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Food Experts Dish on the Biggest Dining Surprises of 2015

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Dina Avila/EPDX

As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, and bloggers. This year, we asked the group eight questions running the gamut from best dining neighborhood of the year to top restaurant newcomers, and we'll be rolling out their expert opinions all week long. Responses are cut, pasted, and (mostly) unedited herein. Readers, please share your survey answers in the comments.

Q: What was the biggest dining surprise of 2015?

Andrea Damewood, restaurant critic, Portland Mercury

I was surprised by how Chizu won me over. I was thinking it was a bit twee (and it is), but those beautiful, curated cheeses served in a simple sashimi style is just too good to get cynical about.

Diane Morgan, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author

Probably Levant closing

Michael Zusman, cookbook author, restaurant critic (and judge)

Pinolo, the wonderful gelato shop on Division, came right from left field. All of a sudden, it was there. As Zukin and I wrote in our early fall gelato roundup, as soon as Pinolo opened, it was the best gelato in town, and it's not even a close call. And the sorbettos are even better than the gelatos.

Ben Tepler, Associate Food Editor, Portland Monthly

Stray Dogs. Those guys went from a next-level hot dog pop-up to Korean fried chicken in the blink of an eye. God knows what they'll be doing next, but it's bound to be good. And unorthodox.

Chris Angelus, founder of Portland Food Adventures and Right at the Fork podcasts

That we won't be able to go to a place called Olympic Provisions anymore, because the Olympic Committee was concerned that great salami was a threat to their well-being.

Gary Okazaki, professional glutton (aka Gary the Foodie)

I remember the exact day: April 27, 2014, which was the initial pop-up of Nomad.PDX held at Castagna. Let's just say, after that pop-up, I was unsure of what the future held for Nomad.PDX. I will be honest: I didn't think they would make it.

But there was potential sprinkled through some of the dishes. Each and every Nomad.PDX pop-up I attended showed improvement, but the meals still had flaws. But then in July of 2015, a dear, dear friend and I ventured to Nomad.PDX. I was somewhat skeptical but was won over with the first bite of the puffed beef tendon with barrel-aged fish sauce. I was surprised and gratified to see the growth of Ryan Fox and Ali Matteis. Their cooking had become more confident and flavors more intricate. Nomad.PDX is creating some of the most intriguing food in PDX.

Andy Kryza, senior editor, Thrillist Portland

The resurrections. The city is now populated with a bunch of culinary zombies, and it's incredible. I used to eat at Lilikoi all the time when it was stationed awkwardly in what appeared to be a semi-abandoned house on Killingsworth, and now it's back in a place with an actual heating system. Produce Row was mourned... then roared back to life. So... hey, All Way? (Never forget.)

Martin Cizmar, Arts & Culture Editor, Willamette Week

The fact that we've really stalled out on new bars with great food. Last year with Expatriate and Stammtisch, and with the merger of food and drink happening nationally, I thought we'd end up with a lot more such spots. That did not happen other than maybe La Moule. Well, Bit House Saloon did have some really good sausage-lined jalapeno popper things, so that was cool.