Gaze With Us Into the Food and Drinks Future Glass Ball for 2020

Thamee Washington DC
Thamee, Washington, D.C. | April Greer/Thrillist
Thamee, Washington, D.C. | April Greer/Thrillist

We’ve learned a lot covering food and drink these past several months -- holla, Best New Restaurants 2019 -- and the past several years. Collectively, among executive editor Nicole Taylor, writer-at-large Kevin Alexander, and myself, your humble senior food editor, we have about 30+ years of food media experience. That’s given us a certain perspective on the future of eating and drinking. And maybe we’re overthinking things here, but we see a funny thing happening. As one trend dies, it seems to get reborn as a new trend, reconfigured.

Think about it long enough and we have to ask ourselves, what’s even the point of writing these “future of food” type trend pieces?

I guess we can’t help wanting to gaze into a crystal ball and see what’s next, to peek into the shiny, wrapped-up package of tomorrow. But also, in an increasingly anxious age, we want to know where we’ve been and where we’re going. I can’t tell you how the presidential election will land, but let’s huddle around the fire and talk about food trends, shall we?

So with that in mind, and without getting too bogged down in heavy prognostication, and because it’s Christmas, and at Christmas you tell the truth, here’s our end-of-year future-talking trend piece, hot-take style. 

Just please, don’t take any of this as seriously as we do.

Burgers are dead: Long live burgers

Everyone wants to talk about the Impossible Burger and all the other new meatless burgers on the market. But here’s what we’ve noticed: meatless burgers have killed the beef burger if we’re talking about your average flat griddle patty. You’d better up your game if you want to keep up with the novelty of the big IB (why does that sound gross?). 

The answer? Witness the rebirth of thick, juicy gastropub burgers. (I’ll take mine locally grass-finished, please.) These burgers are here to remind you why you fell in love with fatty grilled ground beef in the first place. These burgers are soaring to the heights Impossible Burgers cannot reach. They are a dare, a provocation. Are they also a last stand? Keep eating and we’ll see.

Craft cocktails are dead: Long live craft cocktails

So the big craft cocktail revolution of the early 21st century has come and gone. Where do we go from here, now that there’s a fancy-ass cocktail bar on every corner? Well, craft cocktails aren’t going anywhere because we love them. But what we are seeing are smaller, intentionally focused bar programs. Less “something for everyone” and more “here’s our one specific thing.” And much of the time, that specific thing includes house-made potions in bright flavors made from fresh ingredients, incorporating tastes immigrant mixologists are bringing with them from home (more on that in a bit). 

Also, get ready to hear a lot about a bar’s “closed-loop” system. This is the practice of minimizing waste -- note the influence of punk anti-waste cocktail pop-up Trash Tiki and their Trash Collective.

Tiki is dead: long live Tiki 

Speaking of cocktails, we have to talk about Tiki. 

Nearly two decades ago I remember hanging out in an old-school Tiki bar in Albuquerque and feeling like I’d stumbled upon lost treasure. Years went by, and starting in the early 2010s serious cocktail bars started reclaiming fruity, rum-based drinks partly for the kitsch value, partly for the creative possibilities. (Also, they’re tasty?) 

But then we started having a conversation about where Tiki comes from, how it’s been appropriated, and how icky we feel about casually accessorizing our lives with another culture’s culinary heritage like it’s just another synthetic flower lei. 
Tiki was in danger of getting canceled. But then thoughtful bartenders like Shannon Mustipher come along. Mustipher brought history and context around rum-based drinks with this year’s Tiki: Recipes for Modern Tropical Cocktails, and we’ll never be the same.

Eem - Portland, Oregon | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

The Avengers are dead: Long live The Avengers

In an audio bit about Eem for our Best New Restaurants package, Kevin Alexander referred to the chef collaboration of Ninsom and Rassamee Ruaysunita, Colin Yoshimoto, Matt Vicedomini, and Eric Nelson as The Avengers of American dining. Here are five chefs throwing Thai curries, smoked meats, and island cocktails together in a way that you definitely can’t call fusion, which brings us to:

Fusion is dead: Long live American cuisine

That’s what we’re going with for now, until we figure out something snappier. But maybe it’s better that we don’t lump the efforts of several different restaurants around the country into one monolithic trend? 

As Erin Byers Murray put it in her essay on the new Southern food evolution, “the chefs and cooks capturing attention right now are taking their own culinary traditions and applying locally grown ingredients from around the South, while incorporating longtime Southern food traditions.” She talks about Chef Vivek Surti’s reinvention of his Gujarati family’s recipes. 

Increasingly, chefs are bringing their immigrant roots with them to the table and mingling those flavors and techniques with what’s local. And it’s not just happening in the South -- as we see at Eem, clear on the other side of the country. Or at Thamee in Washington, D.C., or in San Francisco, or any number of restaurants around the country. It’s food that looks like America, right now, as a nation of immigrants who are learning how to adapt to the traditions of their new home without leaving the treasures of where they came from behind. It’s additive rather than assimilative, and it’s what makes us strong.

Tailor Nashville Tennessee
Tailor - Nashville, Tennessee | Tim Robison/Thrillist

Mocktails are dead: Long live dry drinking

After the holidays we’re going to share with your our new list of the best non-alcoholic beers, and we’re excited about how amazing they are. We’re also going to be telling you about the latest wave of dry spirits hitting bars and store shelves. It’s a great time to be sober-curious. Say goodbye to that sad cranberry juice spritzer, we’ve got something way more fun to drink. Maybe call them All Day Cocktails? Just don’t call them mocktails. 

Tacos are dead: Long live tacos

It feels like tacos are everywhere these days. This is the year Netflix gave us the Taco Chronicles, a documentary on six iconic taco styles. There’s a cute neo taqueria on every corner, and every gastropub has their own take on the taco. Chefs are putting anything inside a corn tortilla and calling it a taco, and putting al pastor inside Indian chapati and calling it a taco; hell, Texas Monthly taco editor (which became a job this year) José Ralat declared a burrito a taco. Is anything not a taco? And is there anything new left to say about the taco?

Some would say no. I would say we’ve yet to fully exploit all that a taco has to offer, but that’s probably because I’ve noticed that outside of immigrant communities and big cities, those cute neo taquerias are still serving up flour tortillas (and frozen margaritas, goddammit). 

Meanwhile, companies like Masienda are bringing heritage corn to restaurants and tortillerias around the country (and also this miracle), and there’s a nixtamalization movement afoot that’s changing the tortilla game for the better. Let the hype die down a bit and let’s see where this leaves us, taco-wise.

Tamales, she whispered softly. We should be talking about tamales.

Craft breweries are dead: Long live vinyl

Well really, craft beer bars aren’t dead at all. We still love them. But like craft cocktail bars, they’re everywhere now, the revolution has happened, and we’re wondering what’s next. Vinyl is next, that’s what. We predict that in 2020 you’re going to spend hours and hours sipping excellent craft beers while a DJ spins wax. New record bars, like Tokyo Records, or BeirWax, or Public Records, are a spin on Japan’s kissaten, bars where patrons vibe to the bartender’s cocktails and vinyl picks on high-end equipment. 

BeirWax brings music nerds and beer nerds together in perfect harmony. Public Records picks their cocktails and vegan menu items as carefully as their rare records. Tokyo Records is an 18-seat restaurant that requires reservations for its Vinyl Juke Box seatings and Late Night DJ sessions.

Oaxaca is dead: Long live Oaxacans

Look, I love Mezcal, too. I served a signature Mezcal cocktail at my wedding a year and a half ago. But does anyone not know a not-even-remotely Latinx person who traveled to Oaxaca, had a spiritual awakening, stayed (or wanted to stay) to start a new life there, and is now referring to themselves as Mexican? And is now selling their version of a traditional Oaxacan food or drink in the most blatantly Columbusing way, and does that not make La Malinche scream in your ear every time you see it?

Here is my wish for the decade ahead. Let’s seek out Oaxacan foods from Oaxacans like Bricia Lopez and her new cookbook. Let’s look for Mezcal made by people with a family history with the place, like Yola Jimenez. Let’s always remember to center makers who are speaking from their own background, their own culinary heritage.

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Adriana Velez is a food editor at Thrillist.