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D.C. Restaurant Experts Call Out the Most Exciting and Infuriating Food Trends of 2023

The good and the bad of dining out in D.C.

Velveeta teamed up with BLT Restaurant Group to release a cheesy martini this summer.

Following an Eater tradition, we asked a group of restaurant critics, journalists, bloggers, and industry pros to weigh in on the year in food. Their answers to an annual “Year in Eater” survey will be revealed in several posts this week. Next up, answering the question: what was the most exciting — or most infuriating — local restaurant trend of 2023?

Tom Sietsema, Washington Post food critic: Altogether now: restaurant service fees that are anything but transparent.

Ann Limpert, Washingtonian executive food editor and critic: Excited about: the return to moody, sexy lighting (eff Instagram). Over: flowers everywhere (drinks, the roast chicken, the wall, the ceiling); teeny $24 cocktails; and obviously, all the random fees that bloat your already high check.

Jessica Sidman, Washingtonian food editor: Like literally everyone else, I continue to be frustrated by lack of transparency around service fees and tipping expectations. I beg of you, restaurants, please write out tipping expectations very explicitly on the menu. Here’s an example: “Tipping is not expected, but you are welcome to do so if you wish.” Great! It’s that simple.

Missy Frederick, Eater cities director: Under infuriating: lack of transparency, whether it be confusing service fees, cocktail menus without prices on them, etc.

Amanda Gomez, DCist reporter: I loved the adventurous, savory martini trend. I hate that so few D.C. bars and restaurants partook. Establishments played it safe with the espresso martini. I would have loved to try, say, a burrata martini… I suppose I’ll have to settle for the Velveeta Veltini at BLT.

David Hagedorn, Arlington Magazine/Bethesda Magazine dining columnist: I wouldn’t say infuriating, but I think explosions of fake flowers and cursive neon signs with pithy sayings have had their moment.

Paola Velez, Author, owner of Smallorchids INC and co-founder of Bakers Against Racism: An exciting trend would have to be matchbooks, I love that they are making a comeback in restaurants!

Angie Duran, director of operations at Duo Group, VIN. VITALITÉ cofounder: For exciting trends, I know collaboration dinners have always been a thing, but it feels a lot easier to enjoy meals with multiple chefs now. Can someone run a report on this? Most recently, the Heremies & Soy Pinoy x Hiraya dinner really closed the year off for me. Every single dish left you saying, okay, that was the best dish, but then another one would arrive.

Rick Chessen, Rick Eats DC blogger: Pretentious house policies. Shōtō still calls to remind you that flip-flops and Crocs are not allowed (Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley was famously turned away for wearing Birks; maybe they’re afraid Mario Batali will show up next). Meanwhile, Kyojin, the new sushi place in Georgetown, declares on their website that “our experience is not kid-friendly” and that Thursday-Saturday those under the age of 21 must vacate the premises by 9 p.m. So you can vote, get married, and even die for your country, but Kyojin can’t abide a 20-year old ordering a California Roll after 9 p.m. on a Thursday night.