1. We’ll go from Groupon to Youpon. Online deals are here to stay, but they’re about to get more personal. Diners get to know local chefs through Twitter and Facebook, and those same means of social media are going to become the most prominent deal sources. Chef Celina Tio has long posted notice of last-minute table openings on Twitter, and young chefs are too plugged in to their smartphones not to follow her lead. Alongside all the Groupon-like offers that clutter inboxes today will be more personalized marketing efforts from the restaurateurs who understand our habits.
2. The food-truck herd will thin. It’s going to be a harsh winter for some food-truck proprietors in Kansas City. Like, first-winter-of-Pilgrims-in-Plymouth harsh. The mobile-kitchen business is seasonal, and winter around here is an unforgiving time. Food trucks, similar to brick-and-mortar restaurants, can be cash-intensive ventures, and the next few months are more likely to be in the red than the black. The novelty of a food cart is still there, but the shine might be fading for some diners — even Aramark has a Melt Mobile. Eking out a living at $6 a sandwich or $3 a taco is hard. The natives may be friendly, but their loyalty is still untested.
3. You will eat a vegetarian dish and forget you love meat. A decade ago, when my brother-in-law’s vegetarian girlfriend was in town, she was eating steamed vegetables and limp pasta. Today, she has a choice of three vegan restaurants and one vegan delivery service, Conveniently Natural. Chefs like Brian Aaron, of Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen, have begun to view requests to transform meat-laden dishes into veggie-forward fare as welcome culinary challenges. Wine-pairing meals have started to include vegetarian lineups, and in the summer, you can’t throw a fork without hitting an heirloom-tomato dinner. Whether it’s morel season or next summer, you’ll find yourself singing the praises of cashew ice cream at Füd or the fried green tomatoes at Succotash.
4. Kansas will keep getting sister restaurants from KCMO. Kansas can’t stop poaching pizza places from Missouri. Pizza 51 opened in Fairway not long ago, and PizzaBella plans to open a satellite by next summer in the under-construction space across from Mission Farms. It’s not going to stop there. Native 34, the new concept in the works from Bluestem’s Colby and Megan Garrelts, will likely end up on the other side of State Line Road, and the street-taco craze hasn’t yet hit Leawood. A few shops are looking at making the move the other way — Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott might just set up a permanent home on the Plaza after its holiday shop closes — but the move west will always be alluring. Restaurateurs don’t want to cannibalize their own business in Kansas City with a second location in the metro, but they recognize that Johnson County diners aren’t always willing to drive into the 816.
5. More pop-ups are on the way. We’re a culture built on exclusives — it’s what we crave. Chef Alex Pope and Jenny Vergara teamed up twice for Vagabond, a weeklong restaurant with only two seatings a night. Barrio, the unrealized taco concept from Dan Doty and the late John McClure, held a handful of successful one-offs at bars, including the Twin City Tavern. The Traveling Cocktail Club, a series of guest bartending stops that started during Manifesto’s hiatus, should appear around town again next spring. The Farm to Table Kitchen, ostensibly a restaurant incubator in the City Market, also makes it possible for those without a commissary to launch a food business. Set your GPS for lunch.
6. Hide your husbands — more celebrity chefs are coming to town. The Food Network’s Aaron Sanchez opened Mestizo in Park Place last month, planting the flag for television chefs. With Kansas City’s rising national culinary profile, we suddenly seem like a city ripe for celebrity-chef takeover. We don’t have baggage like San Francisco — a notoriously hard city for an outside chef to crack — but we do have a bounty of local produce and meat at a time when the farm-to-table movement is still on the ascent. Congratulations, Stretch — this is the year that Guy Fieri takes your friendship to the next level.
7. Kansas City will get another beer garden. We are a city of drinkers. But for a long while, outdoor drinking meant the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot or our own porch. Beer gardens have been popping up around town the past several years, courtesy of the Westside Local and the 75th Street Brewery’s Alley. Come spring, you can expect another outdoor watering hole with picnic tables and hipsters ready to tweet about it.
8. Coffee nerds are the new beer geeks. Beer devotees are well-entrenched by now, but we’re just starting to scratch the surface of local coffee nerdiness. The Caffeine Crawl — a bus tour of a dozen local coffee shops in a single afternoon — sold out this fall, and the opening of micro-roaster Oddly Correct offers further proof that java junkies are eager to learn more about the almighty cup of joe. Whether it’s the gleaming Parisi Café in Union Station or the beans introduced by the Roasterie specifically for iced coffee, coffee is set to enjoy unprecedented cachet.
9. The deli makes a comeback. The New York Delicatessen and Pickerman’s are just two of the names in a long line of shuttered delis. But hope is on the horizon in Columbus Park, where three sandwich sanctuaries thrive within a five-block radius (La Sala, Pandolfi’s Deli and Happy Gillis). Meanwhile, a trio of talented chefs (Local Pig's Alex Pope, Michael Beard, Howard Hanna) are serious about butchering, showing a passion with all the makings of a renaissance.
10. The noodle-bar trend finally arrives in Kansas City. With the opening of Drunken Fish, KC now has sushi joints at every volume and pricing level. What we don’t have is a variety of noodle shops slinging ramen, udon and soba. The Westport Street Fare, a food truck operated by Richard Wiles and Aaron Confessori that opened last month, serves a ramen special. Pho Hoa on Independence Avenue is continuing the slowly growing roster of places in the metro where Vietnamese soup is served. And Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop has been a staple of the Crossroads District since it opened more than 14 years ago. But we’re due for a true Japanese noodle bar. If bubble tea can work here, Kansas City is poised for a menu of nothing but rice and noodle dishes.