Restaurant Experience

The New and Unusual Ingredients Making It on to Restaurant Menus

Customers are ready to wine and dine again. They’re ready to try something new, to live life on their terms, no holds barred. You can see it in their continued support of restaurants, despite the surge in the Delta variant.

Restaurant chefs and owners are responding by giving their guests what they want, something new, different, and delicious. Here are some of the unique ingredients and meals making it onto restaurant menus as summer turns to fall in 2021.

Hopi Blue Cornmeal

Hopi blue cornmeal was once a staple for the Hopi, a Native American tribe who lived in the Mesas of Arizona for thousands of years. The blue corn is stone-ground into corn flour and offers an earthy, slightly sweet corn flavor.

Indianola, an Agricole Hospitality restaurant in Houston, TX, offers Iron Skillet Cornbread made from Hopi blue cornmeal, saffron corn butter, queso fresco, and hatch chili kaffir lime spice. Yum. One of their other unique offerings is Texas Twinkies, made with cream cheese, smoked gouda, and brisket stuffed sweet peppers wrapped in bacon.

Chayote Squash

Chayote, a pear-shaped squash, originates from Central America, where the Aztec and Mayans cultivated the vegetable that soaks up the flavors surrounding it. Somewhere between jicama, cucumber, and mild squash, this squash not only adds a unique flavor and crunch but is rich in nutrients, including folate and Vitamin C.

Amara at Paraiso, a Miami waterfront restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz, uses this unique squash to make Jerk Mushroom Tacos, a combination of chayote squash, red cabbage, sour onion, avocado salsa, and grilled corn tortilla. This dish goes well with Smoke on the Water, a cocktail featuring bruxo mezcal, tequila reposado, pineapple, lime, and tajin.

Lions Mane

Lions Mane, also known as yamabushitake, are mushrooms that resemble a lion’s mane with long, shaggy spines and have been used in Asian countries for their medicinal properties for centuries. Studies show these fungi may stimulate the growth of brain cells, protect against degenerative brain disease, and reduce memory loss.

Kai, meaning “seed” in the Pima language, features a menu rich in Native American culture at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, AZ. The restaurant received the coveted Forbes five-star award for 12 consecutive years. On the menu is Kachk, a dish containing seared black cod, fermented Ojibwe wild rice vinaigrette, fennel puree, spruce tips, pickled lion’s mane, and seared summer squash.


Also known as Japanese mint, the green leaves of the shiso plant are native to China and India but now grow around the world and are extensively used in Japanese and other Asian cuisines. Red shiso is used to make umeboshi or pickled plums, and also makes a sweet juice.

The two-Michelin starred Melisse, an intimate 14-seat restaurant in Santa Monica, offers guests a 2.5-hour culinary experience that includes some of the most unique and exclusive ingredients available. One of the dishes incorporates shiso with sawara, or Japanese Spanish mackerel, tomatillo, radish, king crab, XO sauce, black cod, tomato broth, and summer beans. Another meal in their dining experience, uni cromesquis, includes kombu, rare honey prized for its high medicinal value, and black truffles.

Traditional Chinese Medicine-Inspired Cocktails

Somehow, those words don’t quite seem to go together, and yet they do at the Tiger Fork in Washington, D.C. The beverage menu incorporates Hong Kong’s cocktail scene with the herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine that’s practiced worldwide.

The buzz-worthy menu includes items like the 8 O’Clock Light Show, a combination of astragalus, ginseng, guarana seed, cinnamon, cacao, and kola nut combined with Thomas tew run. Another drink designed to strengthen the immune system is the Bird Market, a blend of gin and herbal liqueur with bergamot, baizhu, fang feng, astragalus, elderberries, honeysuckle, elderflower, echinacea, sage, and thyme.

Quesa Birria

Declared the food of 2021 by AJ & Company and Carbonate, this red-stained crispy taco went viral on Instagram. Birria comes from the Mexican state of Jalisco and describes a traditional stew made out of goat, chili pepper, garlic, cumin, bay leaves, and thyme.

Today’s quesa birria combines slow-cooked brisket, or other types of meat, with melted cheese in a corn tortilla stained red by birria consome. Quesabirria Jalisco in Chicago has made this their one and only menu item and does it well.

Restaurants are, once again, delivering remarkable food in creative and unique approaches. It’s definitely time to explore the culinary landscape.

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