Third and Hollywood and Barrio get plaudits in overall sluggish '09.

Over the last year, it seemed impossible to escape the bad economy, either through personal experience or water-cooler chatter.

Yet, the local restaurant scene held up remarkably well, with several additions and sad exits.

While I hate to bestow a restaurant with the "best" tag, Third and Hollywood certainly belongs at or near the top of any list. For those of you who are new to Columbus, its owners are Kevin and Katy Malhame, also the purveyors of the excellent Northstar Cafes. Another restaurant of note was Barrio, the Spanish-inspired eatery downtown with the best paella this side of Nationwide Boulevard.

Most new restaurants decided to play it safe with American cuisine, though. One was Local Roots, part of the burgeoning Powell/Liberty Township restaurant scene. And that's quite alright.

Dough for normally dull calzones is made fresh daily. Across the street, C. William's Bistro is another fairly simple proposition, although its chef/owner has lofty ambitions for the restaurant, as in four stars. The trend really seems to be toward smaller, boutique restaurants, such as Middle Eastern-themed Mazah in Grandview Avenue and the Cambridge Tea House in Marble Cliff.

Sushi continues its march across central Ohio. The very good Edamame and Tokyo Sushi are more traditional, while Moshi Sushi is more modern, with dishes such as braised short ribs and jerk chicken. Also new: Sushi Rock on the Cap, Tora in Gahanna and Kogen's in the Powell area. All have some contemporary leanings but clearly acknowledge the raw stuff.

Splashy, fine-dining premieres were fairly hard to find. In fact, many high-profile closings marred the local dining scene. The most regrettable: Rosendales Modern Bistro. Its founding chef and owner, Richard Rosendale, departed for West Virginia, leaving behind the bistro, Upstairs at Rosendales (in the same storefront) and Details next door. It was a short tenure for the talented chef. He will be missed. Handke's Cuisine, one of the city's most notable upscale destinations, closed, as did Thom's on Grandview.

Overhyped Dirty Frank's, a new hot dog emporium downtown, won Best New Restaurant honors in our annual readers poll. It's fine as far as hot dogs go, but the award it seems belongs to a more innovative and exciting place.

The burger wars claimed one victim: Burger Boys in Whitehall. But the fight rages on between homegrown Graffiti Burger and Five Guys Burgers and Fries, the overrated ground meat joint from Washington D.C. Both are expanding, so there's potential for one to open in your neighborhood some time in the future.

Mexican took an upscale turn with Cantina Laredo in Polaris and Cabo in Dublin. The chicken with mole sauce is as good as it gets locally. A second Cabo is slated to open former Barnum's Tavern site in Westerville.

When it comes to pizza, I have to mention the return of bonoPIZZA, which has found yet another new location, this time at 1717 Northwest Blvd. near Grandview Heights. Compliments belong to Westshore Pizza & Cheesesteaks, a Philly-style pizzeria, and Dewey's, a Cincinnati-based pie factory with plenty of designer options. Another Cincinnati concept, Montgomery Inn, is popular for reasons I don't quite understand.

A bad economy is like a brush fire, clearing away the brambles and allowing new growth to occur. If anything good can be said about our current market, it has the potential to come back stronger than ever.