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Restaurant Gurus on the Biggest Dining Surprises of 2014

Discussed within: Dirty Habit's awesomeness, Aveline's implosion, and the best pastrami in the world.

Dirty Habit.
Dirty Habit.
Patricia Chang

As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of fellow food-writer friends. We asked the group eight questions about the highs and lows of San Francisco dining over the past year, and we'll be running two compilations of their responses (which are in no particular order) each day.

Q: What was the biggest dining surprise of 2014?

Rose Garrett, Hoodline: How much people will pay for ramen.

Amy Sherman, Cooking with AmyNon-British people opening up British-inspired restaurants. I find it odd. Although San Francisco is generally lacking in good British food, I don't actually see much demand for it.

Jay Barmann, SFist: I'm not sure anyone was expecting Lazy Bear to be what it was, unless they'd been to the pop-up (which I had not). Pabu was a great surprise, sushi-wise. But I'll say the biggest, most pleasant surprise might be Dirty Habit, even if I still hate the name—the food is better than it needs to be, and even if the drinks get kind of pricey, I think they took the Fifth Floor space and turned it into a casual, cozy hideaway that people want to go back to.

Grant Marek, Thrillist: Dirty Habit. Pretty ballsy to remake the fancy dining institution that was Fifth Floor into a sort of L.A. lounge with dressed down eats and a very un-Fifth Floor name like Dirty Habit. But good God, did it work out. The Asian wings have to be some of the best in the city (certainly the best new ones), and the adult lunch box with two PBRs, a cocktail thermos, and fancy nuts is the polar opposite of what Baz was doing, but a totally great kind of polar opposite, sorta like when Frank Ricard turns into Frank The Tank.

Tamara Palmer, The Bold Italic: Even though it was projected to open before the end of the year, I was still surprised that The Progress made its debut in December.

Lauren Sloss, Tasting Table/SFist: Finding the best pastrami in the world in San Carlos.

Sara Deseran, San Francisco Magazine: That Mill Valley could produce such a cool, great restaurant (no offense to Marin, but let's admit that your track record isn't the best). Molina is a star. It's like California cuisine at its most coolest best. I loved my two meals there. So beautiful.

Andrew Dalton, freelance: That I didn't hate Crystal Jade as much as I wanted to. And I don't get excited about the thought of shelling out a lot of money for an expensive tasting menus, but it's a huge oversight on my part that I haven't made it to Lazy Bear yet.

Pete Kane, SF Weekly: I won a burrito in a bet that La Rondalla would open, which I guess means I shouldn't say I'm "surprised" per se. Enough really good pizza places opened to nullify the complaint that SF pizza sucks, but I thought we'd see more Xi'an/Shaanxi places this year. That trendlet sputtered out, even though I figured the ramen craze would drive people towards hand-rolled noodles.

Rebecca Flint Marx, San Francisco Magazine: Maya Erickson's desserts at Lazy Bear. Hands down the best I've had all year.

Virginia Miller, Zagat: As ubiquitous as excellent coffee and bakeries are, it was surprising how many notable newcomers opened in both categories this year, especially Snowbird Coffee, Tiny Warrior, Andytown and Hearth for coffee and on the bakery front, Hearth, Marla and the awesome Mr. Holmes.

Sarah Sung, UrbanDaddy: That Mission Chinese Food sort of takes reservations now.

Marcia Gagliardi, Tablehopper: I was bummed with how quickly Aveline imploded. Chef Casey Thompson's crab macarons were one of my favorite bites of the year, and I was fired up to see where her cuisine was headed. Wah wah.

Anna Roth, SF Weekly: The egg yolk beignet at Aveline. I'm still not sure what the fuck was going on with the raw beef and the lardo and the trotter sauce, but it was fun, weird, and delicious—especially considering it came to the table looking like something out of Alien. I'm looking forward to what the now-ex-chef Casey Thompson does next.

Paolo Lucchesi, Inside ScoopTower. It's got to be Tower, right?

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