Best Restaurants for Keto Diet Followers
Sticking to a very-low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet (like keto) when you’re out at a restaurant can pose some unique challenges beyond resisting your favorite plate of fries.
First, the portions are skewed — and not in your favor. “Protein portions tend to be too large, and vegetable portions too small, leading to an unbalanced meal,” says Alicia Romano, RD, clinical registered dietitian at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
Then there are the hidden ingredients that find their way in. “Added sauces or gravies can sneak in sources of carbohydrates from added sugars or flours that you were not intending to eat,” she says.
The reasons that you’re on the ketogenic diet — weight loss or perhaps a doctor-advised diet for a medical problem such as type 2 diabetes — also matters when choosing the best order for you. “The ketogenic diet can lead to successful weight loss, however it’s typically not necessary for most people,” says Jillian Kubala, RD, co-owner of Hamptons Clinical Nutrition in Southampton, New York. Although she says she finds the keto diet extremely restrictive (and therefore doesn’t recommend it), “the reality is that most people who are [on] keto are simply following a low-carb, high-protein diet,” Kubala says.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is what’s referred to as a “modified Atkins diet,” a less restrictive form of keto that counts carbohydrates but doesn’t restrict proteins, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. (Scientists originally developed a medical ketogenic diet as a treatment for children with epilepsy.) “If you’re following a ketogenic diet that falls in line with the modified Atkins diet approach, there’s much more flexibility with food choices, thus making eating out more reasonable,” says Romano.
Understanding Macronutrient Ratios in Meals
There are several types of the keto diet and they all depend on strict macronutrient (carbs, fat, protein) calculations. Generally speaking, the medical keto diet used to treat epilepsy prescribes 3 to 4 grams (g) of fat for every 1 g of carbohydrate and protein, which means you’re getting 90 percent of your calories from fat, 6 percent from protein, and 4 percent from carbs, according to the Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies. A modified Atkins diet has no protein restriction, and ends up being comprised of about 65 percent fat, 30 percent protein, and 5 percent carbohydrates. When it comes to keto for weight loss, you might eat 70 to 80 percent of calories from fat, 10 to 20 percent from protein, and 5 to 10 percent from fat, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Calculating Net Carbs and Ketones
Many people on keto use net carbs when measuring their carb intake. According to Atkins, you can calculate net carbs by taking total carbohydrates minus grams of fiber and sugar alcohols. The idea behind that, the company says, is that net carbs are what affect your blood sugar level and can compromise weight loss, so they, rather than total carbs, are worth counting. But you should know that neither the federal government nor the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognizes this term, nor is calculating them an exact science, registered dietitians agree.
Also know that if you’re on a classic keto diet, you may need to connect with a registered dietitian to come up with a personalized plan for hitting more specific macronutrient targets, says Romano. Some people on this version of keto might measure ketones, which are a substance your body produces when it burns fat instead of carbs for fuel.
General Tips for Dining Out on a Keto Diet
That all may sound daunting, but the good news is that because keto is becoming more mainstream, restaurants understand when customers need to modify their meals. In fact, some chains have even come out with menu options specifically catered to keto dieters. But you still may need to do some legwork. “Like all healthy-eating patterns, a well-rounded ketogenic diet should mainly consist of whole, nutritious foods,” says Kubala. Plenty of nonstarchy veggies should also be a staple, Kubala adds, and some fruits here and there is also encouraged on the keto diet.
You may need to finesse some of the meals to fit your desired macronutrient ratios as well. Romano recommends starting with a base of a simply prepared protein (such as poultry, fish, or meat grilled and without sauce, for instance) combined with a nonstarchy vegetable (like zucchini, broccoli, or leafy greens such as kale or collard greens). Then add healthy fats (ask for extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar, sliced avocado, olives, slivered nuts or seeds, and cheese) to “optimize fat intake while maintaining low carbohydrate intake,” she says.
In general, smart picks include a bunless burger over a bed of greens with lemon and olive oil or avocado; steak tips; grilled fish; or a bunless sandwich all served with — you guessed it — salad or a side of broccoli or vegetable-based “rice,” like from cauliflower, Romano says. “You can find this order, or a version of it, at many restaurants,” she explains.
Low Carb and Keto Diet Restaurant Options & Tips
Everybody likes going out to eat, and there are plenty of easy ways to enjoy a night out while staying true to your low carb goals. Regardless if you’re on an Atkins plan or a similar keto diet, there are plenty of great options that are low in carbs and big in flavor. Both Atkins and keto activate your body’s fat-burning metabolism by restricting carbs, so people following either diet will be looking for the same types of meal choices. If you’re planning a night out, here are some keto friendly restaurants and menu picks:
Topping off our list of keto restaurant options is the Italian staple, Olive Garden. If you are in the
mood for seafood, we recommend the Herb-Grilled Salmon (460 calories, 28g total fat, 8g
carbs, 4g fiber, and 43g protein). This fish filet is bursting with flavor as it is grilled to perfection
and topped with garlic herb butter. It also comes with a side of delicious parmesan garlic
broccoli. If fish isn’t your thing, we recommend giving the tasty Parmesan-Crusted Zucchini a try
(90 calories, 7g total fat, 5g carbs, 1g fiber, and 4g protein).
Chili’s, the home of flavorful Tex-Mex and American cuisine, is a great spot for something that
isn’t easily replicated at home. This bar and grill provides several options for those of us eating
keto at restaurants. If you’re in the mood for some Mexican flavors and spices, we recommend
ordering the Chicken or Steak Fajitas (440/640 calories, 14/38g fat, 21/21g carbs, 3/3g fiber,
and 59/55g protein) and enjoying without the tortillas or toppings. Instead of getting rice on the
side, a double order of vegetables will be a great complement. We suggest boxing half of it
to-go for lunch the next day to cut down on carbs. If you’re not in the mood for Mexican on your
night out, you’re in luck! The House BBQ Ribs are another keto friendly option. A half rack of
ribs without sauce will account for 720 calories, 53g total fat, 11g carbs, 1g fiber, and 49g
Buffalo Wild Wings
Wings, beer, sports, AND low carb choices. That’s why Buffalo Wild Wings is one of our favorite
keto restaurant options. Now, we can’t recommend you grab a beer, but the snack size
Traditional Wings with Medium Sauce (390 calories, 23g fat, 0g fiber, 1g carbs, and 44g protein)
should do the trick! These wings will taste great while keeping you on pace to meet your keto
goals. We also advise you to check out the BWW nutritional guides, as many other sauces and
dry rubs are low in carbs!
Get your Italian night on with another keto eating out option, Carrabba’s. Our first choice would
be the Tuscan Grilled Filet (590 calories, 44g total fat, less than 1g carbs, 0g fiber, and 47g
protein). This juicy piece of meat is loaded with flavor while low in carbs. Another great option is
the Pollo Rosa Maria (620 calories, 37g total fat, 4g carbs, 1g fiber, and 65g protein). Grilled
chicken is stuffed with creamy fontina cheese and cured prosciutto, then topped with
mushrooms and basil lemon butter. Make sure to get vegetables as a substitution to pasta on
The Cheesecake Factory
A place filled with desserts can’t possibly have low carb or keto restaurant options, can it? Of
course, it can! The Cheesecake factory is a fantastic keto friendly restaurant. With several
options to choose from, we recommend the Pan Seared Branzino with Lemon Butter (1130
calories, 93g fat, 22g carbs, 5g fiber, and 50g protein). This rich Mediterranean sea bass will hit
Red Robin is the home of fresh, fire-grilled burgers. Not only is their food packed and full of
flavor, but it is also perfect for a keto or low carb lifestyle. The Wedgie™ Burger (560 calories,
35g total fat, 22g carbs, 5g fiber, and 40g protein) is our go-to. This lettuce wrapped burger is
topped with smoked bacon, house-made guacamole, tomatoes, and red onions. Who needs
fries when your burger comes with a side salad. This meal is perfect for anyone trying to fulfill
their Atkins or keto goals.
If you’re in the mood for some seafood on your night out, Red Lobster is a delicious keto
restaurant option for you. The steamed Live Maine Lobster (440 calories, 34g fat, 0g carbs, 0g
fiber, and 33g protein) has zero carbs (nice!) and is full of protein. If you’re feeling surf & turf and
are able to still meet your daily goals with some added carbs, you can’t go wrong with The Rock
Lobster & 12 oz NY Strip Steak Combo (1,250 calories, 83g fat, 27g carbs, 4g fiber, and 97g
P.F. Chang’s makes food from scratch every day, offering a few low carb and keto dining out
picks we think you’ll love. Our first recommendation would be the Asian Caesar Salad (410
calories, 30g fat, 21g carbs, 4g fiber, and 15g protein). You can either add salmon (240 calories,
16g fat, 0g carbs, 0g fiber, and 22g protein) or chicken (160 calories, 5g fat, 4g carbs, 0g fiber,
and 22g protein) to get that extra protein boost. Make sure to leave off the croutons and put the
dressing on the side. Another delicious meal that’s low in carbs is the Shrimp with Lobster
Sauce (500 calories, 27g fat, 22g carbs, and 38g protein).
A Few Tips For Going Keto At Restaurants:
Now that you know which keto friendly restaurants exist, it’s time to get out and treat yourself. If
you’re going out for dinner at a restaurant that’s not on this list, we have a few tips to keep in
mind when eating out keto:
1. Plan ahead! If you’re going out to eat, check the menu online ahead of time. You can
also ask for nutrition information when you arrive. By law, restaurants must have that
information available, making it easier than ever to make smart choices.
2. Meat and veggie options are your friends! These will typically be your best bet for low
carb and protein-rich food.
3. Condiments like ketchup, BBQ sauce, and honey mustard tend to be high in sneaky
carbs. If you need to add flavor, we recommend yellow mustard, ranch dressing, hot
sauce, or butter.
4. Many entrées are served with a starch on the side, so opt for a side salad instead.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask the waiter or waitress about keto friendly or low carb options!