Top 10 Projected Food Trends for 2014 in Houston

Looking back at 2013, the foods that really stick out in our minds are the trendy ones: Cronuts. Sriracha. Pretzel buns. Kale. These dominated the discussions on food blogs, in culinary magazines and on morning talk shows.

So with 2014 approaching, we thought we'd get ahead of the game by predicting what epicurean themes will emerge in the new year. Will Dominique Ansel invent another amazing pastry hybrid? (Probably not.) Will pretzel buns be usurped by something better? (God, we hope so.) Will the world end when we run out of Sriracha? (Entirely possible.)

We'll revisit these predictions at the end of next year to see how spot on or way off we were. Some of the 2014 trends have already begin taking shape, but we expect them to really explode during the next 12 months. Of course, no one can predict how big an impact a simple breakfast item or hot sauce will have. But we like to think we're pretty clever.

Here are our picks for the top food trends of 2014.

10. Korean food Houston is already on top of this one with the recent opening of Donald Chang's Nara, an upscale Korean and Japanese restaurant in West Ave. We expect to see Korean flavors in everything from hamburgers to grilled cheese to ice cream next year, particularly thanks to the growing popularity of kimchi and gochujang hot sauce. Not only will Korean food inundate the food truck and fast casual realm, but we'll also start seeing more upscale takes on Korean cuisine, as at Nara.

9. Bycatch and invasive species at upscale restaurants Local fishmonger PJ Stoops has been selling bycatch to local restaurants for years, but we see this trend catching on in the rest of the country as well this year. Bycatch is an industry term for fish caught unintentionally when fishermen are trying to catch other specific species. But rather than throw back or throw out these fish, chefs are finding new ways to incorporate lesser-known species into their menus. The same goes for invasive species. What better way to keep our waters from being overrun with lionfish, Asian carp and the northern snakehead fish?

8. Heirloom vegetables We all know that heirloom tomatoes are beautiful and delicious, but farmers are starting to cultivate much more than tomatoes. The designation "heirloom" refers to old cultivars that were grown prior to the industrialization of agriculture. When we started growing crops commercially, we picked just a few that had the qualities we were looking for, leaving some of the tastiest and more unique plants to the family farms that have been keeping these heirloom varieties growing in spite of a lack of interest from the general population. Now people are getting more interested, though, in everything from heirloom corn and peas to okra and watermelon.

7. Breakfast for dinner Yes, as long as there has been breakfast, there has been breakfast for dinner, but this year, we predict you'll see many more omelets, waffles and savory pancakes on menus after dark. When we eat breakfast foods for dinner, it feels like a special occasion, like we're getting away with something we shouldn't necessarily be doing. Chicken and waffles and waffles buns for burgers are already growing in popularity, but I suspect it won't be long before pancakes stuffed with pork or shrimp and dinner-sized omelets find their way to our tables.

6. Tea Move over, coffee. This is tea's year! Houston is already home to a number of great teahouses, but many people are just starting to realize all that tea has to offer. Almost as much caffeine as coffee? Check. Unique flavor combinations? Check. Organic and exotic? Check and check. Look for more gourmet and artisan tea on menus this year, the emergence of upscale tea bars and tea replacing coffee (to an extent) as our morning beverage of choice.

5. Fancy cauliflower Oxheart was way ahead of this trend, giving vegetables a prime place on menus and treating them with the care and respect most often reserved for a steak or pork chop. In New York, there's a restaurant serving a $30 "cauliflower steak," and that's probably just the beginning. We predict more upscale roasted cauliflower, foams, purées and hashes. And, of course, it's only a matter of time before cauliflower steaks make their way to Houston. We probably won't go for it (meat-lovers that we are), but go on, chefs. Hit us with your best shot.

4. Gourmet chicken wings Much of the potential 2014 trends involve fast, inexpensive or undervalued food moving up in the culinary world to places of prominence on fancy menus. Goro & Gun has already created upscale chicken wings, and as we saw at this year's Wingtoberfest, Uchi and Underbelly are just as capable. Expect to see elegant (read: expensive) wings in unique sauces at some of the more fashionable restaurants in the country. Inevitably, of course, fast food restaurants will follow suit with their takes on mala wings with bleu cheese sauce or cilantro and cashew crusted drumsticks.

3. Sea vegetables What's healthier than kale, more abundant than spinach and more exotic than bok choy? Seaweed, of course, and kelp and sea lettuce and wakame. The ocean is a veritable cornucopia of healthy plants, fresh, crisp, nutritious and ready to eat. The Japanese have been eating various forms of seaweed for thousands of years, and sea plants have been written about by both the Vikings and the ancient Greeks. We're a little behind on this trend here in the United States, but someday soon we imagine more seaweed salads will be finding their way to our tables.

2. Biscuit buns Yes, pretzel buns were delicious when made correctly by an artisan baker, but fast food restaurants ruined that. Expect pretzel buns (already waning in popularity) to be replaced by biscuit buns on everything from hamburgers to BLTs to veggie sandwiches. Breakfast foods have long been sandwiched between two buttery biscuits, but these mounds of flaky dough will soon be enveloping lunch and dinner, too. Biscuits have weathered perversion by fast food restaurants, and they're poised for a slightly more high-end comeback.

1. Classy versions of a boilermaker If you don't know what a boilermaker is, go back to hipster school. Actually, the oilermaker, or "a shot and a beer," was popular long before hipsters decided it wasn't cool and was therefore cool. Here in America, a boilermaker is most often a shot of whiskey and a cheap beer like Budweiser, though the term refers to something different in England, where the combo was presumably invented and named in the 1920s. Hip bars are now endeavoring to class up the boilermaker, though, with craft beer and expensive shots. A shot of Fernet and and a Saint Arnold Winter Stout, coming right up!

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