The 10 Hottest NYC Restaurant Trends

By James Mulcahy  |  October 7, 2013

Trend alert! New York has always been a breeding ground for culinary crazes, and this fall there are lots of exciting new flavors on the rise. From super-spicy Thai to a new wave of chicken and waffles, here are the latest bites to seek out when dining around town.

  • Asian Eateries Are Packing Heat

    Think a bit of spice is nice? A new wave of casual Asian eateries is setting taste buds on fire (and this is a good thing, at least for those who can stand it). Somtum Der, a new Thai spot in the East Village, dishes out authentic cooking in the Issaan style served in the Northern Region of the country. Han Dynasty, another East Villager, brought plenty of chile oil when it made the trip from Philly, where the mini-chain has five locations. And if you can stand the slow-building heat in the lamb laab served at Uncle Boon’s without wanting to dive into that beer slushie, you’re a braver soul than us.

  • Credit: Gabi Porter

    Sharing Takes a Super-Sized Turn

    Despite some gripes, small plates haven't gone away. Witness Manzanilla, the Gramercy tapas joint that actually scaled back its entree selection in favor of a series of shareable dishes. But since cooks understand that people want to share everything - from the plate of oysters that begins the meal to the sweets that end it - they're now designing mega-sized dishes for the table to split. Two new Italian outposts have made these share entrees their signatures. If you go to Carbone and don’t get the veal chop, which could feed a small village, you're missing out on a massive spectacle. The chicken parm pizza at Quality Italian (pictured) is even more monstrous, making it that much more of a must-try. And for dessert? If any one person can finish the banana split at Catch, more power to 'em, but we hope that that this behemoth is meant to be shared.

  • Wine Geekery Goes Mainstream

    Sure, plenty of restaurants have intricately crafted wine lists, with plenty for the average diner and enough to satisfy most wine connoisseurs, but a few recent openings are putting the esoteric offerings first. Both Estela and Charlie Bird had sommeliers on their opening teams (Thomas Carter and Robert Bohr, respectively), and they’ve crafted wide-ranging lists that have quickly generated lots of attention. Same goes for Pearl & Ash, a Lower East Side small-plater that uses a unique pricing structure for its wine list, sacrificing a higher markup in favor of offering a compelling selection by the glass. And if you really want to get funky, check out the atypical labels at Glasserie, one of the industrial-chic eateries that’s making West Greenpoint into such a culinary destination.

  • Credit: Cherie Cincilla

    Another Influx of Imports 

    Last year, a few West Coast chefs made their way to NYC and impressed the culinary scene, namely Atera’s Matthew Lightner, Mission Chinese's Danny Bowien and Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker. While it took a little time for the buzz to grow around these restaurants, this year’s batch of imports is mobbed in a New York minute. Whether this is due to savvy marketing machines or just the fact that their offerings are just that tasty, Boston tapas joint Toro, California’s Umami Burger and the aforementioned Han Dynasty from Philly are showing there’s a new way to make it in the NYC dining scene, where the capital usually needed for first-timers to start up is prohibitively expensive. In a connected world where word spreads fast, you can make it big somewhere else and open here to immediate fanfare.

  • Eating With Your Hands Is Totally Cool

    Kamayan night at Jeepney started the fun, encouraging New York diners to dig in with their hands every Thursday, and now it’s a new Laotian restaurant in TriBeca that's encouraging people to dive in with their digits. You don’t need to show up on a special night at Khe-yo to get those fingers dirty. Rice is brought to the table as you’re perusing your menu, and you're told exactly what to do: “Sticky rice tastes better when you eat it with your hands.”

  • Birds and Waffles

    Comfort food never goes out of style, but it's fried bird and waffles that New Yorkers are craving right now, at least judging by the menus around town. There's the classic chicken and waffles served at Sweet Chick in Williamsburg, while brand-new sandwich shop The Pullman Kitchen serves its buttermilk-fried bird between two cornbread waffles; for a higher-end take you can try the bite-sized bar snack at the Musket Room. The West Village's Slide is also offering a mini-version of the dish in the form of sliders with spicy coleslaw and maple-bourbon pear butter. This trend doesn't stop at chicken, though. One of the tastiest incarnations can be found at TriBeca's Distilled, which is serving a French-toast-style waffle with crispy duck, whipped honey butter and smoked chile maple syrup (pictured).  

  • NoMa Invasion

    Want to open a restaurant in New York? The easiest route might be a stint in the kitchen at Copenhagen's NoMa. Before he opened Luksus in Brooklyn, chef Daniel Burns helped establish the pastry program there, and the team behind the just-opened, tasting-menu-only LES spot Contra is also helmed by NoMa vet Fabian von Hauske (thankfully meals there will be at the non-NoMa price level of $55). Openings like Aska and Acme sparked interest in the new Nordic movement, and chefs passionate about this style of cooking quickly moved in to capitalize on its newfound popularity.

  • Salads as Artwork

    We've all gotten used to visually stunning entrees coming out of the kitchen, and chefs continue to impress by turning their salads into spectacles. The colorful ring of tomatoes that chef Sean Hergatt serves at his new Midtown eatery Juni is so beautiful that you don't want to eat it (almost). The Elm also offers some edible artwork in the form of a crudité of baby lettuce, veggies and green olive-tuna cream (pictured). Even older eateries like A Voce are getting into the pretty salad mix, with a fall offering filled with mixed lettuce, apples, figs, walnuts and pecorino.

  • The Meatpacking District Is Back

    This trend may make you feel like you're flashing back to 2003, but it's actually the Meatpacking District that is dusting itself off and catching up with current culinary happenings. It currently plays host to four new restaurants that are actually putting focus on the food before the bottle service. The Chester in the Gansveoort Hotel is offering a menu of American comfort food, while La Cenita in the former Abe & Arthur's space is dishing out Mexican fare from former La Esquina chef Akhtar Nawab. Tapas joint Toro recently touched down, arriving via Boston, and Tao is ready to open its second NYC location anyday in the Maritime Hotel space.

    Of course, the 'hood would be nothing without nightlife, and there are also a few new clubs. If you can stay up past 11 PM, check out Bar Nana, The Raven or the VIP Room.

  • Credit: Oddfellows

    Corn for Dessert

    The exciting new ingredient being served when it's time for something sweet isn't chocolate or vanilla, it's corn. It is harvest time after all, and the ingredient makes desserts that appeal to those diners who don't want to get smacked in the face with a sugar rush. OddFellows ice cream rotates its flavors frequently, but the cornbread sundae topped with maple syrup and bacon whipped cream (pictured) has been a hit, and newly opened H Bake Shop is serving a yellow-pepper and corn cupcake that comes with roasted-corn butter cream frosting. There's even a ginger-honey-cornbread cupcake at Hybird to eat once you get your fried-chicken fix.