Foodie Events / Restaurants

Texas Dominates the Food Oscars — 27 James Beard Semifinalists Revealed, Shattering the State Record

Houston Leads the Way, Makes Legit Claim as Texas' Food Capital

BY // 02.27.19

The Oscars are just now in our rearview mirror, the much-hyped films honored or in some cases overlooked. But now, there’s another prestigious awards show to look forward to: the Oscars of Food.

Foodies can rejoice. The James Beard Foundation just released its list of 2019 James Beard Award Semifinalists. And Texas showed up in a big, big way, shattering its record for nominations with 27.

Six different Texas cities landed nominations — 11 for Houston (including one on Pearland), eight for Austin, six for Dallas, one for San Antonio and one for Lubbock. Texas earned 25 nominations last year.

It’s no surprise, with Texas’ rep as a foodie’s paradise growing each and every year. Think write-ups in Esquire, Bon Appetit, GQ and Food & Wine to name just a few.

Over the last 19 years, six different Texas chefs have won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest — Houston’s Chris Shepherd, Justin Yu, Hugo Ortega, and Austin’s Tyson Cole, Paul Qui and Aaron Franklin.

It’s fitting, then, that the James Beard Foundation selected Montrose’s Hugo’s as the live site where it will reveal the finalists on March 27th.

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“We’re thrilled to showcase the city of Houston and bring our 2019 James Beard Awards nominees announcement to this diverse and vibrant culinary and dining scene,” Clare Reinbach, James Beard Foundation CEO, says in a statement. The winners and James Beard Awards will be presented on May 6th in Chicago.

The Houston conference kicks off at 9 am March 27 and will be live-streamed through the James Beard Foundation website for those not lucky enough to be there in person.

With a whopping 11 noms spread across Best Chef Southwest, Outstanding Bar Program Rising Star of the Year and more, Houston will be well represented.

It just wouldn’t be the James Beard Awards season without some familiar Bayou City faces, like Chris Shepherd and Anvil Bar & Refuge. But you’ll see some newcomers, too.

Shepherd was honored with a nomination for Outstanding Chef, no surprise there.

Johnny Rhodes, who’s risen to fame for the social commentary-meets-culinary focus of  his restaurant Indigo, is a semifinalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category.

Several revered chefs in Houston and Pearland will go head-to-head for the coveted Best Chef: Southwest title: Kaiser Lashkari, from Himalaya, Ronnie Killen of Killen’s Steakhouse and Trong Nguyen of Crawfish & Noodles. Trong and Killlen were both nominated last year.

Hugo’s and Tony’s will face off in the Outstanding Service category.

Tracy Vaught from H-Town Restaurant Group, the force behind such premier restaurants as Hugo’s, Xochi, Caracol, Backstreet Cafe and Origen, is in the running for Outstanding Restaurateur.

“I feel honored to be nominated for a James Beard Award,” Vaught tells PaperCity. “It is especially sweet this year as so many fellow Houstonians have been recognized in multiple categories. There has been a lot of wine and food talent in Houston for a very long time.

“I’m glad that’s being recognized and rewarded. I’m not holding my breath. For now, it feels awesome.”

Poleo is Xochi’s icy treat. (Photo by Paula Murphy.)

In keeping with its highly respected rep, Anvil Bar & Refuge earned a spot as an Outstanding Bar Program semifinalist.

In a bit of a welcome surprise, the iconic Ninfa’s on Navigation nabbed a nod for Outstanding Restaurant.

Finally, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse at The Galleria received recognition in the Outstanding Wine Program category.

Read on for the complete list of Texas nominees


— Best Chef: Southwest: Iliana de la Vega, El Naranjo

— Best Chef: Southwest: Maribel Rivero, Yuyo

— Best Chef: Southwest: Kevin Fink, Emmer & Rye

— Best Chef: Southwest: Michael Fojtasek, Olamaie

— Best Chef: Southwest: Bryce Gilmore, Barley Swine

— Best New Restaurant: Suerte

— Outstanding Pastry Chef: Laura Sawicki, Launderette

— Oustanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer: Jeffrey Stuffings, Jester King Brewery


— Best Chef: Southwest: Bruno Davaillon, Bullion

— Best Chef: Southwest: Regino Rojas, Purépecha Room

— Best Chef: Southwest: David Uygur, Lucia

– Restaurant of the Year: Petra and The Beast

– Outstanding Pastry Chef: Ricardo Sanchez, Bullion

— Outstanding Service: The French Room

San Antonio

— Best Chef: Southwest: Steve McHugh, Cured


— Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer: Kim McPherson, McPherson Cellars


— Outstanding Chef: Chris Shepherd

— Rising Star Chef of the Year: Johnny Rhodes

— Best Chef: Southwest: Kaiser Lashkari, Himalaya

— Best Chef: Southwest: Trong Nguyen, Crawfish & Noodles

— Outstanding Bar Program: Anvil Bar & Refuge

— Outstanding Restaurant: The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation

— Outstanding Restaurateur: Tracy Vaught, H-Town Restaurant Group

— Outstanding Service: Hugo’s

– Outstanding Service: Tony’s

— Outstanding Wine Program: Pappas Bros. Steakhouse at The Galleria


— Best Chef: Southwest: Ronnie Killen, Killen’s Steakhouse

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