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Remembering the Biggest Dining Surprises of 2014

As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, bloggers, and readers. We've already covered Best Standbys, Top Newcomers, 2014 in one word and best dining neighborhoods. Now it's time to pick the biggest dining surprises of the year. Readers, please add your thoughts to the comments.

Cal Bingham

YIE2014dark_small.0.png Q: What was the biggest dining surprise of 2014?

Louis Hirsch, Foodservice Designer, former GM of First Food & Bar and writer for Vegas Burger Blog and the upcoming Vegas Reuben Blog: The proliferation of off-Strip driven chef venues is staggering. Great culinary minds continue to leave their poised PR perches to take risks off strip. While Alex Stratta continues to get his thing going (showing how truly difficult not having a giant company fund you can be), and there will always be some notable flops (e.g. Desnudo Tacos RIP), there's a growing movement to get away from the man, with Johnny Church leaving RM to do his thing in not one but two venues, Latin Fish will make some best lists I'm sure, and even Light Group got behind Chef Massie for once and let him have fun. Finally, with David Clawson, we have a prime example of what can be done right off-strip. Small, selected PR, no fluff or free meals for good press, just precise clean food, good menu layout, albeit in the cheapest existing room he could find. Can't wait to see more chefs off the 215!

JoAnna Haugen, Las Vegas contributing editor, Travel Weekly: I'm not sure it's a surprise, but all the restaurant closings in Tivoli Village make me sad. I wish more would have sticky power there.

Mitchell Wilburn, VegasChatter: People are returning to the white tablecloth, the refined, the classic. Fine food is no longer a boogey man to the public.

E.C. Gladstone, (Guest Contributor); (Dining & Drinking Editor); (Titanium Overlord): Aquaknox, a strong experience that is largely overlooked by the trend-chasers.

Bob Barnes, Editorial Director of The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional,
Las Vegas Reporter for Gayot and Regional Correspondent for Celebrator Beer News: While not really a big surprise, the emergence of more and more top chefs opening high quality restaurants in Downtown Las Vegas, with Kerry Simon’s Carson Kitchen, Tony Gemignani’s Pizza Rock, Johnny Church at MTO Café and Natalie Young’s Eat and revamping of the menu at WILD.

Michael G. Uzmann, Doctor, Blogger, Wandering Diner: Rose. Rabbit. Lie. in the post-Nocturne era.

Scott Roeben, Vital Vegas: Tacos El Gordo closed virtually overnight due to a dispute between the restaurant ownership and mall management. They had a huge, rabid following, and the closure was a shocking disappointment for many.

Robin Leach, gossip columnist for the Las Vegas Sun: ETHNIC DINING COMING RIGHT TO THE FOREFRONT.

Don Chareunsy, Senior Editor, Arts + Entertainment, Las Vegas Sun: Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar at The Linq Hotel is really great for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not good for the diet, but great for flavor and the pocketbook (for the Strip). And Fulton Street Food Hall in Harrah’s. A variety of solid dining options in an elevated food court at an often-overlooked casino.

Brock Radke, food and drink editor for Las Vegas Weekly: Yusho. It's not surprising that it's really good, especially if you know chef Matthias Merges' background, but it kind of came out of nowhere—it didn't have anything near the hype of so many other Strip openings this year. And it's something of a risk, pretty hip for a casino restaurant. If you look at what else is there and what else is coming to that nearby Park promenade, Yusho stands out even more. It's bold.

Jim Begley, freelance food and drink writer for Las Vegas Weekly, Desert Companion, Las Vegas Magazine and sundry publications: Henderson. Seriously, who ever thought there would places worth traveling to in Henderson? But with David Clawson Kitchen and Bavarian Castle opening up, along with their renditions of Settebello and Monta, there are now reasons to make the trip.

Amelinda B Lee, photographer for Eater Vegas: The numerous SNHD restaurant closures, especially in Chinatown.

Susan Stapleton, editor of Eater Vegas: A Michelin-starred chef opening a 12-seat omakase experience in Chinatown and a Vail chef who served Michelle Obama opening a truly splendid dining experience in Henderson. That would be Japanese Cuisine by Omae and David Clawson Restaurant. Do frequent both and help local restaurants survive.