Year-In-Review: 2014's best new restaurant openings

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

The Columbus dining scene buzz is at an all-time high. No wonder, it seems like five new places opened every other week last year. Too bad few lived up to their press-release hype.

Attempting to digest it all in a single sitting means taking huge bites from the past 12 months. That's a lot to chew on, and tasting everything completely isn't guaranteed. With this disclamatory amuse bouche outta the way, let's dig into the main course - 2014's best new restaurants and trends.

Eye-Opener

I'm a restaurant-bought breakfast skeptic, so it takes coffee artistry (an exploding local movement) and bakery expertise (ditto) to get me in a car on a cold and crappy morning. That's what I got at Fox in the Snow Cafe - where the basic cup of coffee is a pour-over. Try washing down Fox's game-changing egg sandwiches and lovely hand pies (think artisanal Pop-Tarts) with a rare-around-these-parts cortada.

Taco Time

Tacos are nearly as ubiquitous as burgers in Columbus nowadays. Good ones are considerably more rare. You can get terrific ones - along with beer, tequila and house-smoked treats (e.g. papa caliente) - at delightful Tacos Hass.

Use your Noodle

Ramen is splashing hot into Columbus. Two newcomers who combined flavorful steaming broths with the kind of amusing vibe slurping shops deserve are Meshikou and Rishi Sushi. Meshikou's ramen rules (and try their karaage - fried chicken bits), but Rishi offers alcohol, interesting burgers and good sushi.

Chicken Feed

Fried chicken is practically mandatory on menus all over town now. And the golden-brown oldie is moving from granny's kitchen to trendy food trucks, pop-ups and au courant restaurants. Double Comfort is cranking out some good stuff, but I was crazy for wildly spicy and crunchy Hot Chicken Takeover. Like other successful impermanent start-ups who developed a following, HCT is going brick-and-mortar, opening in North Market last weekend.

Harvest Boon

Wonderful Harvest Kitchen and Bar is an inspired mashup of properties owned by Chris Crader's group. And from Curio-quality cocktails to Sycamore-worthy fare (like a killer turkey burger) to the excellent salads, pizzas and desserts popularized by the original German Village Harvest, HKB didn't miss a beat. More Harvests are in the offing (in Powell and Granville), and it'll be interesting to see if Crader's forthcoming, "healthy" non-pizza Downtown eatery can continue his winning streak.

Afternoon Delights

When the initial El Arepazo opened Downtown, its vibrant South American food plus in-and-out convenience made it a lunchtime sensation. Arepazo Tapas Bar Grille is even better - in every way. Handsome and huge, the new Brewery District Arepazo offers El Arepazo's lunch grub, but also fancier dinner fare plus alcohol, like unrivalled mojitos. Hopefully The Carvery, a super-smart, from-scratch, hip Downtown sandwich shop (try the explosive porchetta or tamer, but great, turkey) can capitalize on its Arepazo-type success by expanding its hours and menu.

The Best of the Best of 2014

Standing above the rest of the freshman class of 2014 are last year's top four new restaurants (presented alphabetically). Edgy and artsy food fans have a new pal at clever Angry Bear Kitchen. Run by a talented trio of former Latitude 41 chefs, it's the place for great beef tongue poutine and imaginative specials. The playful yet sophisticated Southern-influenced fare at Kraft House No. 5 makes driving out to Powell for intense mac-n-cheese, lovely kale salads and huge fancified pork chops sound like a great idea. Thank the restaurant godsthat fabulous La Tavola has resurfaced with its phenomenal handmade pastas (like awesome gnocchi), soulful entrees and gotta-have-them specials. Westies Gastropub ("gastropub" is just the new "bistro," so get over it) makes most other sports pubs seem like third string scrubs with its tasteful confines, nachos, burgers, chili, drinks and more.

Fox in the Snow Cafe

1031 N. Fourth St., Italian Village

facebook.com/foxinthesnowcafe

Kraft House No. 5

5 S. Liberty St., Powell

614-396-9091

krafthouse5.com

Angry Bear Kitchen

2653 N. High St., Old North

614-884-0639

angrybearkitchen.com

La Tavola

1664 W. First Ave., Grandview

614-914-5455

facebook.com/latavolaonfirst

Westies Gastropub

940 S. Front St., Brewery District

614-674-6143

westiesgastropub.com

Meshikou

1506 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side

614-457-1689

facebook.com/meshikou

Rishi Sushi Kitchen & Bar

114 N. Third St., Downtown

614-914-5124

facebook.com/rishi.skb.114

Arepazo Tapas Bar Grille

515 S. High St., Brewery District

614-914-8878

elarepazolatingrill.com

The Carvery

51 E. Gay St., Downtown

614-221-2522

carverycolumbus.com

Double Comfort Restaurant

505 N. High St., Short North

614-745-2183

doublecomfortrestaurant.com

Hot Chicken Takeover

facebook.com/hotchickentakeover

Harvest Bar & Kitchen Pizzeria

2885 N. High St., Clintonville

614-947-7133

harvestpizzeria.com

Tacos Hass

7370 Sawmill Rd., Dublin

614-760-0155