Octopus is listed as a popular menu item at seven of this season’s 50 Trending Tables. That’s 14 percent, and the same number of restaurants that point to chicken as a popular item, unless you also include chicken liver — a highlight of two menus — or the grilled chicken gelée that’s served with caviar and ember-roasted yam at Saison in San Francisco.

Many guests at trendy independent restaurants are looking for adventure this winter, but not all the time. Atlantans are going to BoccaLupo for the 20-yolk tagliatelle with Tuscan kale kimchi, but they’re also going to Bantam + Biddy for rotisserie chicken. Chicagoans are going to Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf for a good steak in a casual setting and to Embeya for rabbit leg with Thai chile and trumpet mushrooms.

Italian food, as always, is popular, but there’s no shortage of Mexican food on offer at crowd-pleasing restaurants such as the Painted Burro in a Boston suburb, La Fisheria in Houston and Mercado in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is also the home of Morocco-inspired Acabar and New Nordic hot spot Girasol.

The Iberian Peninsula is the source of inspiration at several well-liked restaurants this season, including Barcelona near Boston — that concept’s ninth location — La Vara in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Gitane in San Francisco.

Both Vietnamese and Indian street food are making their mark, as is Chinese fusion, which is the theme of Fat Bao in Houston, where foods ranging from whole soft-shell crab to braised pork are served in steamed buns.

Fat Bao is just one of several restaurants in the winter 2014 class of Trending Tables that focus on just one type of menu item. Three chicken restaurants made the list: Along with Bantam + Bidddy is another fast-casual concept, Bradley Ogden’s Funky Chicken in Houston, as well as Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken, an offshoot of a favorite haunt of New York City chefs.

American food trends don’t just start in the country’s largest cities, so this season we’ve added a list of National Tables: restaurants from across the country that have caught the attention of food and beverage enthusiasts far and wide. They include Niche, which fans say has introduced a new level of culinary excellence to St. Louis, Mo., and Etch in Nashville, where food connoisseurs and sports fans mingle. We also feature The Ordinary in Charleston, S.C., and Ava Gene’s in Portland, Ore. — two cities with well-established culinary bona fides whose restaurants deserve a closer look.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary