Keto-Friendly Restaurants: What To Eat And Where To Go

According to the venerable restaurant guide publisher Zagat, the average American eats out nearly six times a week (pre-pandemic, of course). (1) Even though those numbers include morning Starbucks runs and quick lunches at the local sandwich shop, that’s a lot of restaurant meals. There’s no question: as a people, we love eating out.

That can be one of the issues that make you hesitate when you’re considering the keto diet. A ketogenic meal plan not only places major restrictions on the carbohydrates (grains and starches) you can eat, it places an emphasis on fresh, whole foods while making most types of fast food off-limits.

That concern about eating out is understandable, but unnecessary. Yes, you’ll see the greatest weight loss and be healthier if you prepare your own meals of proteins, healthy fats and lots of veggies.

But you can also live a keto lifestyle without having to slave over a hot stove day after day; quick lunches or nights out at your favorite restaurant aren’t a thing of the past on keto. You just have to be careful about what you order and eat.

What follow are tips on how to stay on ketosis when visiting your local eatery, followed by a rundown of nationwide chains which operate keto-friendly restaurants.

How to Make Your Local Restaurant Keto-Friendly

Small, local restaurants often don’t have a large-enough clientele to cater to those on keto or low-carbohydrate diets. That doesn’t mean, though, that you have to avoid them when you’re eating keto and don’t want to fall out of ketosis.

Here are some suggestions on how you can handle a fun night out without carbs.

1. Be sure you understand what you can and can’t eat. If you’re new to keto eating, you could easily make an inadvertent mistake and order the wrong thing (or sample the wrong things from your dining companions’ plates).

2. Spend a few minutes online checking out your destination restaurant’s menu, before leaving home. Most eateries now post their menu on their websites, so you can scout it out for the best carb-free options.

3. Once you arrive and are given the menu, look for a low-carb section or dishes marked as low-carb options, or ask the server if keto or low-carb dishes are available. As the keto diet becomes more common, even many smaller restaurants offer keto-friendly meal choices.

4. If you have any questions about a dish’s ingredients and whether it’s low-carb, don’t be afraid to ask the server or to have him check with the chef. You can also ask for a complete list of nutritional information (which includes carb counts) for all of the restaurant’s dishes; the law requires restaurants to make those lists available.

5. You won’t want to eat the free bread if you’re on a keto diet, so keep the basket by your dining companions so you can avoid temptation while waiting for your meal.

6. When choosing meals at a restaurant, it’s safest to stick with meat, fish and vegetables with any high-carb sauces or dressings left off (or served on the side, where you can ignore them). If a meal comes with sides of potatoes, rice or pasta, request a side salad or veggie substitute. The restaurant will be happy to cooperate. Needless to say, most will also be happy to substitute lettuce for a bun, if you’re having a burger or sandwich.

7. If you’re having a salad, be sure to request olive oil and vinegar dressing on the side; if you don’t, they may drench the salad with a carb-loaded house dressing. If your meal is ordinarily served with a sauce or gravy, be sure of the ingredients before ordering, or ask that it be replaced with melted butter. You’ll probably want extra fat with a restaurant meal anyway, since it helps you feel more full.

8. Skip the ketchup and barbecue sauce that may be sitting on the table staring at you. Use yellow mustard (not honey mustard), ranch dressing or even some extra butter if you want to add a condiment. Also avoid the temptation to order a soda or beer with your meal if you don’t want water; unsweetened iced tea is a great substitute.

9. You didn’t really want to have dessert, did you? If you simply must, stick to berries with unsweetened cream or a cheese plate. You’ll be better off finishing your meal with just coffee or tea (no sugar, please), with the fat-laden and satisfying addition of some heavy cream. 

That may seem like a lot of work, but don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. And always remember: you’re the customer! The restaurant exists to make its customers happy, so don’t hesitate to make reasonable requests to accommodate your diet.

There’s another possibility which can make things a bit easier: visit one of the many national chains which already cater to the needs of keto dieters.

Keto-Friendly Chain Restaurants

A chain restaurant may be one of your favorites eating spots. It’s more likely, though, that you (or your dining companion who’s not on a keto diet) choose franchised eateries based on what you feel like eating.

For that reason we’ll list the best chain restaurants offering keto diet foods, based on the type of cuisine they offer. Don’t forget the tips we listed above; skip the potatoes, rice, carb-filled sauces, ketchup and other sugar-laden condiments.

Steaks and Burgers

There are few better choices for keto diners than a straightforward “steak restaurant,” since they specialize in proteins and are happy to serve meals without sauces containing hidden calories. Burger joints may tempt you with fries, onion rings and other forbidden goodies, but they’re great for a quick meat fix.

Seafood

Chicken

Italian

Mexican

Chinese

“American” fare

There’s a huge selection of keto-friendly food at many “regular” American chain restaurants. For example: