The 10 Most Exciting Emerging Cuisines Nationwide

By Jenny Miller  |  September 9, 2013

Since every other restaurant these days is a barbecue joint, raw-bar specialist or vaguely related to "the New Nordic," allow us to draw your attention to some alternative options: cuisines that are just beginning to show their faces stateside, but which have all the markers of a craze in the making. In some cases, one or two restaurants are leading the pack, with others sure to follow. In other instances, several factors seem to be converging, hinting at a big-time trend about to bust wide open. Scope out our picks below, and do share in the comments if you've noticed anything we didn't mention.

  • Credit: Pok Pok

    Northern Thai

    If any cuisine is on fire (quite literally - this stuff is spicy!) these days, it's the Isaan and other cuisine of Northern and Northeastern Thailand. Typical dishes include the chopped-meat salads known as laab and Chiang Mai speciality khao soi, a curry noodle soup, versions of which are gaining fans at NYC's Pok Pok and Uncle Boons; khao soi will also be the signature at upcoming Brooklyn Thai joint Kao Soy. What's more, an offshoot of Bangkok's Somtum Der just opened in the East Village with an Isaan menu, and Qi in Union Square will soon become Qi Isaarn. In Austin, Sway has garnered much praise for its "modern-Thai" menu, which includes some Northern specialties like nam prik, or chile dip, and kai yaang, or charcoal-grilled chicken. And in DC, Little Serow's weekly changing prix fixe frequently offers nam prik and other Northern and Northeastern Thai foods.

  • Credit: Galdones Photography


    New York has had Macao Trading Co. for several years, but the food there (though tasty) tends to get sidelined to the well-respected cocktail program. However, evidence this trend is about to hit lies in Chicago's Fat Rice, a newcomer that's received much praise on the national scale. Macanese grub is a hodgepodge of traditions, thanks largely to its onetime status as a Portuguese colony, and when that country commanded the world's spice trade, no less - European, Indian, Southeast Asian and of course, Chinese flavors are evident in the food. At Fat Rice, that includes a menu that highlights Sichuan peppercorn, Portuguese sausage, Chinese bacon and housemade pickles among other flavors. It all comes together in the namesake arroz gordo, a paella that's a fusion melange of roast pork, clams, Portuguese chicken, Chinese sausage and more.

  • Credit: Donny Tsang


    This one's just barely cracking its way out of the food-trend eggshell, but with the rise of the "New Nordic" over the past few years and Iceland itself as a travel destination, we can see it coming. Case in point is Skal, which recently opened on New York's Lower East Side serving an outright Icelandic menu that features lamb, lots of seafood and some of the herbal flavors that are popular in this northern land - such as flowering coriander, red seaweed, verbena and lavender. Also: Greek-yogurt-like skyr, a ubiquitous ingredient in the country. Other evidence that the trend is about to bust wide open include Icelandic food festivals that have been held in Boston in recent years and one happening later this month in Denver as well.

  • Laotian

    There've been some down-home restaurants here and there around the U.S. serving the food of this narrow country sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam (Vientiane Asian Grocery in Seattle and Mangez Avec Moi in New York, a mostly Thai place whose Laotian owner will prepare a meal from Laos if given advance notice). Yet it was Iron Chef and restaurateur Marc Forgione's opening a Laotian place, Khe-Yo, with one of his longtime employees who's a Laotian native that made us include the cuisine on this list. A dining population that's started to embrace regional Southeast Asian - mostly in the form of Northern Thai and Yunnan - seems ready to chow down à la Laos. At Khe-Yo, many menu offerings are just ever-so-slightly different from familiar Thai or Vietnamese dishes: like the pork belly and shrimp crispy rolls, lemongrass spare ribs and pork jowl curry. Just make sure any Laotian meal includes plenty of sticky rice, often used for scooping up shared dishes and typically eaten with one's hands.

  • Yunnan

    Last year was a big one for the food of China's Southwesternmost province, which shares many ingredients and flavors with Southeast Asian cooking. In Chicago, Tony Hu expanded his proliferating Chinese empire to include Lao Yunnan, offering typical provincial fare like spicy "cross-bridge noodles" and meats stir-fried with mushrooms, plus Chinese dishes from other regions. Meanwhile, the cuisine saw a boom in Manhattan in 2012 as well, with Yunnan Kitchen's refined, seasonal take, and a different take on "modern Yunnan" at Lotus Blue. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, long-standing noodle cubby Yunnan Flavour Snack saw such a boost in business that it morphed into the larger Yunnan Garden.

  • Hawaiian

    Like Icelandic food, this one's just barely emerging as a trend. A prominent Top Chef-er has helped: Big Island's Phillip "Ippy" Aiona, who's opened a couple of restaurants in the last year in his home state. However, while tiki bars have been all the rage on the mainland for a while, favorite dishes like Kalua pig and poke are trickling down ever so slowly. Notably, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just welcomed a Hawaiian restaurant to its eatery-stuffed blocks: Onomea. In D.C., "Tiki Nuevo" joint Hogo has welcomed guest chefs of all persuasions but recently reverted to its Hawaiian-food menu, offering Spam musubi (like sushi rolls), the fried egg on a meat patty known as loco moco, and mahi mahi tacos. That sort of fare is old news in parts of the Western U.S. that have branches of island chain L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.

  • Israeli

    Philly's Zahav put Israeli cuisine on the map in that town and nationally (even Anthony Bourdain has been there) when it opened two years ago. In spring, a Zahav pop-up at Momofuku Ssam Bar in New York confirmed its still-searing hotness. Meanwhile, everyone freaked out last year over London-based Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Jerusalem, which stamped the cuisine even more firmly in the mind of food types. And in New York, Einat Admony has been slowly growing her Taim falafel mini-empire and enjoying the continuing popularity of her Balaboosta - now she's planning a new modern Israeli concept, Bar Bolonat, for fall. Finally, in LA's West Hollywood, an Israeli burger chain with 62 locations in that country, Burgerim, opened its first U.S. location earlier this year.

  • Filipino

    It's been a big few years for this previously underrepresented cuisine. Three big-time Top Chef-testants - Leah Cohen, Paul Qui and Dale Talde - are at least part Filipino-American. Cohen's year-old New York spot, Pig and Khao, features dishes from that island nation, including quail adobo and pig-parts fave sizzling sisig. And while neither of the other two runs an outright Filipino eatery yet, Talde's tweeted that he'd like to, and Qui includes touches on his menus, including the desserts at Austin's new Qui. Also in New York, the Maharlika bunch, who started with a pop-up a few years ago, now have two successful restaurants, Maharlika and Jeepney. Speaking of pop-ups, Filipino hit Milkfish in New Orleans has launched a Kickstarter to fund a brick-and-mortar location. And Oakland, California's Kain'bigan, which started as a pop-up, recently opened in restaurant digs. Meanwhile, Seattle has a Filipino food truck, Lumpia World, and Vegas awaits the arrival of a branch of popular Phillippines eatery Max's, expected this fall.

  • New Zealand

    Kiwi cuisine is another newbie that's just barely hitting stateside. In New York, the Musket Room has received acclaim since its spring debut - critics applaud its refined, ingredient-forward approach to typical fare like "red doe" steak and smoked scallops. And San Francisco got a New Zealand pop-up recently in honor of the America's Cup. Set to close in December (we'll see what happens there), Waiheke Island Yacht Club offers imported oysters and a seafood-emphasizing menu with dishes including lobster tail with lardo, lemon and fresh peas, and pork with abalone, potato, pickled daikon and watercress in a spare, nautical-contemporary space down on the Embarcadero in SF.

  • Gonzo Fusion

    As is probably evident, we're not even sure what to call this category! But something's happening in the realm of marrying diverse cuisines or taking the diverse things a chef likes and throwing it all on one menu. Bushwick newbie King Noodle falls into the gonzo side of this equation, with dishes like its Dorito kimchi carbonara. In Brooklyn, there's now a Jewish-Japanese restaurant, Shalom Japan; Charleston's getting a Bavarian-Southern U.S. beer garden; D.C. has a Caribbean-Asian food truck; and NOLA's Booty's Street Food serves yakisoba alongside gazpacho and fish 'n' chips. It's madness, people! Yet somehow, much of this works, and diners seem to be eating it up. The hybrid-food trend fits in here somehow too. If you can explain this better than we have, feel free to weigh in below in the comments.