Christoffer Persson/Getty Images

8 California Food Trends

8 California Food Trends
Try the regional flavours, surprising ingredients, and classics with a twist that made our list of Golden State culinary trends

California has always been a trendsetter when it comes to the culinary arts—from its extraordinary array of ethnic fare to its cutting-edge vegetable-forward, local-leaning food habits started decades ago. And the Golden State continues to push the boundaries. Here are eight trends that still make California the place to eat. Insider’s tip: During the annual California Restaurant Month in January, many restaurants serving the latest culinary creations offer special deals for diners.

Cali-Baja style

Born in San Diego and Baja California, Cali-Baja marries the north-of-the-border emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients with south-of-the-border flavours like those of Baja-Med cuisine, a flavor profile that has taken on a life of its own. Much of the Cali-Baja rise in popularity can be attributed to chef Javier Plascencia, who melded his Mexican upbringing with his Southern California culinary education to create the distinct cooking style, which can be sampled at his Little Italy restaurant, Bracero Cocina de Raiz. Around San Diego, you might also find inventive dishes like Michelada-steamed mussels at Galaxy Taco or the Mexican Street Bowl—an in-season produce salad topped with spicy chili—at Puesto.

Evolving ramen

Japanese noodle soup continues to heat up in the Golden State. It’s the perfect meal: hearty and warming and rib-sticking good. Combine pork belly, noodles and a deep, flavourful broth in a bowl and it is no wonder ramen has created an entire West Coast state of soup slurpers. But the ramen joint has recently evolved: San Diego’s BeShock not only offers an array of addictive noodle soups but enough variations of sake to knock the socks off any rice wine connoisseur. And Oakland’s new Itani Ramen takes a spin around the regional ramen world of Japan, offering more than the usual noodles-and-pork-belly soup.

Poké with a spin

This sumptuous raw fish dish has spread from the Hawaiian Islands to California like a delicious tidal wave. Pronounced “poh-keh,” these cubes of raw fish are seasoned with garlic, soy sauce, and onion, and are sometimes sprinkled with rice or quinoa. Naturally, California has put its own spin on it, such as topping nachos with poké at Spin Fish in Los Angeles or adding plenty of gluten-free and low-carb options at Ohana Poke Co., which has locations in the Silverlake and Downtown sections of L.A.

Veggies as a main dish

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to take delight in all things fresh and veggie. At least not in California. Chefs in the state have recently shifted their menus to a more vegetable-forward approach, sometimes inverting the usual formula by making meat a side dish and vegetables the star of the plate. What started at legendary Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse in 1971 has fully grown up and is lauded at restaurants like Al’s Place in San Francisco, an acclaimed spot popular with carnivores and veggie lovers; first timers shouldn’t skip the hearty yellow eye bean stew to warm up on a chilly San Francisco night. Down south, San Diego’s Mess Hall is doing delicious things with vegetables, including the cauliflower and mushroom pie.

Matcha mania

A couple of years ago, the mention of matcha would have been met with blank stares. Today, it inspires tea-sipping glee. This Japanese green tea has become all the rage in California as awareness of its health benefits and perky deliciousness have spread across the state. Even matcha-themed cafes have popped up everywhere from Shuhari Matcha Café in Venice to Matcha Love, the retail shops in Costa Mesa and San Jose.

Filipino fare

The cuisine of the Philippines has long lagged behind other Southeast Asian nations, like Thailand and Vietnam, in popularity in California. But it’s quickly emerging as a new favourite. And why not? From the unctuous porky lechon to slow-cooked garlicky adobo, diners are finally discovering that Filipino fare is saliva-inducing delicious. Case in point: Check out RiceBar in Los Angeles, which focuses on heritage grains from the islands, or Gina’s Filipino Kape in Sacramento to find out for yourself.

Gastropubs go global

It’s not a coincidence that the craft brewery phenomenon and gastropubs, bars that serve inspired pub grub, both can be traced back to the early 1990s. And now that California is overflowing with its own great craft beer and the state is sprinkled with great gastropubs, it has never been a better time to visit your local spot. Especially because California has put its own organic spin on the gastropub. The new Dan Gordon’s in Palo Alto, for example, serves up fork-tender barbecue to go with its booze. Broken Spanish in Downtown L.A. is leading the way for the Mexican-accented gastropub movement, serving up Mexican craft brews with its menu of oxtail quesadillas and masa dumplings.

Döner Kebab craze

Southern California’s newest food trend comes from Turkey by way of Berlin. Meet the doner kebab. Think of it as a Middle Eastern version of the taco al pastor. Combine fresh Golden State-grown veggies, lamb or beef shaved off a rotating spit, and chili sauce and then stuff it all into piece of slightly toasted pita bread. The recently opened Berlins in Venice serves kebabs that overflow with Teutonic and Turkish goodness. While the SpireWorks, just a pita’s throw from the UCLA campus, is shaving off tender meat from a spit and serving it up to hungry college students and fans of Turkish cuisine. 

Pascal Shirley

California: Culinary

ALL DREAMS WELCOME

What's Hot Now
10 Top Farmers' Markets
California: Culinary

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini Ufos. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—...

Bracero Cocina de Raiz
Courtesy of Bracero Cocina

Bracero Cocina de Raiz

For an authentic sampling of Cali-Baja cuisine, head to this hotspot in San Diego’s Little Italy

One of the hottest reservations in San Diego is at Bracero Cocina de Raiz, where chef Javier Plascencia’s “Cali-Baja” cooking style has long had...

Henry’s Bullfrog Bees, based in the Central Valley town of Winters, rents beehives to farmers to increase pollination and naturally improve crop yields.
Check back daily for more great recipes

January is California Restaurant Month, and to celebrate the state’s amazing bounty we will be posting a new recipe every day throughout the entire month. ...

Recipe of the Day
Emma Mcintyre/Offset
SPECIAL FEATURE
Sample ultra-fresh, hyper-local, and downright amazing

When you come to California, come hungry. This is a state that seriously knows how to cook. Amazing and innovative chefs sprinkled with Michelin stars work with local farms and artisanal food...

Dining Hot Spots
George's at the Cove
SPECIAL FEATURE
Celebrate the best in Food, Wine, & Beer

A real-life cornucopia, California is one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions—for example, we’re by far the country’s top grower of avocados and strawberries. Unofficially, the...

Top Food, Beer, & Wine Festivals
Jason Riedy/Flickr
Whether it's destiny or fate or whatever, I don't think I could do a French Laundry anywhere else.
Thomas Keller
SPECIAL FEATURE
Elegant estates, relaxed wineries, urban tasting rooms

Elegant estates at the end of country roads lined with vineyards? Check. Low-key wineries housed in converted barns? Check again. Urban wine trails with hip in-town tasting rooms? Yup,...

Big Sur Dining
Thomas H. Story/ Sunset Publishing

Big Sur Dining

Where to eat, drink, and enjoy the view

To fuel your excursions in and around Big Sur, you’d be wise to begin at least one morning with strong coffee, local eggs, and house-made...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini Ufos. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

10 Top Farmers' Markets
Laura Flippen
SPECIAL FEATURE
Follow celebrated routes to iconic vineyards and tucked-away surprises

With more than 4,000 wineries statewide, California lets you sample award-winning wines almost anywhere you go. These classic and up-and-coming wine roads—some too packed with wineries to tackle...

Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776, was the first winery in California.
SPECIAL FEATURE
From north to south, beer is booming in California

With nearly 500 breweries statewide (and probably more by the time you read this), it’s safe to say that the craft beer movement isn’t just booming in California, it’s BOOMING—capital letters...

The Craft Beer Boom
Dave Lauridsen
SPECIAL FEATURE
Hands-on fun for all at farms, ranches, and fields statewide

Milk cows, wake up to roosters crowing, feast on farm-to-table foods served in the shade of a blooming orchard—California has a bounty of ways to have hands-on fun at a farm or...

Tai Power Seeff
Matt Molinari/Flickr

U-pick Farms

Bountiful harvest, family fun

Apples and berries abound for intrepid travellers willing to pick their own. These farms offer trees and patches for you to...

California's Heartland
Laura Flippen

Trip 3-5 days 10 stops

California's Heartland

Pick fresh produce, relax in cool gardens, and learn about local farming heritage
Sundial Bridge

This relaxed city has some secret gems that make a pleasing start to your trip. Start at Sundial Bridge, a functional work of art, the remarkable pedestrian bridge, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, spans the tree-lined, trout-filled Sacramento River in Redding’s Turtle...

Bakersfield

This rapidly growing city in the southern Central Valley is full of pleasant surprises. Once known for oil and agriculture, Bakersfield is morphing into a Central Valley hub for arts, culture, and sports, while still offering a glimpse of the region’s past. One fascinating historical site worth...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Kid-friendly fun zones, special kids' menus & amazing wine for the grownups

Sure wine country is romantic, but now it’s a surprisingly great destination for families too, with a growing number of vineyards trading in elegant tasting rooms for kid-friendly fun zones that...

John/ Flickr
I want to make wines that harmonize with food - wines that almost hug your tongue with gentleness.
Robert Mondavi
Dining and Food
Courtesy of Team San Jose/ Nemea Greek Tavern

Dining and Food

Karaoke with ice cream or indulge in a Japanese inspired hot dog

When it comes to food, San José goes global. Enjoy a kaleidoscope of ethnic restaurants, including Ethiopian fare at Zeni (try to sit at one of...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Enjoy fresh, local food brought directly to your table

Restaurants without walls, California's outdoor farm-to-table experiences bring the freshness of fields, orchards, and artisanal foods directly to your table. Chefs harvest bountiful...

Farm-to-Table Dining Experiences
Courtesy of Forage
Great L.A. Food Trucks
Courtesy of MasterChef Australia

Great L.A. Food Trucks

Tacos, grilled cheese, and health food all live in harmony on the streets of Los Angeles

From gourmet chefs experimenting with tacos to funky ice cream sandwiches, you might be surprised what you can find on the streets of L.A. Food...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Upgrade your preflight snack at these airport outposts of local favourites

In an era of cramped flights without meals—when even a free bag of peanuts feels like a luxury—one thing has improved about airline travel: Airport food...

Lonely Planet/Getty Images