James Beard Award finalist list shines spotlight on big- and small-town independents

Winners for the chef and restaurant awards are scheduled for June 10. Ruth Reichl is honored with Lifetime Achievement Award; and The LEE Initiative is Humanitarian of the Year.
James Beard Award
The Leadership, Lifetime Achievement and Humanitarian awards will be celebrated June 9 in Chicago. The restaurant and chef award gala is scheduled for June 10. |Photo courtesy of Eliesa Johnson.

The finalists for this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards were announced on Wednesday, representing a broad cross-section of independent operators across the U.S. who are in contention for what have become the Oscars of the restaurant world. Final contenders were picked for each of the 22 categories, including both national and regional honorees, representing a broad swath of independent restaurants, from small neighborhood spots to fine-dining establishments and casual eateries.

Winners in the chef and restaurant categories will be announced and celebrated at a gala event on June 10 at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. In addition, the Beard foundation on Wednesday named five honorees for Leadership Awards designed to spotlight achievements by professionals who help set standards for making the industry more equitable and sustainable. Those honorees will be celebrated at a separate invite-only event in Chicago on June 9.

Author, editor and former restaurant critic Ruth Reichl was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. She wrote for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and was editor of Gourmet, and her memoir “Tender at the Bone” helped readers understand that “Food could be a way of making sense of the world,” the foundation said.

The Humanitarian of the Year Award went to The LEE Initiative, an organization founded in 2017 by chef Edward Lee and Lindsey Ofcacek that creates programs for advancing women, amplifies Black voices and explores sustainable policies for the industry.  LEE is an acronym that stands for Let’s Empower Employment.

The organization, for example, is behind a restaurant scheduled to open this summer in Washington, D.C. called M. Frances—which happens to have an all-female culinary team—that aims to create a new model for fine dining that will be open-sourced to benefit the industry.

In virtual press conferences Wednesday, several of the finalists shared their joy at being named finalists, which, some noted, had already started to juice their upcoming bookings.

“I’ve had my restaurant for 20 years and it’s a great honor to be recognized as a small neighborhood restaurant,” said Sarah Minnick, Outstanding Chef first-time nominee from Lovely’s Fifty Fifty in Portland, Oregon. “The award really lifts the spirits of my team and puts pride back into their work.”

While culinary skill and operational excellence still play into the awards, a positive work culture and community involvement are now key criteria for a nomination. And, since the pandemic, the foundation completely overhauled the program to bring more diversity into the awards selection process, including broader geographic representation. In prior years, winners tended to be clustered in major cities, like New York, Chicago or San Francisco.

“I’m still in disbelief and overwhelmed with being chosen, because we’re a small restaurant in a small town, and, even though we’ve been operating for 10 years, it means a lot for us to be recognized, when we don’t have a huge voice or huge backing, so to speak,” said Kumi Omori, co-owner of the restaurant Vestige in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, which is among the finalists for Outstanding Restaurant. She operates the restaurant with her husband Chef Alex Perry.

As part of the nomination process, chefs and operators were required to write an essay describing how they interact with their community.

Outstanding Chef finalist Dean Neff of Seabird restaurant in Wilmington, North Carolina said “as a small business, community connection was important to us from the beginning. The Beard Foundation brings small restaurants together to make positive changes.”

He is on the council for the Food Bank of North Carolina and partnered with Duke University on research to study water contamination in the nearby Cape Fear River. “It brought awareness to the community about the safety of local fish,” he said.

Here is a list of the finalists in all 22 categories:

Outstanding Restaurateur: A restaurateur who uses their establishment(s) as a vehicle for building community, demonstrates creativity in entrepreneurship, integrity in restaurant operations, and is making efforts to create a sustainable work culture, while contributing positively to their broader community. 

  • Mamba Hamissi and Nadia Nijimbere, Baobab Fare, Detroit, Michigan
  • Quynh-Vy and Yenvy Pham, Phở Bắc Súp Shop, Phởcific Standard Time, and The Boat, Seattle, Washington
  • Chris Viaud, Greenleaf, Ansanm, and Pavilion, Milford and Wolfeboro, NH
  • Hollis Wells Silverman, Eastern Point Collective (The Duck & The Peach, La Collina, The Wells, and others), Washington, D.C.
  • Erika Whitaker and Kelly Whitaker, ID EST (The Wolf's Tailor, BRUTØ, Basta, and others), Boulder, Colorado

Outstanding Chef: A chef who sets high culinary standards and has served as a positive example for other food professionals, while contributing positively to their broader community. 

  • Sarah Minnick, Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, Portland, Oregon
  • Dean Neff, Seabird, Wilmington, North Carolina
  • Michael Rafidi, Albi, Washington, D.C.
  • Renee Touponce, The Port of Call, Mystic, Connecticut
  • David Uygur, Lucia, Dallas, Texas

Outstanding Restaurant: A restaurant that demonstrates consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, hospitality, and operations, while contributing positively to its broader community. 

  • The Compound, Santa Fe, New Mexico 
  • Convenience West, Marfa, Texas
  • Langbaan, Portland, Oregon
  • Mixtli, San Antonio, Texas
  • Vestige, Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Emerging Chef: A chef who displays exceptional talent, character, and leadership ability, and who is likely to make a significant impact in years to come, while contributing positively to their broader community. 

  • Fariyal Abdullahi, Hav & Mar, New York City
  • Janet Becerra, Pancita, Seattle, Washington
  • Nikko Cagalanan, Kultura, Charleston, South Carolina
  • Ryan Fernandez, Southern Junction, Buffalo, New York
  • Masako Morishita, Perry's, Washington, D.C.

 Best New Restaurant: A restaurant opened between Oct. 1, 2022, through Sept. 30, 2023, that already demonstrates excellence in cuisine, seems likely to make a significant impact in years to come, and demonstrates consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, hospitality, and operations, while contributing positively to its broader community. 

  • Bar Bacetto, Waitsburg, Washington
  • Barbs-B-Q, Lockhart, Texas
  • Chez Noir, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
  • Comfort Kitchen, Dorchester, Massachusetts
  • Dakar NOLA, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Hayward, McMinnville, Oregon
  • Kaya, Orlando, Florida
  • Kisser, Nashville, Tennessee
  • Oro by Nixta, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Shan, Bozeman, Montana

 Outstanding Bakery: A baker of breads, pastries, or desserts that demonstrates consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, hospitality, and operations while contributing positively to its broader community. 

  • The Burque Bakehouse, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Gusto Bread, Long Beach, California
  • JinJu Patisserie, Portland, Oregon
  • Mel the Bakery, Hudson, New York
  • ZU Bakery, Portland, Maine

Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker: A pastry chef or baker who makes desserts, pastries, or breads. Candidate demonstrates exceptional skills and can be affiliated with any food business and does not need a brick-and-mortar presence. Candidates contribute positively to their broader community. 

  • Susan Bae, Moon Rabbit, Washington, D.C.
  • Jesus Brazon and Manuel Brazon, Caracas Bakery, Doral and Miami, Florida
  • Atsuko Fujimoto, Norimoto Bakery, Portland, Maine
  • Crystal Kass, Valentine, Phoenix, Arizona
  • Anna Posey, Elske, Chicago, Illinois

 Outstanding Hospitality: A restaurant, bar or other food and drinking establishment that fosters a sense of hospitality among its customers and staff that serves as a beacon for the community and demonstrates consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, hospitality, and operations while contributing positively to its broader community. 

  • Crawford and Son, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Gemma, Dallas, Texas
  • Lula Cafe, Chicago, Illinois
  • Melba’s, New York City
  • Woodford Food & Beverage, Portland, Maine

 Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program: This Award is presented to a restaurant that demonstrates exceptional care and skill in the pairing of wine and other beverages with food while contributing positively to its broader community. This includes the selection, preparation, and serving of wine, cocktails, spirits, coffee, tea, beer or any other beverage with outstanding hospitality and service that help inform and enhance a customer’s appreciation of the beverage(s). Ethical sourcing and positive contributions to the broader community will also be considered.

  • Lula Drake Wine Parlour, Columbia, South Carolina  
  • The Morris, San Francisco, California
  • Strong Water Anaheim, Anaheim, California
  • Tail Up Goat, Washington, D.C.
  • Waxlight Bar à Vin, Buffalo, New York

Outstanding Bar: This award is presented to a wine bar, beer bar, cocktail bar, coffee bar, or any other business whose primary offering is beverage and that demonstrates consistent excellence in curating a selection or in the preparation of drinks, along with outstanding atmosphere, hospitality, and operations while contributing positively to its broader community. 

  • Barr Hill Cocktail Bar, Montpelier, Vermont
  • Clavel Mezcaleria, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Jewel of the South, New Orleans, Louisian  
  • Las Ramblas, Brownsville, Texas
  • Pacific Cocktail Haven, San Francisco, California

Best Chefs: Chefs who set high standards in their culinary skills and leadership abilities, and who are making efforts to help create a sustainable work culture in their respective regions while contributing positively to their broader community. 

Best Chef: California

  • Geoff Davis, Burdell, Oakland
  • Rogelio Garcia, Auro, Calistoga
  • Lord Maynard Llera, Kuya Lord, Los Angeles
  • Tara Monsod, Animae, San Diego
  • Buu "Billy" Ngo, Kru, Sacramento

Best Chef: Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH) 

  • Vinnie Cimino, Cordelia, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Jose Salazar, Mita's, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Sujan Sarkar, Indienne, Chicago, Illinois
  • Hajime Sato, Sozai, Clawson, Michigan
  • Jenner Tomaska, Esmé, Chicago, Illinois

 Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA) 

  • Tony Conte, Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana, Darnestown, Maryland
  • Jesse Ito, Royal Sushi & Izakaya, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Matt Kern, One Coastal, Fenwick Island, Delaware
  • Harley Peet, Bas Rouge, Easton, Maryland
  • Kevin Tien, Moon Rabbit, Washington, D.C.

Best Chef: Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI) 

  • Ann Ahmed, Khâluna, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Rob Connoley, Bulrush, St. Louis, Missouri
  • Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite, EsterEv, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Christina Nguyen, Hai Hai, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Tim Nicholson, The Boiler Room, Omaha, Nebraska

 Best Chef: Mountain (CO, ID, MT, UT, WY) 

  • Brandon Cunningham, Social Haus, Greenough, Montana
  • Ali Sabbah, Mazza Cafe, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Matt Vawter, Rootstalk, Breckenridge, Colorado
  • Penelope Wong, Yuan Wonton, Denver, Colorado
  • Nick Zocco, Urban Hill, Salt Lake City, Utah

 Best Chef: New York State 

  • Nasim Alikhani, Sofreh, Brooklyn
  • Atsushi Kono, Kono, New York City
  • Chris Mauricio, Harana Market, Accord
  • Charlie Mitchell, Clover Hill, Brooklyn
  • Jeremy Salamon, Agi's Counter, Brooklyn

 Best Chef: Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT) 

  • Conor Dennehy, Talulla, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Maria Meza, Dolores, Providence, Rhode Island
  • David Standridge, The Shipwright's Daughter, Mystic, Connecticut
  • Jake Stevens, Leeward, Portland, Maine
  • Cara Tobin, Honey Road, Burlington, Vermont

 Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific (AK, HI, OR, WA) 

  • Avery Adams, Matia Kitchen, Orcas Island, Washington
  • Kristi Brown, Communion, Seattle, Washington
  • Josh Dorcak, MÄS, Ashland, Oregon
  • Gregory Gourdet, kann, Portland, Oregon
  • Melissa Miranda, Musang, Seattle, Washington 

 Best Chef: Southeast (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV) 

  • Jamie Davis, The Hackney, Washington, North Carolina
  • Rod Lassiter and Parnass Savang, Talat Market, Atlanta, Georgia
  • James London, Chubby Fish, Charleston, South Carolina
  • Robbie Robinson, City Limits Barbeque, West Columbia, South Carolina
  • Paul Smith, 1010 Bridge, Charleston, West Virginia

 Best Chef: South (AL, AR, FL, LA, MS, PR) 

  • Valerie Chang, Maty's, Miami, Florida
  • Hunter Evans, Elvie's, Jackson, Mississippi
  • Gabriel Hernandez, Verde Mesa, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Carlos Portela, Orujo, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Arvinder Vilkhu, Saffron, New Orleans, Louisiana

 Best Chef: Southwest (AZ, NM, NV, OK) 

  • Rene Andrade, Bacanora, Phoenix, Arizona
  • Jeff Chanchaleune, Ma Der Lao Kitchen, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Steve Kestler, Aroma Latin American Cocina, Henderson, Nevada
  • Steve Riley, Mesa Provisions, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Eduardo Rodriguez, Zacatlán, Santa Fe, New Mexico

 Best Chef: Texas 

  • Emmanuel Chavez, Tatemó, Houston
  • Christopher Cullum, Cullum's Attaboy, San Antonio
  • Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel, Birdie's, Austin
  • Misti Norris, Petra & the Beast, Dallas
  • Ana Liz Pulido, Ana Liz Taqueria, Mission



Mai Nguyen, Farmer, Farmer Mai, a first-generation Vietnamese-American farmer and researcher who  advocates for equitable ecological food systems through environmentally beneficial farming practices. Nguyen is co-director of Minnow, which works to secure land tenure for California’s farmers of color and indigenous communities and helped pass the Farmer Equity Act in California.

Policy Advocacy:

Niaz Dorry, Coordinating Director, North American Marine Alliance (NAMA). Dorry has played a pivotal role in steering federal legislation toward recognizing and supporting small-scale, traditional and indigenous fishing communities.

Industry Culture and Practices:

Muhammad Abdul-Hadi, founder/owner, Down North Pizza and Down North Foundation. Abdul-Hadi is the founder of a mission-driven restaurant that exclusively hires previously incarcerated employees.

Food Security and Access:

Helga Garcia-Garza, executive director, Agri-Cultura Network, a farmer-owned cooperative providing access to local and sustainably grown produce. Garcia-Garza has been a driving force for food justice and a dedicated community organizer, working on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border.

Emerging Leadership:

Christa Barfield, founder and CEO, FarmerJawn, a 128-acre working farm providing access to regenerative organic food production through community-supported agriculture, storefronts and educational programs. It also supports Viva Leaf Tea Co., a farm-to-cup tea brand, and CornerJawn, a corner store concept that aims to make fresh produce more accessible to underserved communities.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Red Lobster needs a buyer. How does Darden sound?

Reality Check: The casual dining giant sold Red Lobster in a cloud of controversy a decade ago. Here's why a return to the fold may not be as crazy as it sounds.


KFC goes portable and poppable to grab the snacking generation

Behind the Menu: Bite-size Apple Pie Poppers, created to target customers' sweet spot, lend themselves to line extensions to expand the chain’s snack selections.

Emerging Brands

5 pre-emerging restaurant brands ready for takeoff

These small concepts are still proving out their ideas, but each shows promise as a potential candidate for the next generation of emerging chains.


More from our partners