8 Hottest National Dining Trends of 2016

Poke, vegetables and pasta took center stage this year
December 21, 2016
by Priya Krishna

When talking about 2016 trends, we could probably write an entire article about poke, because this year was, definitively, the year of seasoned fish over rice. But there were, in fact, a number of dining inclinations — from vegetables to fermented foods — that popped up pretty consistently across the country. Here’s our summary of 2016 in dining, as told by the year’s hottest trends.  

Hawaiian food (mostly poke)

Just about every city in America experienced the poke revolution — with several spots like Pokeworks and Sweetcatch electing to expand across the country. Even Daniel Boulud could not resist putting poke on the menu at Café Boulud. But it wasn’t all about the poke; Hawaiian food in general had a solid year as well. Among many others, there's Ohana Island Kitchen in Denver, Mahalo in Chicago’s Wicker Park and Da Kikokiko, an LA restaurant from Top Chef alum Brooke Williamson that offers build-your-own shave ice and musubi (two quintessential Hawaiian classics). 

Handmade pasta

This year, our Instagram feeds were dominated by drool-worthy images of handmade pasta, as chefs across the country turned the classic carb into an art form. Diners went bonkers over the mafaldine accented with pink peppercorns at Missy Robbins’ Lilia in Brooklyn, as well as the more classic cacio e pepe at Emmer & Rye in Austin, made with the restaurant’s proprietary Durum flour. James Beard Award–winning chef Fabio Trabocchi just recently added a pasta-centric gem to his restaurant empire, with Sfoglina in Washington DC; Monteverde in Chicago proved — one cannelloni with Manchego, sage and prosciutto at a time — that pasta can be one of the most exciting modes of culinary ingenuity; and Benedetto in Boston took tagliatelli alla Bollognese to the next level, incorporating both short rib and chicken liver. Expect handmade pasta to become the norm at Italian restaurants in 2017.  

Vegetable-focused cooking

The vegetable trend continued this year, as produce-centric openings dominated major cities. In Chicago, once the meat-and-potatoes capital of America, we saw the opening of Publican Anker, a second coming of the outstanding pork and beer hall, The Publican, with a menu dominated by veggies, and Bad Hunter, the inventive, nearly meatless spot in the West Loop serving beet tartare and tempura lemons. One of Los Angeles’ most anticipated restaurants of the year was P.Y.T, prolific chef Josef Centeno’s ode to the garden, with standout entrees like a salt-baked turnip served with shiso chimichurri. Vital Root in Denver became the city’s coolest lunch spot, as locals became enamored with the restaurant’s sunflower seed risotto, cooling carrot ginger soup and coconut "bacon"-wrapped dates. 

Wood-fired everything

The toasty, comforting allure of wood-fired cooking attracted a lot of chefs this year (as in years past), and the trend went beyond just pizzas. Pasquale Jones in New York opened with an amazing wood-fired clam pie, and an equally jaw-dropping pork shank cooked in the same oven. Another buzzy New York opening was Covina, where nothing is safe from the wood grill — not even the chopped salad. Outside of New York, wood-fired cuisine became particularly popular in Boston, with a big standout being Waypoint, the Cambridge spot from the much-acclaimed chef (Michael Scelfo) of Alden & Harlow. Kanella in Philadelphia showed us what grilled branzino is supposed to taste like. The team behind Boiler Nine Bar + Grill in Austin, too, turned a non-functional power plant into the summer’s coolest opening, with entrees like grilled brisket and charred squid, each made using a different kind of wood. 

Healthy fast-casual

Yes, Shake Shack opened dozens more outposts of its fantastically popular burger joint this year; but so did sweetgreen, the hip, DC-born salad spot. And Eatsa, the San Francisco–based start-up serving quinoa bowls from automated machines, opened its first New York location, with many more on the way. By CHLOE continued its reign of vegan delights with an opening in Los Angeles, and another planned for Boston. José Andrés expanded his veggie-heavy joint, Beefsteak, to Philadelphia. Even the Eleven Madison Park team plans to get into the healthy fast-casual game with Made Nice, opening early next year. Case in point: Everyone — from fine-dining chefs to tech innovators — wants a piece of the healthy, fast-casual pie. 

The multipurpose restaurant

Why open just a restaurant when you can open a restaurant that also functions as a cafe, a wine bar and even a grocery store? The multipurpose restaurant, inspired, in many cases, by Gjusta in Los Angeles, had a big moment this year. In Atlanta, 9 Mile Station served double duty as an outdoor beer garden and an indoor sit-down restaurant, located on the top floor of the city’s popular Ponce City Market. Sunday in Brooklyn, with its multi-tiered Williamsburg space, tackled sustainable seafood in the form of a restaurant, cocktail bar, coffee shop and marketplace. Finally, Tartine Manufactory became San Francisco’s hottest new food destination, offering Chad Robertson and Liz Prueitt’s unbelievable breads and baked goods (six words: cookies and cream ice cream pie) in a sweeping, Wonka-esque warehouse. The restaurant also just launched dinner, and now serves beer and wine, which means you can literally spend your entire day there. 

Japanese cuisine

Diners were loving on Japanese food of all types this year — and not just sushi and ramen (though some really excellent sushi places did open, like Akashi in New York and Sasaki in San Francisco). Restaurants delved into the complexities of the cuisine, giving us New York’s Bessou, which brought the kind of warming, home-cooked Japanese food that the city sorely needed. Double Knot in Philadelphia provided an intimate izakaya with a very affordable tasting menu and San Francisco’s Nomica, the highly anticipated Japanese gastropub follow-up to Sushi Ran, left diners stunned with showstoppers like a brioche-wrapped, kogi-brined whole chicken filled with miso butter.    

Fermented foods

We cannot talk about the rise of fermentation without talking about Baroo, the pioneering spot located in a run-down Hollywood strip mall that introduced the world to pineapple kimchi fried rice and grains in roasted koji beet cream. The restaurant, which often veers more into lab than dining territory, started a robust conversation around the tasty potential for fermented food, and many places followed its lead. Portland launched an entire festival around fermentation, in response to a growing movement in the city helmed by restaurants like Farm Spirit and its fermented sunflower milk broth (which tastes astonishingly similar to Parmesan cheese). April Bloomfield’s star butchers Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest opened White Gold in New York, putting several varieties of pickles and a hot dog with kimchi front and center on the menu. David Chang (a longtime fan of fermentation) opened Momofuku Nishi, which received mixed reviews overall but resounding praise for its butter noodles, which sub out cheese for fermented chickpeas. Something tells us that restaurants are only beginning to scratch the surface with this trend.  

dining trends
fast casual
wood-fired cooking
japanese food