Top Ten Food Trends 2014: What's Hot in Chicago Restaurants and Bars

Top Ten Food Trends 2014: What's Hot in Chicago Restaurants and Bars
What's on the plate for 2014 food trends

If you are a foodie–and it seems almost everyone is–(have you ever posted a picture of your meal on on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest?)–then it’s time to get with what’s trending in the food world for 2014.  Who will be this year’s stars and who will have to go back to waiting tables?

Each year, more trends pop up in the culinary world—for better or worse. You may not know a Seikyo Juneau from a Mizbasho Ginjo (spell check sure doesn’t)—but it’s just early 2014, so who knows, by this time next year, you may be an expert.

Predicting food trends is part art, part science. People talk the talk about healthy, natural, local, organic, gluten-free and dairy-free but no matter how healthy, we still love our comfort food.

In order to stay on top of everything that’s going on in the delicious realm of gastronomy, SMC is here to help you get a jump on the season with the top ten food trends for 2014–what’s hot, what’s not and what’s still hanging around (kale?) .

So here goes…

What’s Hot

  • citrus flavorings, especially grapefruit, in everything from desserts and cocktails to entrees and appetizers;
  • craft cocktails including “adult” milkshakes;
  • playful fun recreations of dishes we all know (i.e. tuna melts, lobster cigars, crab rangoons);
  • Asian bowls;
  • raw meats;
  • bitter greens;
  • anything fermented;
  • bourbon (bourbon surpassed vodka in sales in 2013 for the first time this century);
  • oysters;
  • vegetable-based dishes;
  • noodle bars;
  • traditional Hawaiian dishes such as spam musubi and pork hash;
  • masaladas, a kind of hole-less doughnut (also Hawaiian);
  • tortas, a traditional Mexican-style pressed sandwich;
  • open-kitchens–a concept that is trending even larger this year with more restaurant spaces embracing the open-kitchen trend as diners have gotten into the habit of watching chefs on TV.

What’s Not


What’s still hanging on

Kale, bacon, pork belly, pork anything, quinoa, sushi, flatbreads, farafel, risotto, steakhouses.

And here is SMC’s list of the top ten food trends for 2014:

1. Ramen Noodles

Ramen’s actually took off on the East Coast late last summer on the heels of the cronut craze. The ramen burger—a burger wrapped in fried ramen noodles instead of a bun—made its debut at New York’s Smorgasburg and is now available at a few local spots. But…the even bigger news…Chicago is about to have an entire restaurant dedicated to the curly noodle. The, yet, unnamed noodle emporium, scheduled to open mid-March in River North, is the latest project of none other than the Melman siblings RJ, Jerrod and Molly Melman part of the famous “Lettuce Us Entertain You” family.  If Lettuce is devoting an entire restaurant to the ramen, you know this is big.

Can’t wait until March? No worries, Ramen Burgers are available at Buzz Bar in North Center.

2. Nutella

Nutella has been trending for a while but it is getting even hotter this year with a full service Nutella bar and menu devoted to the addictive fake chocolate topping at Eataly.  Other “to die for” Nutella creations around town include the Pretzel/Nutella Doughnut Ice Cream Sandwich
at Black Dog Gelato and Wicker Park’s Glazed & Infused, where their glazed chocolate/pretzel doughnut is cut in half and stuffed with Nutella ice cream.  You can be pretty sure Nutella isn’t going anywhere for a long time now that it has its own day.  You may want to start making plans now for Thursday, February 6…National Nutella Day.

3. The Return of Drinking Rituals

The return of drinking rituals brings fresh takes on classics such as Irish coffee and sake. If you’re looking for a fresh take on sake, the stylish steak and sushi restaurant, Roka Akor, is out to educate and placate guests about sake.  Earlier this month they held a “sake week” featuring nine different sakes, considered to be some of the best in the world.  Although sake week is over you can still order the special varieties including Narutotai, Wakatake Onikoroshi Daiginjo, Jozen Mizuno Gotoshi, Eiko Fuji Honkara, Seikyo Juneau, Kikusui Junmai Ginjo, Dassai 50, Kenbishi Mizuho and Mizbasho Ginjo.

4. Peas (and beans)

The mighty pea, be it fresh, dried, a chickpea, pea flour or pea shoots is popping up on menus around town.  Small, not unlike the blueberry, but packing a knockout nutritional punch, it easy to see why peas are trending.  The Purple Pig is just one of many Chicago restaurants with a variety of pea dishes on their menu.  The pea shoots at Terzo Piano in the Art Institute offer a welcome taste of spring.  FYI: If you want to add “pea power” to your home menu, pea flour can be used to thicken soups and enhance dips…or whip up some split pea soup with a batch of dried peas and a ham bone.  Pea flour contains two times the protein as whole wheat flour for the same number of calories. Dried peas are even better–offering 4.5 times more fiber and seven times more protein than brown rice.

Also don’t forget the beans. Look beyond the green bean for more exotic beans and legumes such as the Spanish varieties of tolosa, garrafón, mongetes, and dragon tongue sure to be appearing on a menu near you including Troquet’s Andersonville restaurant that features a “Legume of the Day” on its menu.

5. Goodbye Food Courts, Hello Food Halls

With the sleek and shinny Eataly leading the pack–under the famed leadership of Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and his mother, Lidia Bastianich–food markets are trending big in the Windy City. Restaurateurs along with developers, around the country, are getting on the bandwagon to create one-stop-shop food concepts while also integrating some retail elements into the space. Eataly is just the beginning, with an evolution of this concept on the horizon.

6. Craft soda and flavored waters

With sodastream flooding the DIY marketplace, it only follows that restaurants will be one-upping the amateurs with their artisanal/seasonal craft soda creations. House-made sodas are showing up in restaurants ranging from Allium and 2 Sparrows to Tippling Hall, a newly opened classic beer hall in River North, that has handmade small-batch sodas ($5) on tap, including orange made with orange juice, zest and cane sugar and a ginger chile ale featuring fresh ginger, guindilla peppers and orange blossom honey.  Craft sodas, dispensed from old-fashioned siphon bottles, at Little Market Brasserie, include apple, lavender, banana, passion fruit and cucumber lemon.

7. Tea

Tea is hot…and not just for teetotalers.  State and Lake Chicago Tavern is serving Tennessee Tea Party cocktails that combine moonshine and hot tea. Twisted Spoke makes a hot toddy with Leopold Bros New York Apple Whiskey, chai tea, cinnamon flake, star anise, honey and lemon zest. While Roka Akor adds an Asian twist with their Nukumori (Japanese for “warmth”) with Iichiko shochu, yellow chartreuse, Aperol, honey syrup, muddled shiso leaf, grapefruit zest and hot jasmine green tea.

8. Fish heads and other body parts and Arctic char

The pita balloon at Travelle

The pita balloon at Travelle

The National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot” culinary forecast, predicts that non-traditional fish, like Arctic char, branzino, and barramundi will be edging their way onto menus this year. Arctic char is a mild, yet rich fish that’s related to salmon and trout that’s also a good choice for the environment. Another, up and comer, octopus, is a versatile fish that can be served in many cuisines.  It boasts a great flavor and texture when prepared properly, and is less expensive than many other fish. Ex-Tru chef Tim Graham at Travelle in the Langham Hotel has created a lush Pan roasted char, with spinach, onion and tangerine vinaigrette–beautifully presented and flavorful. If you are dining at Travelle, you may want to kick start your dining adventure with the pita balloon appetizer (pictured left) and muhammara dip. For dessert, at Travelle, it’s hard to beat Graham’s Terrine of Dark Chocolate.

9. Forged food, wild edibles and offal

Offal (offcuts) and organs such as tripe, kidneys and heart are popping up on menus around town along with more forged selections. Frontier is an awesome choice for forged foods.  Not to be missed is their $2 Tuesdays offerings featuring oysters, game tacos and deviled eggs.  A stick to your bones choice for Chicago’s winter is their Elk Shepard’s pie.

10. Tacos

Tacos, the traditional Mexican fare featuring a corn or wheat tortilla folded around a filling, have been around since the Aztec empire but recently they’ve broken all barriers. In Chicago, you can find tacos popping up in the most unlikely places–be it at a French restaurant or on a Japanese, Thai or Korean menu.  You’ll find every imaginable ingredient serving as a filling from poutine to tufu. Antique Taco in Wicker Park is just one of the thousands of establishments serving tacos in Chicago.  For more, just Google “Chicago taco’s” and you’ll get everything from Taco Bell to authentic taquerias in Pilsen.

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