Is Rubio’s Mexican Rice gluten free?

Gluten free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more people opting to avoid gluten for medical reasons or personal preferences. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, dining out can be challenging, as many restaurant menu items contain gluten ingredients. At Mexican restaurant chains like Rubio’s, rice dishes are often a go-to gluten free choice. But is Rubio’s Mexican rice actually gluten free?

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It acts as a glue that helps foods maintain their shape and texture. For most people, consuming gluten is not a problem. However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an abnormal immune response that damages the small intestine. Even small amounts of gluten can cause issues for those who are gluten intolerant. Symptoms of gluten intolerance include bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, and headaches.

Why do some people need to eat gluten free?

There are a few key reasons why someone may follow a gluten free diet:

  • Celiac disease – This is an autoimmune disorder where gluten intake causes damage to the small intestine. It affects around 1% of the population.
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity – Some people experience symptoms when eating gluten but do not have celiac disease. This is referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
  • Wheat allergy – A wheat allergy is different than celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. With a wheat allergy, the immune system is responding to other proteins in wheat, not specifically gluten.
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis – This skin condition is related to celiac disease and improves when following a gluten free diet.
  • Personal preference – Some individuals simply feel better avoiding gluten, even if they do not have an official diagnosis requiring a gluten free diet.

For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, following a strict 100% gluten free diet is essential to manage symptoms and prevent further damage to the body. Just 50mg of gluten per day is enough to cause issues for most with gluten intolerance. This makes dining out and identifying “safe” gluten free menu items particularly important.

What ingredients contain gluten?

Gluten is naturally found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. It can also be found in many ingredients derived from these grains. Here are some of the most common ingredients that contain gluten:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Crackers
  • Baked goods
  • Malt vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Salad dressings and sauces thickened with wheat flour
  • Breading and coating mixes
  • Soup bases and bouillon cubes
  • Beer

It’s important to read food labels carefully to identify ingredients that contain gluten. Key words to look for include wheat, barley, rye, malt, and triticale. Oats are naturally gluten free but are often contaminated with gluten during growing and processing, so labels should specify “gluten free oats” for oat products to be safe.

Is rice gluten free?

Rice does not naturally contain any gluten. So plain rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, basmati rice and other varieties are inherently gluten free. This makes rice a good staple grain choice for those following a gluten free diet. Even flavored rice or rice mixes can be gluten free, provided no gluten containing ingredients are added during processing. Some examples of gluten free rice options include:

  • Plain white or brown rice
  • Rice pilaf
  • Rice cereal
  • Rice noodles
  • Rice crackers
  • Rice flour
  • Rice mixes seasoned only with gluten free ingredients

When dining out, plain rice dishes are usually a safer gluten free choice, since there is little opportunity for contamination with gluten. However, care still needs to be taken to ensure other high risk ingredients haven’t been mixed in.

Is Mexican rice gluten free?

Authentic Mexican rice is made simply from rice, water, onions, garlic, tomatoes, chiles and spices. None of these core ingredients contain gluten, so plain Mexican rice would be gluten free. However, just like any restaurant menu item, you do need to be aware of potential cross-contamination. If the rice is prepared in shared fryers or served with utensils that touch gluten ingredients, there could be a risk of trace gluten exposure. At some restaurants, Mexican rice may also have other ingredients mixed in during cooking, such as wheat-based broths or sauces. So the safest bet is to inquire directly with your server or the restaurant about their preparation process and ingredients before ordering.

What about at Rubio’s?

Rubio’s is a popular Mexican fast-food chain located throughout the west coast region. Their menu focuses on Baja style dishes like fish tacos, burritos and salads. Rice is a common side dish pairing with many of their entrees.

According to Rubio’s website and nutritional information, their Mexican rice side dish is gluten free. It is made simply by simmering rice with onions, garlic and tomato. There appear to be no gluten-containing ingredients added. However, as with any restaurant order, you’ll still want to confirm with the location you’re dining at that their preparation process avoids cross-contamination with gluten. It would be smart to verify that they cook the rice in separate pots only used for gluten free menu items. And ensure utensils used for gluten-containing foods, like taco shells, do not also touch the rice after cooking.

Some additional tips for ordering gluten-free at Rubio’s:

  • Opt for corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas
  • Avoid menu items breaded with tortilla chip coating, which likely contains gluten
  • Request any sauces and salsas on the side, as some may have thickeners that contain gluten
  • If ordering tacos or burritos, have them prepare a fresh serving from ingredients in the back rather than using pre-assembled food sitting out

With careful ordering and clear communication, Rubio’s can be a reasonably safe option for gluten free diners wishing to enjoy some Mexican rice alongside their fish tacos!

What about other gluten free Mexican rice options?

If you want to enjoy Mexican rice at home, there are lots of gluten free rice options available at grocery stores. Many brands of plain rice like Lundberg Family Farms have gluten free varieties. There are also pre-flavored Mexican rice products labeled as gluten free, such as:

  • Tio Gazpacho Mexican Rice
  • Vigo Yellow Spanish Rice
  • 365 Everyday Value Organic Mexican Style Rice

You can also easily make gluten free Mexican rice from scratch at home. Simply cook some white rice with tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili powder and other desired seasonings. This ensures you have full control over the ingredients. Here is a homemade gluten free Mexican rice recipe to try:

Gluten Free Mexican Rice


  • 1 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup diced tomato
  • 1 1/2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish


  1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat.
  2. Add onion and garlic and cook for 1 minute until softened.
  3. Add rice and stir to coat with oil and onions, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomatoes, broth, chili powder and cumin.
  5. Bring mixture to a boil.
  6. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.
  7. Remove from heat and stir in salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Drizzle with fresh lime juice.
  9. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Be sure to use gluten free certified broth and always check your spices for gluten-containing additives. With these simple homemade gluten free recipes, you can enjoy flavorful Mexican rice worry-free!

What about other potential allergens in Mexican rice?

While Mexican rice is often gluten free, keep in mind that it may contain other potentially allergenic ingredients like:

  • Onions and garlic – Alliums like onions and garlic are common allergens. They are typical ingredients in Mexican rice.
  • Corn – Some Mexican rice recipes may incorporate corn.
  • Dairy – Butter or cheeses may sometimes be stirred into Mexican rice dishes.
  • Cilantro – Fresh cilantro is a popular garnish, which can cause reactions for those with coriander allergies.
  • Chiles – Chili peppers can provoke irritation and sensitivity for some people.

Be sure to inquire about all ingredients if you have food allergies beyond just gluten. Look for rice cooked in vegetable oil rather than butter. And opt for plain rice with no garnishes if you are concerned about potential allergens. With clear instructions to food service staff, you can enjoy allergy-friendly Mexican rice.

Should you trust “gluten free” labels?

If a product or menu item is labeled as “gluten free” does that mean it’s 100% safe to consume if you have celiac disease or an intolerance? Not necessarily. While regulations do exist around use of gluten free labeling, problems like cross-contamination still occur. Here are some tips on safely reading labels when you require a gluten free diet:

  • Look for products certified by GFCO (Gluten Free Certification Organization). This verification process ensures items are gluten free to less than 10ppm.
  • Call the manufacturer if you have any questions or concerns about their gluten free processes.
  • Check labels and ingredient lists every time you buy a product, even if it’s previously been safe, in case formulations change.
  • Avoid products with ambiguous labels like “gluten friendly.” Only trust “gluten free.”
  • Be wary of labels like “made in a facility that also processes wheat.” There is a good chance of cross-contamination.
  • If dining out, ask detailed questions about how gluten free meals are prepared separately from gluten-containing foods.

Gluten intolerances and celiac disease can be challenging to manage. But with care reading labels, asking questions, and understanding what to avoid, you can find trustworthy gluten free Mexican rice options to enjoy.

Should you get tested for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

If you experience bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, fatigue and other symptoms when you consume foods containing gluten, it may be wise to get medically tested for celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Diagnosing a true gluten intolerance involves several steps:

  • Blood tests – Doctors can test your blood for certain antibodies that indicate an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. Positive results may lead to recommendation for a biopsy.
  • Endoscopy and biopsy – A small sample of your small intestine lining will be taken during an endoscopy procedure to check for damage related to celiac disease.
  • Elimination diet – You may be asked to strictly avoid gluten for several weeks. If symptoms improve, it adds supporting evidence of a gluten problem.
  • Genetic testing – Blood can be screened for the HLA genes associated with increased risk of celiac disease.

Going through proper medical testing is the only reliable way to determine if you truly have a gluten intolerance requiring diligent adherence to a gluten free diet. Don’t immediately assume you have celiac disease or wheat allergy if you experience some bloating or fatigue after eating foods like bread or pasta. Symptoms could be tied to other conditions. Get evaluated by a gastroenterologist to determine if a gluten free diet is medically warranted for you.

When to see a doctor

Consult with a physician if you regularly experience severe symptoms like:

  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Bloating
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Brain fog
  • Numbness in hands and feet
  • Rash or itchy skin

Ongoing symptoms like these could indicate an underlying condition requiring proper diagnosis and medical treatment, such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome. Testing is important not just for your dietary needs but also your overall health.

In summary, is Rubio’s Mexican rice gluten-free?

The verdict on whether Rubio’s Mexican rice is gluten-free is that it likely is, but some caution is still warranted. According to their nutritional information, Rubio’s Mexican rice only contains rice, vegetables, and seasonings that do not naturally contain gluten. However, to be 100% confident that their rice is safe for celiac disease or an intolerance, it’s advisable to still inquire about their preparation process before ordering. Cross-contamination is still a possibility in restaurant kitchens. At home, you can more easily control for gluten exposure by purchasing verified gluten-free rice and cooking from scratch. With care reading labels and proactive questions when dining out, the delicious flavor of Mexican rice can be safely enjoyed gluten-free.


  1. Rubio’s Nutrition Information.
  2. Celiac Disease Foundation. Sources of Gluten.
  3. Gluten Free Diet Guide.
  4. Gastroenterology Consultants Gluten Intolerance Testing.
  5. Mayo Clinic Celiac Disease Diagnosis.
  6. FDA Gluten Free Labeling Regulations.
  7. Restaurant Dining Tips.

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