5 DC Food Trends to Expect in 2019

Food halls, hot pot, vegetables, and more

Japanese pop-up Fuyu takes over Whaley's for winter with shabu-shabu (above). Photograph courtesy of Whaley's.

Poke, cacio e pepe everything, and fancy roast chickens? So 2018. A new slate of trends are on their way in this year. Here are five to watch:

Food hall mania

You think there are already a lot of food halls? Just wait. At least half a dozen more in the works. One of the biggest, Quarter Market in Ballston, will include over 20 restaurants and vendors, including an offshoot of Timber Pizza and a sandwich spot from Gravitas chef Matt Baker. Benning Market will bring as many as ten food stalls to a dining desert east of the Anacostia River. But the one we’re most excited for? A second, larger outpost of Annandale’s the Block in North Bethesda, which will have an Asian street market vibe.

As the market for food halls becomes more crowded, the big test will be whether they can bring in cool new concepts and up-and-coming talent, or whether they’ll rely on chains (local or not). We fear the saturation could land many food halls back in mall food court territory (there’s a difference).

Reservations are back

For a while, it seemed all the hippest restaurants in DC required you to stand in line for an hour or more to get in. But a lot of those places have been loosening their no-reservations policies lately. Rose’s Luxury, for example, now offers same day reservations for seats that don’t get filled up by those in line. (Gift cards also come with reservations.) And Himitsu is now taking reservations seven days a week for its kitchen-facing counter. Going forward, the trend seems to be moving toward more flexibility for diners who prefer to book in advance.

Tabletop cooking 

Tableside presentations have been trendy for a while. What’s next? Cooking at the table—with a heavy emphasis on Asian cuisines. Whaley’s in Navy Yard has turned into a Japanese shabu-shabu restaurant for the winter, and Maketto chef Erik Bruner-Yang recently debuted a hot pot pop-up inside Impala Cantina on H Street. The latter could end up sticking around longer depending on its popularity.

Meanwhile, DC will get its first Korean barbecue restaurant with tabletop grills this year from the owner of Duke’s Grocery. (Meokja Meokja is a KBBQ newcomer worth checking out in the burbs.) And Anju, a Korean pub from the Chiko team, will offer groups jeongol (a Korean-style hot pot) bubbling from tabletop burner in its upstairs dining room.

Lots and lots of vegetables

If there’s one thing we’ve heard nearly across the board from chefs with 2019 debuts, it’s that they want to incorporate plenty of vegetable plates (that meat-eaters will love too) on their menus. A couple places to keep an eye on: Former Arroz and Requin chef Michael Rafidi is working with a Maryland farmer to grow produce specifically for Albi, his Middle Eastern restaurant coming to Navy Yard. Meanwhile, Oyster Oyster—a sustainability-minded joint combining the talents of chef Rob Rubba, sommelier Max Kuller, and bartender Adam Bernbach—will forgo meat altogether (with the exception of oysters). Expect to hear the phrase “vegetable cookery” a lot more.

Greenery-filled dining rooms

Thank goodness the “industrial chic” trend is finally dying. If we never see another dining room with concrete, reclaimed wood, and Edison light bulbs, we’ll be just fine. Instead, restaurants tend to be going for a more verdant vibe by filling their spaces with flowers, succulents, and other greenery. (Emilie’s, the forthcoming Capitol Hill destination from Himitsu chef Kevin Tien, is among the new spots going for  garden decor.) The hitch? Plants need to be cared for and watered, and we hope decaying yellow leaves won’t be a trend come 2020.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.