As we prepare to chow down on the last morsels of 2017, one thing is quickly becoming clear: We’ll eat notably differently in 2018 than we did this year. After all, palates are fickle things—it’s human nature to crave novel flavors and aromas—and we’re already getting a sense of the delicious offerings that’ll likely tempt us the year to come. They hail from both near and far, with many piggybacking off familiar flavors while still promising to catapult our taste buds into new and exciting territory.
So what’s on the menu for 2018? Here are three areas to watch.
Trend #1: Japanese Pub Food
Flavors from the Land of the Rising sun like matcha and black sesame have cornered the U.S. market in recent years, but they represent only the tip of Japan’s potential culinary contribution to the American dining scene. And while interest in Japanese food in the last decade has tended toward the high-end—think pricey omakase tasting menus that’ll set you back a few hundred dollars—the immediate future will be dominated by more casual fare, as it’s been with budget-friendly ramen.
Next year, the spotlight will be on the hearty grub served in Japanese pubs, or izakaya: Fried chicken wings splashed with sticky-sweet soy, nutty soba noodles doused in tart rice vinegar, pork cutlets transformed into crispy fried tonkatsu, steaming bowls of udon, smoky skewers of charbroiled yakitori, and greasy pancakes of cabbage-rich okonomiyaki. They’re all things you might crave on a cold day… or after a long, boozy night out on the town.
To wit, the trend will likely appeal to drinks-slinging establishments. After all, the Japanese word izakaya translates to “a sit-down sake shop.”
Trend #2: Middle Eastern Ingredients
You heard it here first: Next year will be Middle Eastern cuisine’s big moment when it comes to mainstream appetites. Hummus may have been Bon Appetit’s Dish of the Year in 2015, but that’s old news—and a gateway to new and more adventurous possibilities.
In 2018, consumers will open their minds and mouths to spices and pastes like za’atar, sumac, dukkah, spicy harissa, and more. These flavors will pop up in dishes like the tomato-and-egg brunch number shakshuka—already making a splash in trend-setting cities like New York City—and bready pide, sometimes called “Turkish pizza,” plus plenty spins on more familiar dishes, like burgers and roast chicken. And yes, they’ll pep up the hummus in your favorite college student’s dorm fridge.
Trend #3: The “Fine-Casual” trend
Fine and casual dining may seem like polar opposites, but a blend of the two makes a lot more sense than at first blush.
The term “fine-casual” itself, coined by Union Square Hospitality CEO Danny Meyer, is the reigning principle behind Meyer’s wildly successful burger empire, Shake Shack. Here, fine-casual means the employment of high-quality meat in a setting that, while elevated, has more in common with a greasy spoon than a ritzy white tablecloth restaurant.
Elsewhere, the fine-casual concept might manifest differently. Think the marriage of caviar and potato chips at a modern diner; crab and mac-and-cheese at the food hall; and truffle oil and greasy-diner burgers at the airport. The thinking here is that at times consumers want something fussy in an unfussy environment, meaning high-end fare without the fine-dining price tag.
According to insights from Andrew Freeman & Company in Nation’s Restaurant News, it’s all about “upscale counter-service—and even table service—with curated ingredients and unexpected touches like a wine bar and optional tasting menu.”
Revved up about 2018? You should be. If our predictions are any indication, it’s going to be a delicious year.