The 5 Hottest Dining Trends in 2011 So Far

by Kelly Dobkin |

Restaurant trends – some of them linger for years, while others fizzle out in a matter of weeks. We’re only six months into 2011, but already we’ve noticed some pretty strong dining trends running throughout many of our Buzz cities. Here’s a look at the five most prominent trends this year so far.


Here today, gone tomorrow seems to be the MO that fueled the massive popularity behind pop-ups in the last six months. From NYC’s What Happens When to DC’s upcoming America Eats Tavern (from chef José Andrés) the idea of a temporary or concept-shifting restaurant is all the rage in 2011. Also, “perma pop-up” concepts were big as well, including Joseph Mahon‘s Burger Parlor in the LA area and NYC’s LTO, which rotates chefs every three months. Pop-ups were also a means for out-of-town chefs to workshop new concepts in new cities. NYC’s JBF LTD in Chelsea Market showcased the talents of chefs like Laurent Gras and Michelle Bernstein, and LA chef Ludo Lefebvre announced plans for an upcoming LudoBites pop-up in NYC.

Beer, Beer and More Beer

While it’s still early to call it, 2011 could most likely be dubbed “the year of the beer garden.” In the last six months, LA gained Steingarten, Berlin Currywurst, BRU Haus and plans for a second Wurstkuche. Meanwhile in NY, Spritzenhaus, Hospoda, BeerParc and Eataly’s Birreria were among a rash of beer-centric eateries to open in 2011 thus far. DC saw the opening of a new biergarten called Standard, and plans for Bavarian Beer Garden are in the works. In Philly, Stephen Starr‘s Frankford Hall debuted in May. Beer-centric cuisine also came to the forefront as we’ve seen an increase of German, Austrian and Czech restaurant openings nationwide. Beer + food = so hot right now.

Interlopers/Chain Expansions

Restaurants, bakeries and more notably fast-casual chains have been spreading the love in 2011, jumping coasts and cities at an astonishing rate. In-N-Out Burger made the move to Texas, NY’s Papaya King opened in LA and Sprinkles Cupcakes and Smashburger came to NYC. Shake Shack announced plans to open in Philadelphia and recently opened a location in DC as did NY-based Luke’s Lobster. Everywhere you look, the power-move for chain owners and restaurateurs seems to be national expansion.

Food Trucks Going Brick-and-Mortar

While plenty of food trucks begin as spin-offs of popular eateries, in early 2011 we saw just the opposite – as many popular food trucks opened brick-and-mortar locations. In LA, ice cream sandwich truck Coolhaus announced plans for a permanent location, and in NY Big Gay Ice Cream Truck and Mexicue did the same. In DC, Sâuçá opened its first brick-and-mortar location just two weeks ago, and in March, Honest Tom’s Tacos in Philly announced plans for a permanent home.


Izakayas – charming sake-centric Japanese small-plates eateries – were a major trend in NYC a few years back and have recently exploded in other cities nationwide. In Chicago, space-aged Lure debuted in Chinatown in March, followed by Schaumburg’s Tokio Pub in May. San Francisco gained Hecho, Nojo and Chotto. Meanwhile, LA gained both M Izakaya and Aburiya Toranoko. And, combining TWO of our top trends into one, the Royal Sushi and Izakaya pop-up made waves in Philly when it opened in February. Impressive.