sauce on the side

    Most restaurant sauce—whether it’s salad dressing, ketchup, or “secret sauce”—isn’t paleo friendly. Ask for a simple dressing, like oil and vinegar, to add flavor to your dish. Or better yet, bring your own paleo-friendly dressing. 
  1. Keep it simple

    Whenever possible, choose simple dishes without a lot of seasonings and sauces. A lean protein and veggie side is always the safest bet. Salads are also a good choice, as long as you can get them without commercial dressing, cheese, or croutons.
  1. Recognize paleo-friendly language

    Look for words like “roasted,” “grilled,” or “broiled” on menus. Beware of words like “creamy” (that usually signals dairy) and “crispy” (which often means breaded and/or fried). 
  1. Think outside the box

    If you’re eating at an Italian restaurant, bypass the pasta menu and look for a steak or salad option. Craving sushi? Ask for a roll without the rice. 
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want

    Most chefs are willing to accommodate special requests—just ask. The worst thing they can say is “No.”

The best paleo restaurant is (of course) your own kitchen

It’s next to impossible to eat at a restaurant with 100% certainty that you’re consuming only Paleo-compliant foods. Cooking your own food is the best way to be sure you’re sticking to your dietary goals. Noom can help you do it!