Outside Insights | October 2017 | By Guest Author

7 Fast Casual Trends Taking Off in NYC

These concepts are trending and showing no signs of slowing down.
The poké trend continues to gain steam. flickr: Dale Cruse
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Predicting food trends has become a national pastime for food critics in recent years. America is usually the place where interesting nascent food trends from around the world are snapped up and tried on a massive scale.

Multicultural cities like San Francisco and New York City are often the settings for the takeoff of concepts that subsequently become popular around the world. From hamburgers to burritos to coffee bars, the U.S. food scene has produced most of the biggest developments in fast casual food concepts over the past 100 years.

Perhaps nowhere is this more relevant than in New York City, whether it’s bagels or sushi. With over 70 Michelin starred restaurants, as well as every nationality represented among its eight million inhabitants, it is the ideal testing ground for new concepts. Here are some of the most notable fast-casual (average order of around $12) concepts trending in NYC right now.

A Lasting Trend: Poké

Poké is Hawaiian fare that usually takes the form of raw fish, mixed in a wonderfully interesting and tasty salad, all served in a bowl. It is not surprising to see how it has become so popular; it combines elements of healthy eating with greens and seaweed served fresh, along with healthy meats like tuna or even beef, as well as incorporating the popularity of sushi.

It has been flying under the radar nationally but has been popular in California for many years. The delicious dish recently received some terrific publicity and instantly became a trend in San Francisco, quickly spreading all over the country and, of course, to New York. Poke looks like a food trend that will last, with numerous venues all over the city getting great reviews.

Pattern of Trends on the Rise: Meat, Eggs, and Broth

The trend toward ancestral/paleo/traditional/primal foods is growing. One of the more intriguing foods is bone broth. Bone broth and its healing properties are well-known, which has led to a rise in its popularity and availability (even with dedicated bone broth bars in many places).

Fast casual customers are also becoming very particular about the meat they eat, including whether it was grass-fed, how it was prepared and what it looks like. This idea has brought about an interesting trend with butcher shop-diner combos, where you can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into preparing a burger or flank steak. At Salvation Burger, you can get a great cut of meat straight from the butcher’s knife.

Aside from restaurants specifically catering to meat fans, the popularity of eggs as an addition has risen. The huge egg-on-top trend is characterized as yolk porn. Whether it’s a flank steak sandwich or a burrito bowl, topping off a delicious item with a perfectly cooked egg oozing with a runny yolk is an easy way to add taste and substance to a menu option. Plus, the visual presentation of a cloud egg makes a sensational Instagram picture.

New Takes on Old Favorites: Indian (Chipotle Style) and Chinese (Bing)

These two trends put new spins on what customers expect from standard cuisines. First, take the new wave of Indian restaurants gaining popularity. Spicy foods are popular and here to stay.

While many in the U.S. associate Indian food with heavy, involved meals more appropriate for a sit-down occasion, it is a perfect fast casual food. Indian cuisine is not only very old but, since India has 1.3 billion people, there exists a range of regional variations.

Entrepreneurs have searched for interesting variations and added them to new fast casual concepts, keeping with the tastes of today. Think chicken tikka poutine or giant samosas stuffed with biryani and egg.

The same is true for the other major world cuisine: Chinese food. New light meal concepts have begun to take shape. For example, the Bing sandwich, somewhat like the Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich, is gaining popularity in NYC.

Bing, or Jianbing, is commonly a lunch or brunch pancake sandwich, but its versatility lends itself to being served throughout the day. Light crepe-style pancakes with fillings like duck or beef with bean or vinegar condiments added have really taken off across NYC, and are rising in popularity in California, too.

For Dessert: Soft Serve Ice-Cream

Several eateries across NYC are experimenting with fancy, decadent soft serve ice cream desserts. Ruimilk Soft Icecream shop in Queens tops their soft serve with whimsical towers of colorful cotton candy. The combination of the cold, rich soft serve and the airy cotton candy is truly decadent.

Plant-Based Protein

Plant-based protein is on the rise and is perfect for those who follow a strict vegan diet. Companies like Beyond Burger and New Wave Foods get their proteins very close to real protein. In fact, Beyond Burger recently made headlines because they include beets in their ingredients to make their burgers bleed. Plant-based proteins are already mainstream in NYC, so expect them to become a national trend soon.

Bowled Over by Bowls

Another hot trend in 2017 is food in a bowl. Whether it is breakfast, salad or grains, the food in a bowl concept has really taken off. DIY power bowls are all the rage for busy New Yorkers, and the Sweetgrain chain is a bowl haven with multiple locations in New York, as well as around the nation.

Street Food Is Here to Stay

Street food has exploded in recent years due to the on-the-go lifestyles we lead. The growing popularity of night markets, food halls and street festivals ensures our taste buds will continue to be exposed tonew experiences from nunchas to langosand more. 

What This Means for Fast Casual Dining

The concepts trending in NYC now are capitalizing on the growing popularity of fast casual dining, which fits today’s lifestyles. Fast casual reflects a greater interest in healthy eating. Primal and veg-heavy diets have become mainstream in recent years, and this is impacting what people look for when dining out even in their on-the-go portable food.

Rich Lansdale has been in the foodservice Industry for two decades. From dishwasher to Commerical Equipment Consultant, he has done it all. It’s those years in the business that make writing for Sharptek Supply and several other sites so enjoyable.