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Denver food trends for 2023 include Boba tea, chaos cooking,

Food trends have exploded on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram over the past few years, making people do things like visit three different grocery stores for seaweed chips just to complete the viral salmon bowl in 2021.

It’s not like these trends are new discoveries. For the most part, they’re meals or dishes that have been around for ages, but maybe gained recently because of influences like social media, fashion, health fads or pop culture. Sometimes they’re born in a chef’s kitchen before trickling into the mainstream, and other times, they start online before finding themselves on restaurant menus.

Here are 9 food trends that look to be picking up their pace in 2023.

Tinned fish

Tinned fish is having a moment. And no, we’re not talking about Chicken of the Sea. Although tinned fish, like anchovies, sardines and smoked trout, is a staple in many countries around the world, social media has recently pushed the prettily packaged delicacies to new heights in the U.S. The latest TikTok trend, for instance, has created the monster that is “tinned fish date nights,” where couples lay out varieties of fancy conservas like charcuterie boards.

To get your fix in Denver, head to Cart-Driver, which has been serving the canned delicacy since it opened nearly nine years ago. The pizza joint offers a variety of tinned seafood, like Fishwife’s smoked trout, salmon or tuna, served with fresh-out-of-the-woodfired-oven piada, black olive butter, sambal pepper relish and lemon at market price.

“People will come for dinner and take a pile of tinned fish home because they recognize the brands we carry,” said Cart-Driver RiNo’s general manager Becky Taussig.

Lasagna soup

Lasagna soup, which is basically deconstructed lasagna, was another viral dish last year. It’s a one-pot recipe that has all your favorite flavors of lasagna without all the cleanup.

The cozy, creamy soup is perfect for chilly days in Denver. It’s made with broken lasagna noodles, hot sausage, onions, garlic, tomato paste and sauce, chicken stock and other seasonings and topped with ricotta cheese. You can make it at home using the viral recipe, take a page from Colorado’s own Tieghan Gerard of Half Baked Harvest, or grab your own bowl at Salt butcher shop and deli in Castle Rock.

Bubble tea

Bubble tea has been a staple in Asia since the ‘80s, but its popularity is exploding stateside. The often technicolored Taiwanese drink is made with a hot or cold tea base combined with milk, fruit or fruit juices  and finished with “bubbles” or “bobas” — soft and chewy tapioca pearls that sit at the bottom. Boba is typically served in clear, plastic cups with wide straws to suck up the bubbles.

The global bubble tea market is expected to reach more than $4.5 billion by 2026, according to industry insights, and Denver is catching on. Some recent additions include Malaysian-based Daboba’s first location in downtown Denver that opened in December, Gong cha’s first Colorado spot in Glendale that opened in November, and Boba Touch on East Colfax Avenue.

“I think that people are becoming better educated and more aware of Asian cuisine, whether it’s boba or housemade noodles, and it’s a trend that is coming around,” said Stephanie Richter, Daboba’s Colorado franchise owner. “I feel like Denver is five years behind California, and boba exploded in California more than five years ago, and that trend is just now hitting Denver.”

Butter boards

We’ve all seen the viral butter board trend, where people slather a generous portion of butter on a cutting board and top it with herbs, spices and edible flowers. Goed Zuur, though, was way ahead, offering decadent butter boards since it opened in 2017. The beer bar and restaurant offers four varieties of butter on its board. Right now, they are: an English goat butter, Italian buffalo butter, Vermont cultured butter and a local Colorado butter, served with a homemade baguette.

“We put butter boards on our menu in the first place because they’re a unique and true expression of different kinds of milk,” said general manager Rachel Smith.

Are other Colorado restaurants getting ready to follow suit en masse? We’ll find out in 2023.

Korean culture and cuisine

Korean culture and cuisine is everywhere these days, thanks partly to the rise of K-pop. Foodies and restaurateurs have added bulgogi, umami and bibimbap to their dictionaries, while Korean barbecue is forcing people to put away their phones and enjoy a group dining experience.

The newest star on the scene, though, is Korean fried chicken. Not only have Denver’s established chicken spots gained popularity, but the city is attracting big overseas chains as well, including Bonchon and bb.q Chicken, both popular with diners of all kinds.

JW Lee, owner of Seoul Hospitality Group, began his career as a sushi chef, so his first concepts were sushi spots like Wasabi Sushi Bar, but he turned toward his Korean heritage as the popularity of its food picked up, opening Seoul Korean BBQ & HotPot in Aurora and three Mono Mono Korean Fried Chicken restaurants (including one with its own brewery).

“I really think K-pop is one of the ways that’s exposed Korean culture the most,” said Seoul Hospitality Group vice president Rose Lee. “Even though I’m Korean, I don’t know much about BTS or younger generation bands, but it seems that more and more of the younger-generation K-pop fans want to hold their events at our restaurants.”

Chaos cooking

Chaos cooking is a mashup of global flavors and shared experiences, or what restaurant blog Eater would describe as “part neo-fusion, part middle finger.” The fusion cuisine has made waves over the past years with fads like sushi or pho burritos, and once again, restaurateurs are picking up on the trend that breaks the traditional mold of cooking.

Julia Rivera, who owns Mukja food truck with her family in Denver, blends her Korean heritage with her husband’s Mexican descent through her cooking. Mukja opened in 2020 and can often be found at Park Hill’s Station 26 Brewing Co. or Long Table Brewhouse serving items like an elote Korean cheese dog, wonton nachos, a crab rangoon cheese dog and curry poutine.

“We decided to create all the things that we love to eat, and put our Korean twist on it,” Rivera said. “We went from selling 10 cheese dogs in a month to thousands overnight.”

Omakase and experiential dinners

After being trapped inside and forced to order takeout during the pandemic, diners are ready to ditch their cabin fever and spend big bucks on a night out. And golf simulator bars are only the start for the experiential restaurant scene.

Omakase restaurants, typically a Japanese restaurant where the chef chooses your meal, have been frequently popping up around Denver in the past couple of years. Koko Ni, which opened its first brick-and-mortar location in RiNo in October, offers a 10-course meal with a focus on American sustainable seafood for $125 per person. And Uchi, known for its signature chef’s tasting menu, is getting ready to expand its brand with the opening of uchiko in Cherry Creek.

For more of an experiential night out, keep an eye out for The Guest, a reservation-only dinner series with a rotating multi-course menu that’s set to open in downtown Denver this year in an undisclosed location, which is all part of the fun. Or head to Howl at the Moon’s new piano bar space opening this year in the Ballpark neighborhood for dinner and a show.

Decline of Tex-Mex and Colorado-Mex

There was a time in Denver when Tex-Mex or Colorado-Mex restaurants were opening on every corner. But as more diners have been exposed to the diverse and traditional dishes and cuisines from different parts of Mexico, the Americanized version has been falling out of favor.

Chef Jose Avila draws on flavors from his childhood in Mexico City at his Ballpark restaurant, La Diabla, offering dishes like pozole and huachinango, or red snapper. And Chef Dana Rodriguez is also diving into her time in Mexico City, serving family recipes at her LoHi restaurant Cantina Loca, such as pollo adobado.

Service charge fees

Service charge fees started popping up on restaurant tabs during the pandemic when restaurateurs were struggling to stay afloat amidst temporary closures and rising labor and supply costs. Even though the closures have subsided for the time being, labor costs have continued to rise with minimum wage increasing in the New Year to $17.29, while supply costs have yet to go down. The nationwide egg shortage alone has increased egg costs by 50 percent.

In turn, guests should prepare for higher tabs throughout the year. Restaurants like Noisette in LoHi have already added a 4 percent fee to keep up with their bottom line, and Bonanno Concepts has had a “Creating Happy People” fee at each of its restaurants since the pandemic. You may not always get a heads up before you see the check, however. Some places, like Bierstadt Lagerhaus, have even replaced tipping in favor of an automatic service fee.

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