Eating gluten-free has definitely gotten easier over the years, especially as I live in Washington DC with lots of fast casual and full service restaurant options for gluten-free dining. If there's one category of restaurant I miss though, it's fast food.
Yeah, it has a bad rap for not being healthy in the least (and very gluten-heavy), but sometimes you just want a quick fix and to get in and out with your food in a dash- especially when your lunch break is short!
When I heard that the UK-based chain Leon was crossing the pond to make their American debut in DC, I was excited to welcome them to the Farragut North neighborhood. Known for serving up fast and healthy fare in over 50 locations in London, Leon promises to fill a much-needed gap in the DC food scene and serve up "gut-friendly" fare at an affordable cost.
While Leon certainly channels fast food vibes, the moment you walk in to the eatery it defies the stereotype when it comes to the feel of the restaurant. Instead of fluorescent lights and linoleum tables, the dining area is rather cozy and with playful decor that makes you want to stick around awhile for a working lunch.
Menus are marked to indicated gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and dairy-free options, but if you check out their online menu, you can narrow down the options in even more ways to find fare that works for your special diet or dietary preferences. Luckily for gluten-free diners, most of the menu is gluten-free, save for the toasts and sandwiches. All of the hot boxes and salads are gluten-free; check out the menu below of gluten and dairy-free items available (pulled from their online menu).
|All gluten and dairy-free options on the breakfast menu.|
|All gluten and dairy-free options on the all day menu.|
When I stepped up to order I let them know I had a gluten and dairy allergy and the staff double checked with the kitchen to confirm my selections were safe and to give the kitchen a heads up to look out for my order. Because I was stopping by around 7pm on a weeknight, there was not a huge line of customers, which was helpful for communicating with the staff (definitely do not make the mistake of trying to navigate allergy orders during peak lunch rush). With the safety of my selected items confirmed, I placed my order: chicken satay hot box, a side of baked fries (no fryer necessary!), and A Health-Ade pink lady kombucha.
I ordered the smaller size of the chicken satay hot box, but was impressed with the generous portion of the meal. The satay itself was hearty and flavorful, with a creamy peanut-based sauce with hints of lemongrass and other spices covering tender chicken strips over a bed of brown rice. I definitely made sure to scoop up every bit of the sauce with a spoon, it was too delicious to waste!
Accompanying the satay was a slaw mix featuring kale, cabbage, and peas with a bright sesame dressing and fresh herbs (parsley and mint). Don't be fooled by the "slaw" label, Leon's version is worlds apart from the mayo-laden varieties I think of as "all-American." This slaw is light and flavorful, preferring to let the freshness and flavor of its ingredients do all the talking. Paired with the heartiness of the satay, the slaw was a welcome contrast that completed the meal. This hot box definitely checked all the boxes, and is the best self-contained meal I've had in quite a long time.
Leon's baked fries are waffle fries, which definitely ups the fun factor quite a bit. They have a satisfying crunchiness, and lean more on the crispy side than fluffy, but that makes them rather excellent for dipping in sauces (ketchup, chili sauce, aioli, or Korean mayo are available). Flavor-wise they uncannily remind me of their waffle fry cousins from a mega-popular American chicken chain, but these are so much better, they're seasoned with spices to give each bite a burst of flavor. Since they're baked, they are not soggy with grease. These definitely are a top-tier fry, and prove Leon's point that fast food staples can be reimagined to maximize taste and texture while also being better for you.
With through-the-roof expectations about my visit to Leon, I am thrilled to report that they not only met them, but easily managed to exceed them. Even in a town with so many different types of cuisine in a fast food or fast-casual format, Leon brings something new to the table, preferring to carve out a niche rather than reinvent the wheel with another assembly line style concept. My meal was absolutely delicious and served up speedily, and I know that many more visits to Leon are in my future because it was nice to get in and out without a huge fuss, yet still score a satisfying and satiating meal. I hope this location is only the first of many more Leon restaurants to come to DC and the United States!