Dining Trends in NYC: What We Love and What We Hate

When it comes to dining trends in NYC, there is an endless amount of new and popular culinary creations to try, but like the pace of the city itself, things change in the blink of an eye. Just when you realize something you like is abundant on the dining landscape, it’s gone.

View of New York City as seen from a helicopter
NYC is a city that changes constantly, but when it comes to current food trends, we’d like some to go away forever. Photo credit: Benjamín Gremler

The good news is that dining trends in NYC are often cyclical. In the middle of the 20th century, French restaurants were all the rage, which then gave way to Japanese and several other cuisines and today Gallic fare is prominent on the Big Apple dining landscape once again. And sometimes, a return is not always under the best circumstances.

In 1912, the first automatic vending machine shop—the automat—opened in New York City; In a decade, there was one on every corner, the trend exacerbated by the pandemic of 1918. Sound familiar? Automats have begun appearing again, the first one in the East Village followed by others.

Whether you love them or hate them, the universal law of impermanence means trends are going to come and go in the NYC dining world. But if you want to embrace (or reject) the way we are eating right now, here are some dining trends we love and hate—all with the help of some expert food writers and chefs.

LOVE:

Fiery foods

For adventurous eaters who get a rush from singeing their taste buds, there are now ample ways to sweat through a meal.

“I’m excited about all the restaurants serving food that’s as fiery as it’s supposed to be while courting serious diners, unapologetically amping up the heat, to steal a turn-of-phrase from the Dhamaka folks, letting timid palates know they’ll be better off taking their business elsewhere,” says Food writer Jay Cheshes.

white bowl filled with spicy soup and veggies
Some amazing restaurants are taking fiery dishes to the next level in NYC. Photo credit: emy

“It’s not just the Indians sticking to their hot chili guns in New York these days. Korean chefs are earning Michelin stars while piling on the kimchi, serious Thai restaurants, like Thai Diner and Ugly Baby and a slew of new spots I haven’t tried yet, seem to be enjoying watching their patrons sweat.”

Luxury bar bites

There once was a time when eating at the bar of a restaurant meant an inferior dining experience. Not anymore. Super luxury bar bites at upscale bars are totally in. And for wine and food writer, Baroness Sheri de Borchgrave, this is a very welcome dining trend in NYC. 

Two people sit at a bar behind a restaurant
Grabbing a quick bite to eat at the bar can be a complete gourmet experience. Photo credit: Luca Bravo

Case in point: The new cocktail bar Shinji’s (37 West 30 St), serves a foie gras sidecar. “The foie gras garnish comes on the side of the Sidecar martini sitting on a little wafer,” she said. “And a sushi chef rolls a small table to your table and assembles a hand roll filled with caviar and he tops it off with more caviar.”

Plant-based everything

Every generation looks back at the opinions and assumptions of our grandparents and cringes. “I can’t believe they thought that,” they say. “That’s so uncivilized.”

Likely, future generations will look back at early 21st-century humans and condemn us for slaughtering and eating so many animals. And so it’s no surprise that much of the world is moving to more of a plant-based diet.

bowls of vegetarian food
After decades of being mocked, vegetarian restaurants are now stepping up their game with Michelin star-deserving plates. Photo credit: Ella Olsen

Vegetarianism is no longer for crystal-rubbing hippies and Deadheads. It’s in vogue and it’s here to stay (and grow, like a wild, delicious plant). The fact that the newly minted vegan eatery Eleven Madison Park retained its three Michelin stars this year and that lauded vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy finally got a Michelin star, is testament to this.

Perennial small plates

Tapas hit the United States in a big way about 15 or so years ago and then gave way to other dining trends. But the small plates, whether Spanish or another cuisine, are more popular than ever.

Three glasses of red wine on a table among several small tapas-style dishes.
Sharing small plates is a wonderful way to try new dishes with friends.

“I’ve always loved tapas, both the flavors of Spanish food and the fun of trying all kinds of things in one meal,” said food and travel writer Paola Singer, “so I love that small plates are now served in so many restaurants.”

Seafood towers

“I love: seafood towers, the ultimate in abundance,” said Kathleen Squires, a food columnist for the Wall Street Journal. “They are light and luxurious at the same time, making any meal feel like a celebration. I love when chefs get creative with them and include extras like ceviche, caviar and fish pates.”

Tinned fish

“I’m very much enjoying the tinned fish trend,” says food writer Gabriella Gershenson, editor at Wirecutter and co-author of Love Japan.

tinned food next to bowl
Tinned foods are definitely in style right now. Photo credit: Amelia Crook

“In general, I love any trend that elevates food that was previously considered unsexy. Sardines, razor clams, sprats, I’m here for them all—or at least most of them. All you need is some butter, toast, and a spritz of lemon and you have a meal.” She adds: “And it has us eating the right kind of fish. So many tinned varieties are sustainable and low on the food chain.”

Want to try some of New York’s most amazing restaurants? From discovering the best foodie haunts in Greenwich Village to checking out the historic eateries in the Lower East Side, our local tour guides will show you the best of NYC’s food scene.

HATE:

Ordering all at once

When I’m dining with a few or more friends and we figure out a selection of starters to order first, so that we can nurse our wine or cocktails and peruse the menu, it’s a record scratch across the heavens on my dining joy when the server utters this sentence: “Chef prefers the table order everything at once.”

This NYC dining trends has grown since the pandemic. It sends the wrong message to the diner, and right at the beginning of the meal: that while we love having you as a guest, we only love it so much because we can’t get you out of here soon enough so that we can tell the next table that they shouldn’t plan on lingering too long, either. Before you know it, they’re bringing you the check (before you asked) and they’re seating the next party at your table.

Instagram as a restaurant website

If the reason for a restaurant website is to help the diner to, say, browse the menu ahead of time, learn the opening hours, and perhaps read a bit more about the concept of the restaurant, then the restaurant trend of new restaurants opting to only have an Instagram page (instead of an actual website with useful information on it) is a complete fail, as useful as trying to milk a pig.

The persistence of QR codes

The heavy use of QR codes in replace of menus during the pandemic was understandable.

table with qr menu stand and plant
You can present them as pretty as you want, but we are sick of QR codes as menus. Photo credit:
Marco Verch

But now that we’re at the tail end of the said pandemic (fingers crossed and sanitized), can we now please go back to paper menus again? The persistence of QR coded menus in restaurants should end. Pretty please.

Honey on pizza

“I hate the honey on pizza trend,” said Kathleen Squires, a food columnist for the Wall Street Journal “It’s the biggest blasphemy put on pizza since pineapple. Pizza should not be sweet. Spicy, salty, tangy–sure. Sweet, just no.”

slice of pizza with veggies and honey
Let’s be honest, pizza on honey is definitely a trend that needs to die. Photo credit: Pablo Macedo

Too much wellness

Like “Mindfulness,” these days you can’t click on a link without seeing the word “wellness.” Chef Alex Raij, who is the co-owner and co-chef of a handful of great restaurants in New York City, including La Vara,  Txichito, and Saint Julivert Fisherie, says, “I’m not much for trends, but I’m a little turned off by the cloaking of everything in wellness.”

She adds: “There is this kind of suggestion of purity around it that sort of undermines the pursuit of flavor. It feels more concerned with packaging and image and linking it to cosmetics and ‘self care’ in ways that require an unrealistic investment of time and money. It just feels like an extension of the cosmetic industry.”

Chasing down the latest dining trends in NYC is a thrilling adventure for any food lover, but don’t forget to try and unravel some of NYC’s many mysteries along the way. Check out our tips for finding The Best Secret Places in NYC.