5 most exciting food, drink trends in the US

If there’s ever been a better time to dine in the U.S., I certainly wasn’t alive for it. Pick any city around the country, and chances are high that it’s in the midst of a food and drink renaissance. You can find game-changing chef’s tables in Nashville (Catbird Seat); cocktails on tap in Scarsdale, N.Y. (Racanelli’s New York Italian); and crazy-creative ramen in Cleveland (Noodlecat).
The more I travel these days, the more I feel I can find the best of both worlds in any city: beloved regional classics tucked away within roadside stands and weathered dining rooms, but also ambitious new kitchens and bars benefiting from the fluid spread of culinary ideas from coast to coast (thanks, Internet).
When I arrive in a new place, my first point of interest is always those regional specialties: Do they have a weird local hamburger variant? Is there style of pizza that you can’t find anywhere else? Can I get hot dogs slathered with cream cheese and topped with grilled cabbage (holler, Seattle)? Idiosyncratic junk food tends to be best explored during the day. By nightfall, I want to hit the town and find out what’s new and exciting — zeitgeist dining that lets you connect the dots across the country and see how chefs and bartenders are putting their own localized spin on trends that extend beyond their own area code.
So what’s worth looking out for right now? Here are the five food and drink trends I’m most excited about at the moment.
Creative ramen
It might be said that nothing is sacred in this country, which is certainly true for chefs who have no problem co-opting the cuisine of other countries and running with it. Watered-down versions of ethnic dishes are always a bummer, but when a chef succeeds at putting a truly unique spin on something, the result is melting-pot dining at its best.
Perhaps the most exciting example of the latter right now is ramen, the latest canvas for creative mashups. Pastaria in St. Louis serves an Italian-inspired version with spaghettini and Parmesan broth; Cleveland’s Noodlecat features “Irish Ramen” with roast beef fit for a Sunday roast; and “Top Chef” winner Paul Qui turns out funky riffs like a Tex-Mex-style chicken tortilla soup ramen at his cultish East Side King food truck in Austin, Texas.
Beyond the margarita
Alongside the spread of boundary-pushing Mexican cooking at places like Bar Amá in Los Angeles and Empellón Cocina in New York, there’s a new fascination with agave-based spirits — tequila and mezcal, but also the lesser-know bacanora and stool — that’s fun to explore. Mezcals tend to come from small-batch, rustic producers, and they get their smoky character from the process of roasting the piñas (the heart of the agave plant). At both of the restaurants mentioned above, they’re deployed in funky margarita riffs that taste nothing like the Patrón standards you’re used to.
Other interesting agave-forward cocktails are popping up all over the place as well, like the Sonoran Old-Fashioned (tequila, housemade chili-honey, and grapefruit bitters) at Salvation Taco in NYC and the Snap Dragon at Raven & Rose, in Portland, Ore., which blends stool — a spirit distilled from a wild prickly plant similar to agave — with Lillet Rouge and Jack Ruby tonic syrup.

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