2013 is nigh and if you’re wondering what restaurant and culinary trends might be in store for us around the Triangle, here are a couple of ruminations:
Taquerias: old school and fancier. Expect more taquerias and the like in 2013. With nascent chains like Lime Fresh, Taco Taco Cafe and Taqueria del Sol migrating up north and opening stores around the Triangle, you probably can expect more taco and burrito shops continuing to crop up around the area. If all the Tex-Mex and Mexican is giving you a little stomach bloat and you’re looking for a bit of intestinal respite, you can look to Venezuelan upstart Guasaca to give you respite from the taco madness. The Salamanca family that has brought you Dos Taquitos, Centro, Gonza Tacos y Tequila will partner up with Niall Hanley (Solas, Hibernian) to open Dos Taquitos Xoco in downtown Raleigh on Glenwood Avenue in the new year.
Yet more gourmet burger joints: Seriously, how many burger places do we need? Florida outfit BurgerFi joined in all the juicy, burger action this year with a location in Raleigh and one in Cary. And, perhaps the area has reached a saturation point with gourmet burgers(aka pretty darn expensive burgers) with the closing of Uncle Fatty’s and now local restaurant Draft. The fast-casual segment is blowing up right now with places like Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich competitor PDQ gaining popularity. Places like PDQ and the immensely popular Chipotle are seeing consumers trading in fine dining service for higher quality food served quickly. With some customers bemoaning the elevated costs of items like gourmet burgers made using localized ingredients, I’ll be eager to see if the trend will be able to sustain itself in the long run, or if people will be running or walking briskly back to places like Five Guys and Cookout to get their burger fix for less dollars.
More Asian fusion: Pan-asian, Asian-fusion, Asian-twist, new Asian. You’ve heard all the buzzwords and it looks like Asian fusion is here to stay. Zinda opened up in late 2012 off Fayetteville Street, with promises to inject modern, innovative twists to a span of old-world Asian dishes. Fusion has its detractors, but done correctly, the flavors can indeed be titillating. A slightly different type of fusion will also occur in 2013 in the North Hills region of town. Cowfish, a restaurant based out of Charlotte that mashes up the worlds of sushi and gourmet burgers, should be opening up a location in Raleigh sometime later this year in the Captrust Tower building.
Pop-up restaurants: A lucky few were able to get in on the LudoBites action when famous chef Ludo Lefebvre swept through Raleigh to open up a pop-up restaurant in Gravy’s space earlier in 2011. A Japanese pop-up in Durham called Hakanai will briefly make an appearance for three nights in February in Durham at The Cookery and will offer a $55 per person prix-fixe menu. Pop-up restaurants have been popular for a while in major cities, and as fleeting as they may be, here’s to hoping that more places like Hakanai will appear in 2013.
High-tech ordering systems: Restaurants like Oro and the now-defunct Krave are employing iPads to help ease communication between the waitstaff and the kitchen. Though some restaurants prefer to keep it old-school with chalkboard and paper menus, expect to see more technological utilization in the near future, with more restaurants incorporating self-service kiosks to customize orders and to pay.
The rise of the pizzeria: People can’t get enough of pie joints like Cary’s Bella Mia that keeps the fans coming with its coal-fired pizzas. Any place that serves up good slices of pie is sure to garner well-pleased crowds, so expect more a new crop of pizza places like the newly opened Pizzeria Toro in Durham to continuing to proliferate in the area.
And now, culinary trends that I hope to see in the area:
Restaurants focused on distinct flavor profiles: Dubbed part of the “post-locavore movement” by NYMag, places like Mission Chinese Food are getting doused in critical praise for Chef Danny Bowien’s focus on Szechuan dishes offered at fair prices–stripped of pretension, fusion and tasting menus shenanigans, or hipster bric-a-brac so often found at many trendy restaurants quick to put anything in a mason jar these days. If only Raleigh could get a place like Portland’s popular Thai restaurant Pok Pok, I’d be pleased as punch.
More healthy kids’ meals/dietary restrictions-friendly menus: First Lady Michelle Obama “Let’s Move!” campaign is focused on getting kids to eat healthier and it would be nice to see restaurants taking the initiative to outfit kids’ menus with healthier options. Although it’s easier and more cost-effective to feed kids with fried tenders, nuggets and french fries, with such focus and intense scrutiny on childhood obesity rates, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more restaurants modifying kids’ menus to appease well-informed parents looking for more healthy options when eating out at a restaurant. And, the same changes goes with dietary restrictions with increased highlighting of gluten-free items, vegan and vegetarian-friendly options.
More barbecue, please!: Southern food is all the rage nationally with places as far west as Animal in Los Angeles giving proper tribute to the wonderfully unctuous foods of the South. And if you have lived here for a while, you’ve undoubtedly heard of esteemed southern chef Ashley Christensen and her string of wildly popular restaurants including Beasley’s Chicken and Honey and Chuck’s. And while comfort food has taken a stronghold over the nation as of late, I would love to see more Eastern-style barbecue places in my own backyard of Raleigh, North Carolina. I heard rumblings about a bbq place popping up in Five Points earlier last year, but so far nothing more has materialized. And, don’t get me wrong. The Pit is good and Clyde’s will only linger as a memory in due time and some of the surrounding bbq places like The Pig in Chapel Hill are not bad, but I want more porky,vinegar-y goodness. Pitmaster Ed Mitchell is supposed to open his own barbecue place sometime in the near future in the area, so the hope for his new place may have to suffice in the meantime.
Noodle bars: I’m well aware of David’s Dumpling and Noodle Bar and the newly opened Torii in Crabtree Valley Mall, but being the obsessed noodle-lover that I am, I always am in the market for more noodle shops. An authentic ramen noodle shop (not Noodles and Company) would do well in the area and hopefully the noodle trend will trickle down eventually to this market after the success of David Chang’s momofuku, NYC’s Ippudo, and other small ramen and noodle shops in Los Angeles and New York City. Pho is good and all but, to me, it doesn’t hold a light to a bowl of hot,steaming tonkotsu ramen made with springy, hand-pulled noodles in the middle of winter.