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Editors' pick: Originally published Jan. 3.

The clear restaurant sector winners last year were Arcos Dorados (ARCO) ,Jack In The Box (JACK)  and Papa John's (PZZA) , each gaining between 50% and 75%.

But there is more to look forward to. Here are four lip-smacking stock ideas in the sector for 2017.

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1. Habit Restaurants (HABT)

Although less well-known than other fast-casual outlets, this burger chain is poised to deliver solid returns this year.

Shares were down about 25% last year after slowing same-store sales growth and high expectations following the company's high-priced initial public offering in 2014 disappointed many investors.

But Habit Restaurants doesn't have any fundamental problems, and it is still projected to post top line growth of more than 20% this year. With its management working on ways to jump-start growth, the stock could be one to watch this year.

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2. Panera Bread (PNRA)

This company has transformed dining with its more than 2,000 fast-casual format restaurants. The company is expected to post industry-leading comparable store sales and double-digit earnings growth this year.

The stock could grow explosively this year after a staid 2016 as a result of the Panera 2.0 technology initiative, taking a lead on animal welfare and ushering in new president in Blaine Hurst.

Analysts estimate that Panera Bread's shares have more than 15% upside potential in the next 12 months.

Panera Bread is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. See how Cramer rates the stock here. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells PNRA? Learn more now.

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3. Rave Restaurants (RAVE)

Shares of this chain, which has a network of more than 300 Pie Five Pizza and Pizza Inn restaurants, were punished last year to the tune of 70%.

The company's initiatives such as the launch of online ordering could be a boon to the bottom line (and the stock) this year, however.

Trading at a price-sales ratio of less than 0.4 times, the stock is extremely cheap compared with the industry average of 2.3 times.

Rave Restaurants may also deliver a surprise this year such as putting itself up for sale.

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3. Starbucks (SBUX)

Starbucks is one of the best restaurant stock ideas on our list.

But with its longtime chief executive Howard Schultz leaving, things could get interesting for the company which has emerged as a technology leader among food joints.

The company's market-leading position in coffee, relatively inexpensive valuation of a five-year price-earnings growth ratio of 1.70 times, robust financial position and a strong ability to increase dividends make Starbucks a strong growth and income opportunity this year.

Starbucks is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. See how Cramer rates the stock here. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells SBUX? Learn more now.


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The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication owned none of the stocks mentioned.