Panera (NASDAQ:PNRA) was able to buck the current trends by reporting strong quarterly results, but questions remain as to whether the bakery cafe company will be able to keep up the momentum in the troubling year ahead.

Fourth-quarter net income increased 43% to $25.5 million, or $0.84 per share. Earnings per share included $0.03 per share in charges. Revenue jumped 19% to $357.8 million. System-wide same-restaurant sales increased 2.7%. However, bear in mind that the growth includes a 6.1% increase in menu prices on a year-over-year basis; transactions actually declined 3.2% in the quarter.

My Foolish colleague Kristin Graham pointed out in October that Panera’s results were being boosted by menu price increases as opposed to increasing customer traffic. Menu price increases aren’t at all unusual these days as sales start to flag. Chipotle’s (NYSE:CMG) (NYSE:CMG-B) doing it, too, for example. However, in these difficult economic times, it’s a rather risky maneuver, since consumers are really concerned about the cash they’re spending.

Many restaurant stocks are faltering; just look at Starbucks(NASDAQ:SBUX) continued woes. However, some are doing quite well. Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD) recently bucked the trends, and of course McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) has been going like gangbusters.

Panera has turned out to be an outlier in the last year or so of pain for many restaurant stocks -- its stock is up 23% in 12 months. There are things to like about it, such as its clean balance sheet and the fact that it does seem to be addressing its problems with increasing margins. Personally, I enjoy its food and think it has an admirable brand.

Still, I nominated Panera as the Worst Stock for 2009 because I believe the stock’s too expensive and has challenges ahead of it. That’s still the case, even though it did pull off an impressive fourth quarter. However, it’s trading at 21 times earnings. You can get McDonald’s stock for 15 times earnings, for example. And given the fact that Panera’s traffic is actually declining and price increases are saving the day, investors might want to rethink the premium they’re willing to pay for shares of Panera. Management can only hike prices for so long.

The year ahead is going to be rough for many consumer-facing companies, and I still have my doubts that Panera will be able to keep up the momentum.

Chipotle and Buffalo Wild Wings are Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendations. Panera Bread is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems Pay Dirt selection. Starbucks is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Chipotle Mexican Grill is also a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Starbucks is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Starbucks, Chipotle, and Buffalo Wild Wings. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.