Welcome to the Year in Eater 2023 — an annual tradition that looks back at the highs, lows, and in-betweens of the San Francisco Bay Area’s restaurant scene. Today, the Bay Area’s top food writers, editors, reporters, and other industry experts share the trends they’ve got their eyes on as we enter 2024.
Josh Decolongon, Audience Engagement Producer (and host of No Crumbs), KQED Food: This didn’t start in 2023, but I’m excited for the accelerating trend of lighter, fresher, lower-ABV cocktails that give me just as much — if not more — excitement than their more heavy-handed cousins.
Intu-on Kornnawong, chef and partner at Jo’s Modern Thai: AI phone answering has been impactful for us at Jo’s. It has helped answer a lot of customers’ questions, especially at high times when we aren’t able to pick up the phone. I hope this service continues to improve as we get more data and feedback.
Paolo Bicchieri, Eater SF reporter: The decentralization of coffee trends and protocols throughout various communities — often descendants of coffee-producing countries and cultures — needs to continue into 2024 and beyond. These practices certainly didn’t debut in 2023, but further effort is coming through the entire supply chain — from bean to cup — that better capture value for those who get the drink to caffeine-deprived sleepyheads across the global north. Take a look at Pachamama in Sacramento, Kaveri in Berkeley, and Cxffeeblack in Memphis for a sense of what “fourth wave” and the future might look like.
Andrew Calisterio, photographer based in Sacramento: I’ve been noticing espresso martini machines and highball machines that expedite service a lot faster and keep cocktails consistent, but they’re using really great ingredients.
Astrid Kane, senior editor at the San Francisco Standard: I feel like mocktails just keep getting better and better. At least one or two well-thought-out NA drinks are practically mandatory on menus now. It’s awesome for people in recovery to have options, and they’re a great way for booze bags like me to stick to our periodic party breaks without becoming a hermit or getting marooned on bitters-and-soda island. Keep it up!
I’d love more maximalist interiors, too. Subway tiles and Edison bulbs went away but there’s still too much reclaimed wood, mid-mod sterility, and design by committee. Take a risk!
Lauren Saria, Eater SF editor: I think the increased transparency we’ve seen about the costs associated with running a restaurant and how they impact customers has been a breath of fresh air. While a sizable segment of today’s dining public is more aware of what goes into opening and running a restaurant, there are still so many hidden costs diners aren’t often aware of — and that’s fine, most of the time. But when it comes time to increase prices or shorten a menu to make the numbers work, I appreciate that more business owners and chefs seem willing to pull back the curtain.
Madeline Wells, senior food reporter at SFGATE: At my birthday dinner at Daytrip this year, I had a ceviche dish with Pop Rocks. Pop Rocks! It was such an unexpected tingly sensation to find in a raw fish dish, and I loved it. Bonus: it made me feel like a little kid again. More of this, please.
Kevin Alexander, author of Burn The Ice: The American Culinary Revolution and Its End: I think chefs are starting to come back around to the idea that they don’t have to be so rigid about the types of food they’re cooking. I think we went through a tough time in the last five years where folks were all of a sudden more engaged with asking who could and couldn’t cook certain foods rather than whether they were delicious and worked as a concept, and that sort of game always stifles culinary innovation. Of course, you don’t want it to go back to the shark-jumping late '90s style of fusion cuisine, but just understanding that the culinary world works best when it's collaborative is usually a good thing. And you know what’s not collaborative? Tinned fish.
Elena Kadvany, San Francisco Chronicle food reporter: Apparently bars all over the country are stretching our perceptions of what a martini can be. I’m itching for some wild versions in the Bay Area.
Dianne de Guzman, Eater SF deputy editor: What I’ve really become thrilled about is the trend of restaurant collabs. And while Eater’s story on the phenomenon does paint a picture about some of the issues around it — namely restaurants reaching a saturation point with collabs and perhaps inspiring customer fatigue — what really grabs me is the cooperation and opportunity that a collab inspires along with a creative, unique meal. While these limited-run dinners do drudge up that hated term FOMO, it’s nice to have some plans on the calendar with out-of-town restaurants to see what their chefs (and ours) can drum up in just a few nights outside of their own kitchens.