Two things happen at the end of every year: We look back at what happened last year and speculate about what will happen next. Chicago-based Technomic, a research company that covers food, adds substance to its annual predictions by conducting surveys and interviews with restaurateurs, chefs and diners.
For 2013, Technomic has come up with 10 trends that range from craft beer (duh) to noodles to vegetable worship.
1. Vegetables. Vegetarianism is on the rise, but Technomic predicts that even meat-eaters will develop a taste for vegetables. We can expect to see more innovative salads like the edamame salad served by Corner Bakery; still more kale, like the kale salad served at Woodshed Smokehouse in Fort Worth; carrots, already celebrated at Provisions in Houston; and Brussels sprouts, used by chefs such as Matt McCallister of FT33, Justin Yu of Oxheart in Houston and Rene Ortiz at La Condesa in Austin.
Vegetarian dining fulfills our increasing interest in fresh, local ingredients, but it's also a viable response to the fact that animal protein keeps getting more expensive.
2. Grains. We've had an ongoing affair with polenta and couscous, but we're about to get even more grainy. The new wave of grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet, wild rice, corn, oats and buckwheat are not only sexier than wheat, but they also do not contain gluten. Gluten-free dining remains a big, big trend.
3. Chicken. Chicken has become trendy, moving from Colonel land into chef-driven kitchens. Hey, Technomic, tell us something we don't know. We've seen it at Max's Wine Dive in Austin, Houston and Dallas; Sissy's Southern Kitchen on Henderson Avenue in Dallas; Chicken Scratch in West Dallas; Stephan Pyles' Stampede 66; and Fresa's Chicken al Carbon in Austin. Technomic says that Latin-accented marinated chicken has established a niche, and that African peri-peri chicken may be next.
4. Snacks. The old-school concept of three-squares-a-day has become squeezed out by forces such as food trucks, tapas and gastropubs. Diners are eating at all hours of the day and night, and they're attracted to small bites and small prices. Technomic notes that the trend is showing up at fast-food restaurants, such as the mini corn dogs at Jack in the Box and the cheesecake bites at Sonic.
5. Value-as-volume. And when it isn't snacks, it's oversized. This is mostly a fast-food trend at places like Pizza Hut, which has the horrible-sounding Big Dinner Box (consisting of two pizzas with multiple sides), or Olive Garden's self-explanatory Dinner Today & Dinner Tomorrow. But, hey, you can even find it at "chic" places like Bolsa Mercado in Bishop Arts, where you can pick up a dinner for two in a bag every night.
6. Diner and deli fare. Technomic predicts a surge in diner- and deli-inspired meaty sandwiches, full-flavored soups and pickles.
7. Noodles. We're talking about ramen, udon, soba, cellophane and rice noodles. Austin is all over this, with Ramen Tatsu-ya, which opened in August; Kome, which serves ramen at lunch; and even East Side King. Dallas has Noodle Wave in the suburbs and Tei An in One Arts Plaza, where Teiichi "Teach" Sakurai rolls his own soba noodles. Dallas will soon get a dedicated ramen shop called Tanoshi, from the owners of Wicked Po' Boys.
8. South America. If you like Mexican food, boy are you going to love food from Brazil, Argentina and Peru. Or so says Technomic, who forecasts the mainstreaming of South American-style grilled meats, chimichurri sauce, ceviche and cocktails like the caipirinha and the pisco sour. Just this week, two South American places opened in Dallas: Nazca Kitchen and Joyce & Gigi's Kitchen.
9. Fast casual goes global. It used to be just Panera Kitchen and Pei Wei where you ordered at the counter and had your food brought to you. But now you can find that same reduced-service format for all kinds of cuisines: barbecue, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. Yay for less service?
10. Beverage differentiation. Trends include fresh fruit beverages, natural energy drinks, house-made sodas, and especially the locally made alcohol categories including liquors and craft beer.