Bite Ahead 

What's fresh on arrival in Richmond bars and restaurants.

click to enlarge Lamb kebab at Bistro 27. - ASH DANIEL

1. Street food makes it to dinner menus — not small plates.

Small plates hit Richmond menus hard last year to mixed reviews. Some diners liked the two-bite portions while others resented sharing and nibbling on big tickets. The solution that's trending in cities such as Savannah, Ga., and Chicago is restaurants' adding street food to their menus. What's the difference? Street food tends to have larger portions, is easy to eat and not meant for sharing. Most comes from countries where more people are walking to meals rather than driving.

Some local examples:

Mexican corn on the cob at the Continental Westhampton

Fried chickpea fritters at Deco

Dan Dan noodles at Peter Chang

Bento dogs at A2

Empanadillas and lamb kebab at Bistro 27

Veggie burger sliders at Rowland

Tortilla espanol at Secco

Risotto balls at Eat Oregon Hill

Udon noodle bowl at Parkside Cafe

Guajillo duck confit tacos at Accanto

click to enlarge Don't Look Back's carnitas and rajas taco. - ASH DANIEL

2. Holy frijoles, look out for more chef-driven Mexican.

The taco trend of 2012 saw tortillas move to the menus of upscale eateries as well as masa-dedicated spots opening around town. The New York Times raved about Nate's chicken-skin tacos, now on the brunch menu at Don't Look Back in Carytown. Diners slurped agua fresca, nonalcoholic blends of fruit and water, alongside tongue tacos at Shockoe Bottom's Tio Pablo. Casa Del Barco downtown, En Su Boca coming to the Boulevard and Jorge's Cantina in the Fan may become the new extreme-Southern hotspots of 2013.

The fast-casual sector is growing too, with a Chuy's, a chain known for fresh salsa on the hour and raising its own chilis, on the way in Short Pump. And if up-market Mexican doesn't work, re-brand, as David Gil did with his fine-dining Mexican restaurant, Mariachis. The Midlothian restaurant now is another outpost of the growing Plaza Azteca chain.

Next time you're in New York craving tacos and a Sunday morning game of ping-pong, check out April Bloomfield's new place, Salvation Taco. It's just added brunch hours.

click to enlarge Heritage's Emilia Sparatta. - SCOTT ELMQUIST

3. New American restaurants are run by sommelier-influenced managers.

Heritage's Emilia Sparatta studied wine at the Culinary Institute of America. Dutch & Co.'s Michelle Shriver polished her taste under certified sommelier Matt Gundlach in Chicago at Otom. Rappahannock recruited a manager certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers for its opening wine list. What does this mean? More experimentation in programs that require wine knowledge to keep up.

Heritage's all-American wine list joins the Roosevelt's even more challenging all-Virginia list. Rappahannock has built its list around bubbles and seafood-friendly whites from obscure regions. Dutch & Co. hopes to increase sales of sangiovese and verdejo through Saturday afternoon wine tastings and an off-premise license, giving Church Hill residents another reason to say, "Just pour, I trust you."

4. Better wine lists make their way into ethnic restaurants.

Remember when all you could get with your tikka masala and lime pickles was white zinfandel or cheap chardonnay poured from a jumbo bottle, open for who knows how long? Anokha changed all that a few years ago. Since then, Indian offspring Lehja and Lemon Cuisine of India have followed with better selections. Chris Staples at Fat Dragon introduced a wine program built for bang bang shrimp and sweetly seasoned Cantonese. Casa del Barco is as much a spot for vino as tequila. Now all we need is the Vietnamese place that wants to be to wine as Mekong is to beer, which, by the way, has a pretty good wine list in place already.

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST

5. Notice more bitters behind the bar.

Saison's collection of amari, which are Italian bitter digestifs, as aperitifs comes from owner Christopher Elford's stint at a New York bitters bar. He's added cocktail classes and pop-up bar nights featuring New York City barmen Ari Form and Sother Teague of Amor y Amargo in the East Village. For an example, try the winter Americano, a blend of artichoke-flavored amaro Cynar, mole bitters and Cocchi Torino vermouth.

Learn the bitter shake March 19 at the Room at Secco, with Jake Parrott, a spirits rep from Haus Alpenz, importer of herbaceous aperitif wines. Cheese monger Nicole Lang heads a class in pairing aperitifs and cheese from 6-8 p.m. seccowinebar.com.

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