6 dining trends to watch for in 2017

Watch for a growing number of east African restaurants in 2017.

Watch for a growing number of east African restaurants in 2017. Mecca Bos

Even the casual observer pracically needs a scorecard to keep track of everything that's going on aroud here, culinarily speaking. We have lots in the way of completely new-to-us categories, including our first poke restaurant (think mounds of raw fish), a bakery in a bar, even grab-and-go paella at the farmers market. 

But good ideas tend to mind-meld, so here are six trends to keep an eye on, and hopefully each one will transcend trend and remain here to stay. 

East African Eating
With growing immigrant populations, great food inevitably follows. Our Somali and Ethiopian communities have been growing exponentially, and if you have not yet gotten around to checking out the growing number of restaurants, there has never been a better time to do so. Alimama’s is our favorite place of the moment, and possibly one of the least visible. Their food truck can be seen roving when weather permits, and when it doesn’t, find their fast-casual counter space tucked away in the student center at Metro State University.

Their sambusas, big, tender, spicy, are among the best we’ve ever had, and when paired with their house made yogurt-tomato-jalapeño sauce, you’ll crave them long after the fact. Also, do not miss the chicken curry, long-simmered and homey as any of the world’s finest chicken stews, served over rice with a bonus sambusa. 

Meanwhile, Gehbre’s is serving traditional Ethiopian dals, tibs, and wats over fragrant injera in the very same neighborhood as longtime and beloved Fasika; SomTaste has taken over an old Bridgeman’s on Hiawatha serving homestyle Somali including Italian-influenced pasta dishes, curry goat, and ful mudammas, a heavily spiced fava bean dish.

And finally, do not forget that the venerable fast-casual AfroDeli, with one location in St. Paul, is moving its campus location to the East Bank, in the highly visible restaurant-heavy strip right off the light rail on University Avenue. Opens in January. 

BBQ has finally arrived in Minnesota
After years of only a smattering of spots across the metro, with varying degrees of quality, BBQ has finally landed in the TC with a vengeance. Gold standards Big Daddy’s and Ted Cook’s are still going strong, but now we can turn to so many others including Lowertown’s trendy take on contemporary southern, Handsome Hog; the charming back-of-a-convenience store stylings of Bark and the Bite; a citified version of Q Fanatic, which has been wowing Champlain for years; Jellybean and Julia’s homestyle cafe in Anoka; fast-casual sandwich spot Fat Chance in Brooklyn Park featuring house-smoked meats; and the St. Paul location of Revival, where the BBQ program is ramping up to be on par with the fried chicken.

What’s next, Twin Cities, underground real-deal Mexican-style barbacoa? Consider this a challenge (and a plea).

Bars with games and other stuff to do
If you’re the sort who can’t sit still and like, chat with your friends while holding a drink, you are in luck. Bowling and lawn darts just went the way of the retirement home, and your options for drinking and activity-ing are growing exponentially.

Punch Bowl Social is nothing short of an adult playground paradise of designer bowling alleys, private karaoke rooms, giant Scrabble, and tons more; Can Can Wonderland is an upcoming St. Paul artist-designed mini-golf course with live music and other art installations; the upcoming North Loop Upstairs Circus takes the wine and painting trend and makes it cool again with a menu of projects like jewelry making, knitting, and other shop-class-esque tchotckes to take home; Smaaash is the upcoming MOA arcade for the serious gamer, including go karts, sports simulation, and virtual reality.

All the places boast a serious emphasis on eating and drinking, so now you don’t have to pick between a delicious night out and indulging in a hobby. How civilized.

Plant-Based Dining
As it turns out, all of those incantations to eat your vegetables really meant something. More and more diners are getting the message that heavy meat- and starch-based meals are the polar opposite of what the body (and the environment, and the animals) wants and needs. Savvy chefs have their eyes trained on this trend too, and it’s gaining traction. Even if a place isn’t strictly vegetarian, it’s becoming increasingly easier to make the almighty vegetable the main event. Look to the Walker's new Esker Grove, Tori Ramen, Seward Coop Creamery, The Himalayan, Red Rabbit, and so many more new and coming soon restaurants that make getting your thrice-daily fix a cinch.

The Mexican Bistro
All together now: What do we love? Tacos! When do we want them? Always! Where do we want them? Everywhere!

For a long time, it was a choice: Did we want good Mexican food, or did we want to sit in a pretty room with a good cocktail? Choose no more, and have it all. Look to Jefe Urban Hacienda on St. Anthony Main, Pajarito in St. Paul, Uptown’s Tinto Cocina + Cantina, and the upcoming Pigeon Hole by the Lyn 65 team.  

For too long, dumplings have been another golden egg hunt around here. You’d have to track the evasive dim sum slinger, some impossible-to-find strip-mall wonder that supposedly sold soup dumplings, but then you’d get there, and, nope.

Dumplings are inherently satisfying to us because carb-meat-sauce all in a tiny one-bite delivery package. They’re one of our very favorite things to eat, and more people are finally devoting their energies to them. Go to the aptly named new Dumpling in Longfellow, where their iteration is divine, and wait for the upcoming Mrs. Dumpling in Uptown, where they’ll reportedly sell them late at night out of a window.

We’re also hotly (pun intended) anticipating the new Szechuan restaurant, Jun, that’s been set to open in the old Rojo space on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis since November. In addition to dumplings, they’re supposed to have hand-pulled Chinese noodles, which we want even more than dumplings, because you can’t get them around here, anywhere. (If you know where, tip us off).

Now there’s a trend that’s just begging to be tackled.