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16 Overrated/Underrated Dining Trends in the U.S.

By Zagat Staff
November 5, 2013
Photo by: Forage

Dining trends are highly mercurial, varying by season, region and even by city. While ramen may be easy to find Philly, it may not appear on as many menus in warmer climates. So we asked our readers: which restaurant and nightlife trends in your city have overstayed their welcome, and which ones could stand a little more love? Read on for the results, and let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

  • Photo by: Forage

    Los Angeles

    Overrated: Cronut Knock-Offs

    Dominique Ansel’s deep-fried croissant made to look like a donut moved swiftly from New York across the country. As the lines grew longer in Manhattan, every pastry chef and donut maker tried to copy it. Most of the time, however, the clever names they came up with - the name Cronut is trademarked - were better then the end result. Done right, they’re delicious. Done just because someone jumped on the bandwagon? Not so much.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Philadelphia

    Overrated: Ramen

    Philly may have come late to the ramen craze, and we still don’t have all that many places to get it, but should we care? “Grow a set and pick on ramen!” chef Scott Schroeder of the South Philadelphia Tap Room told us the other day, fed up with the lionizing the dish receives from the restaurant community.

  • Washington, DC

    Underrated Dessert: Butterscotch

    Amusingly, macarons were nominated for this category, as well, but we decided to go with butterscotch, a flavor once so out of fashion it could only be found wrapped in cellophane and lint at the bottom of your grandmother’s purse. Sure, it’s been creeping its way back onto dessert menus for a couple of years now, but it hasn’t come close to the realm of s’mores or whoopie pies. We recently had a butterscotch pot de crème at Pearl Dive that made us wish there were a butterscotch ender on every menu in town. The silky, puddinglike dessert is accompanied by petite sweet potato pecan wedding cookies, and garnished with vanilla whipped cream and sweet potato chips. Grandma might not recognize it, but we love it.

  • Houston

    Overrated: Barbecue

    We're ducking right now lest you toss your baby-back rib bone in our direction, but remember that we're just the messenger. Fatty brisket and smoke-ring obsessions notwithstanding, can't we all just get along?

  • Philadelphia

    Underrated Drink: Aquavit

    This Scandinavian spirit combines a distinctive taste (usually from caraway or dill) with a bracing, refreshing finish. It’s sometimes sold aged, but since we’re skipping that trend, ask Lee at Hop Sing Laundromat if he'll whip up a custom batch for you. His most recent aquavit was infused with pineapple and strawberries, adding a fruity edge to the sharp herbal flavor.

  • Austin

    Underrated: Goat

    For a long time in Texas, the only place where you’d find cabrito was in Mexican dishes, like stews with tough chunks. But thanks to the talents of goat farmer Ty Wolosin of Windy Hill Organics, the goat we’re getting here in town is now tender and delicious. “Many chefs are intimidated by it but shouldn't be,” Carla Williams of the Escoffier School told us. Places like Lenoir, Trace and Swift’s Attic are using it to great effect, and we hope to see more of it around town soon.

  • Chicago

    Overrated: Brunch

    Frankly, we don’t care how red your red velvet pancakes are - no piece of pan-fried dough is worth a two-hour wait on a Sunday. The weekend is a time for rest, and that rest should not be happening in line for breakfast foods that are served until three in the afternoon. Brunch is a modern urban equivalent to church, where the upwardly mobile go to see and be seen worshiping the gods of stuffed French toast.

  • Photo by: Lesley Balla

    Los Angeles

    Underrated: Fried Clams

    Yes, this was the year of the lobster roll. But one other East Coast seafood specialty we are happy to see, and really wish to see more often, are fried clams. We don’t mean frozen clam strips fried to a chewy rubber consistency. We mean fresh whole clams, preferably with the bellies. Connie & Ted’s has them, so does the Roll’n Lobster food truck. You’ll sometimes see a fried clam roll on the menu at The Hungry Cat, and if you do, get it. For the bargain hunters, the best deal is at Sonny McLean’s Irish Pub in Santa Monica, which is probably still celebrating the Red Sox win. The Boston-friendly bar serves up a whole plate of whole-bellied Ipswich clams for only $14.

  • Boston

    Overrated at the Bar: Canned Beer

    "So it's in a can. So what?" shrug some. Look, there was a time and place to get excited by this. Canned selections were long considered "lawnmower beers," aligned with unsophisticated styles. Then the craft beer movement encouraged us to crack open a can by our dinner with pride. But now some hipster bars continue to brag about their number of selections like notches on a belt. We get it. They're in cans, and some are good, but let's not overdo it.

  • Photo by: Flickr/telstar

    San Francisco

    Overrated: Food Trucks

    With more-straightforward and less-intimidating city paperwork for mobile food, the last three years have seen an incredible proliferation of food trucks on the streets of San Francisco. And while many trucks are turning out restaurant-quality meals on the go, the quantity of trucks doesn't always mean quality. "There are some great ones, yeah," admits reader Matt Fisher, "but is anyone getting tired of being charged two times as much for a clever name and half the amount of food that at the end of the day is merely average?"

  • Photo by: Flickr/Zoetnet

    Washington, DC

    Overrated Dining Style: Small Plates

    We’ve been hearing it for years, but restaurateurs aren’t necessarily getting the message. It seems the small-plates trend, which started as a way to snack and has blossomed into an acceptable way to order dinner, is a runaway train. We’ve all ended up at a small-plates table with someone who just isn’t into sharing, which invariably makes things awkward. And some people just have a problem divvying up something so, well... small. “How can a tiny portion be ‘perfect for sharing’?!” asks Lisa. “I think small plates work only if they are half of the cost of an appetizer - with appropriate portion size.”

  • Photo by: John Benson/Flickr

    Houston

    Underrated: Traditional Bar Food

    Gastropubs are all well and good, but sometimes a pint and a plate of pub grub are all you need to make the day right. Some feel Rudyard's is a prime example of such bar food perfection.

  • Austin

    Overrated: Quinoa

    Our reader’s exact words were: “If I hear one more granolahead give me a 10-minute lecture about the wonders of quinoa, I might just jump off a bridge.” We’ve always had a soft spot for this particular South American non-grain (technically it’s a protein), but we hear him. Because of its health benefits and its gluten-free status, quinoa has appeared on every menu from Oak Hill to Round Rock. We’re not saying it’s time to give it a rest, but we’d like to see some other alternative grains get some play.

  • Photo by: Galdones Photography

    Chicago

    Underrated: Roast Chicken

    Chicken is one of the most common proteins - it is also one of the easiest to mess up. The meat triggers a lot of memories of family dinners and simple suppers, making the feat of impressive chicken much more difficult to attain. Chefs like The Lobby's Lee Wolen rise to the occasion with a roasted chicken for two, while Thai Dang at Embeya prepares his Peking duck-style.

  • Boston

    Underrated Pork Cut: Tail

    If the frat-pack bacon obsession has been keeping you from more honestly exploring the whole-animal movement, skip to the chewier pig's tail. You'll find it on the menu at Coppa and Craigie on Main, where it's fried and crispy with peanuts and cilantro. 

  • Photo by: Flickr/garysoup

    San Francisco

    Underrated: Authentic Taco Trucks

    Reader Lisette Titre's nomination suggests that amid the overall food-truck glut, the old-school authentic taco trucks have been buried in the noise. Across the bay, the trucks that line Oakland's Fruitvale Avenue are the true pioneers in this region, while in San Francisco people in the know still go to trucks like El Tonayense.

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