5 Food Trends to Watch For in Houston

F*** yeah, gourmet donuts.
F*** yeah, gourmet donuts.

Eater ran a list yesterday of 10 food trends that are -- at least in New York City -- officially dead. Among them included the obvious (the gastropub), the non-events (pie as the new cupcakes, which still hasn't happened) and the debatable (I'm pretty sure Houstonians will continue to eat banh mi like nobody's business).

What was more interesting was viewing the list through the lens of a Houston diner. Two trends on the DOA list -- American comfort food and gastropubs -- are alive and well at establishments such as BRC and Hearsay. And Tiki anything is just starting to make its way here; will the Tiki trend in Houston die on the vine? It's hard to tell.

Just as difficult to predict are the food trends that will filter down to Houston from New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and the world over. Houstonians are a finicky bunch, as Mai Pham just noted earlier today. And trends that might bowl crowds over elsewhere -- the emergence of Nordic cuisine, for example -- might never be more than a blip on the radar here.

Here are five food trends, in increasing order of likeliness, that we think might have a shot at making a splash in the Bayou City.

Dessert from Bolat African Cuisine in Chicago.
Photo by Rosalyn Davis

5. African food

As recently noted in our post about brunch at Peppersoup Cafe, Houston has a massive African population. Although it's predominately West African, we also have a handful of excellent Ethiopian restaurants as well, which are finally becoming more and more mainstream as people discover the rich, full flavors of African cooking -- and discover that it's not as frighteningly "exotic" as they may have thought. Marcus Samuelsson is busy bringing upscale, haute African cuisine to New York City, much in the same way Anita Jaisinghani has successfully done here with Indian food. What Houston needs is someone to bridge the gap between our small-scale African restaurants and a big, powerful, creative yet accessible restaurant that could showcase Nigerian or Ghanian or Ethiopian food to the masses.

4. Gourmet donuts

This trend sounds stupid, and that's because it sort of is. It's just as faddish as the whole cupcake trend. But that doesn't mean it won't find some traction here. They're portable and inexpensive, like cupcakes should be. And gourmet donuts -- like the tres leches and peanut butter with blackberry jelly flavors at Doughnut Plant in New York -- are an even more expressive medium than cupcakes, as it's somewhat easier to accept a savory donut than it is a savory cupcake. It also gives our pastry chefs room to expand their offerings at restaurants and bakeries; I'd love to see a lentil flour donut with a samosa-type filling or a light lavender donut filled with lemon curd for the summer. And considering that Houston is already a focal point for kolaches of all types -- boudin-stuffed kolache, anyone? -- gourmet donuts aren't that much of a stretch.


Beer list at Dinosaur BBQ in Rochester, New York (which is actually really good).
Beer list at Dinosaur BBQ in Rochester, New York (which is actually really good).
Photo by Sharon Drummond

3. Better beer lists

Whether it's a laid-back hipster joint like Roberta's or an industry-saturated hot spot like The Dutch, smart restaurants in New York are finally paying as much attention to their beer lists as they are to their wine lists -- and that attitude is shifting to Houston, too. Beer pairing dinners are a large part of this movement, as is the general accessibility of the craft beer movement: It's much easier and more affordable to bring a really great assortment of beers to dinner than it is to bring a really great assortment of wines. Restaurants are recognizing this too, as well as recognizing that a growing majority of their diners take their beers just as seriously as oenophiles do their wines. You can see this trend already starting to take traction here in restaurants as diverse as Bootsie's in Tomball and Plonk in Garden Oaks and even new kid Greatfull Taco.

2. Exotic meats

This is a no-brainer, considering the restaurants in Houston that already serve ostrich, buffalo, alligator and various other meatstuffs. Spendy, carnivorous Houstonians are already keen on massive steakhouses and hunting trips to kill Axis deer; restaurants that combine the two aren't far behind. There's also the dual movement, perpetuated and celebrated by an entirely different crowd, of eating more sustainably. And that often means eating what's in your own backyard, such as rabbit, squirrel and nutria. Put these two groups together and you're bound to start seeing proteins other than chicken and beef gain more popularity over time. Hell, there's already a Vietnamese place in Pearland that's serving boar and gator in their pho.

Pickled broccoli stems and dehydrated chorizo on a poached egg yolk at Just August.
Pickled broccoli stems and dehydrated chorizo on a poached egg yolk at Just August.
Photo by Ruthie Miller

1. Pop-up restaurants

This trend seemed to shimmer briefly last summer and then die with the closure -- it was planned from the very beginning -- of the Just August project. Before that, Houston had been treated to a few, roving underground supper clubs. And although both trends are somewhat dormant right now, Houston has been getting an influx of young Turk chefs, fresh off staging in restaurants across the country, who will need outlets for their creativity. Pop-up restaurants are the answer to that need. Pop-up restaurants usher in the most modern, the most intelligent and the freshest food trends from around the world for this very reason -- and because there's little to no financial risk involved in opening a place that will just serve a few one-off dinners. Will we see them on public transportation or at underground night markets? Probably not. But watch for them nevertheless.

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