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Food Experts Pick the Biggest Dining Surprises

Carriage House was one positive surprise.
Carriage House was one positive surprise.
Photo: Jason Little

As the curtain falls on 2012 (and the world has not ended) Eater surveyed a group of critics, writers, eaters, and more. We asked the group eight questions: everything from Top Standbys to Top Newcomers, from Best Meals to Restaurants Broken Up With. Everything will be revealed—cut, pasted, unedited and unadulterated—by the time the curtain raises for 2013.

Q: What was the biggest dining surprise of 2012?

Steve Dolinsky (The Hungry Hound), ABC 7: Paying for bread everywhere, and being prematurely presented with my check at G.E.B midway through the meal.

Carly Boers, Chicago Magazine: Mark Steuer killing it at Carriage House. After The Bedford, I didn't hold out much hope.

David Tamarkin, Time Out Chicago: The prices! Also: Koren splitting with avec.

Catherine De Orio, Culinary Curator: That EL Ideas wasn't recognized by Michelin.

Sarah Freeman, Zagat: The increased accessibility of dietary-restriction friendly food is one trend that should stay trendy. Senza shocked with a gluten-free menu that gluten-eaters craved. Then, Next got an earful after announcing a vegetarian menu. Sure, Chicago loves steak, but we also apparently love seitan.

Lisa Shames, CS: The amount of new restaurants. The economy may have sucked for many but it also allowed for some creative chefs to get into the game too.

Mike Gebert, Grub Street: My surprise is the lack of surprise. I keep waiting for something hugely hyped to fall on its face, but it doesn't happen.

Penny Pollack, Chicago Magazine: Tater Tots spritzed with truffle oil.

Julia Kramer, Time Out Chicago: Koren leaving avec.

Chris LaMorte, Urban Daddy: The closing of Charlie Trotter's, Brochu leaves Graham Elliot.

Joe Campagna, Chicago Food Snob: The mediocrity of some of the new places.

Ellen Malloy, Restaurant Intelligence Agency: We shouldn't be surprised by the brilliance of PK & Co. at this point, but I found myself continually delighted by PQM. It seems every time you go there they are layering on something new and pushing the boundaries of what you imagine a butcher shop/sandwich shop would be. I love that they didn't just open it up and call it a day. Those guys are relentless in their continuous quest for better and it shows at PQM more than anywhere.

Robyn Nisi, Gapers Block: People will still adore the Achatz empire and be willing to punch their mother to get into Next, but it's nice to see some new faces define the landscape of Chicago eating--particularly what Iliana Regan is doing over at Elizabeth.

Daniel Gerzina, Eater Chicago: The quality of some of the uber-hyped openings this year.