Last month, Craig LaBan was ruminating that so far in 2014, he had awarded three-bell reviews to nine restaurants.
That is generally a full year's supply of the places he categorizes as "excellent."
This means one of two things: That Craig is getting soft in his old age (a point I would doubt) or that the local crop of restaurants is getting better.
It's certainly a diverse crop, as I look back at those that opened in the first six months of 2014. (Some of Craig's three-bellers had opened in 2013.)
The 25 restaurants that seem to be getting the most attention include only a few BYOBs (Junto in Chadds Ford, Forage in Exton, Spitalieri's, off South Street, Stock in Fishtown, Simply Shabu in Chinatown), two former BYOBs (Lolita in Midtown Village and Avalon in West Chester), and a smattering of bars (Sancho Pistola, The Gaslight, Mamou, Charlie was a sinner., Society Hill Society).
There were shakeups: Avenida Cantina in Mount Airy (formerly Avenida), the dramatically renovated Blue Bell Inn, an elevated a.kitchen in Rittenhouse (now under the direction of Eli Kulp and Ellen Yin from Fork), and a stunningly effective redo at the Loews Hotel, which swapped in Bank & Bourbon.
Most apparent, though, is the focus on chef-driven restaurants with liquor licenses: Jose Garces taking the stage at the Kimmel Center (Volver), Townsend Wentz at East Passyunk's Townsend, Jonathan and Justin Petruce at Petruce et al., Alex Capasso at Crow & the Pitcher, Chip Roman/Rob Sidor at The Treemont, Hiroyuki "Zama" Tanaka/Chris Paulikas at coZara, and Al Paris/Eric Hall at Paris Bistro in Chestnut Hill.