Texas racked up an impressive 39 semifinalists, including 20 for Best Chef: Texas, in the first of three rounds of voting in the 2024 Restaurant and Chef Awards competition, announced today by the James Beard Foundation. The awards—typically described as the Oscars of the restaurant industry—will have two more rounds of voting. Nominees will be named on April 3. On June 10, winners will be announced at the annual awards ceremony and gala in Chicago.

This year will be the third to reflect massive changes in the foundation’s awards procedure. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most restaurants that received nods were fine-dining establishments from large cities. But since 2022, following a massive overhaul of the competition rules designed to improve both inclusivity and geographic scope, lesser-known restaurants in small cities and towns have been showing up much more frequently on the roster of hopefuls.

Of course, that doesn’t keep the big cities from dominating, thanks to the power of population. Houston appears approximately eleven times on the list (if you include cities, such as Spring, that are essentially part of the urban area). Austin has some eight slots. The Dallas area, including satellite cities, has eight. However, pure numbers don’t always do the trick. And Fort Worth was shut out altogether.

For Outstanding Restaurateur, Houston business partners Itai Ben Eli and Itamar Levy, of Sof Hospitality Group, are the sole Texas entrant. The group owns Doris Metropolitan, Hamsa, and Bādolina Bakery & Cafe.

In the Outstanding Chef category, Texas has two entrants: David Kirkland and Ernest Servantes of Burnt Bean Co., in Seguin, and David Uygur of Lucia in Dallas.

Marfa has the only small-town Texas entrant—Convenience West, a barbecue joint—in the Outstanding Restaurant category. (San Antonio’s Mixtli and Houston’s Nancy’s Hustle also made the cut.) If you’re thinking of taking a quick trip to check it out, better wait. A note on its website advises “Winter Break Alert!” and says the restaurant is closed until February 2.

Ope Amosu of ChòpnBlọk, in Houston, was tapped in the Emerging Chef contest. This is an example of the increased international scope of the awards and the small size of some establishments. ChòpnBlọk is a West African restaurant with a stall in a Houston food hall. It does have plans for a brick-and-mortar location this spring or summer, however.    

Three establishments got nods for Best New Restaurant: Barbs-B-Q, in Lockhart; Jūn, in Houston; and Ramen Del Barrio, in Austin. The rules state that the eligibility period is October 2022 through September 2023; thus, restaurants that opened later in 2023 will be considered next year.

The Outstanding Bakery category had two semifinalists from Texas: La Casita Bakeshop, in Richardson, and Koffeteria, in Houston.

Two Texans are competing for Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker: Mariela Camacho of Comadre Panadería, in Austin, and Stephanie Velasquez of Ema HTX, in Houston. Though both bakeries specialize in in Mexican pastries, Ema has also offered cherry pie with pepita-ginger streusel. Comadre’s limited-time offerings have included Imelda’s Mole Calabaza Croissant, a sourdough croissant topped with roasted winter squash and covered in Camacho’s mom’s red mole.

Bludorn, in Houston, and Gemma in Dallas both secured places in the Outstanding Hospitality category.

In the Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program, Bufalina, in Austin, and Taconeta, in El Paso, were both noted.

For Outstanding Bar, Las Ramblas in Brownsville is representing Texas, as it did last year.

The twenty entrants for Best Chef: Texas are Thomas Bille, Belly of the Beast, Spring; Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Canje, Austin; Emmanuel Chavez, Tatemó, Houston; Mark Clayton, Squable, Houston; Christopher Cullum, Cullum’s Attaboy, San Antonio; Victoria Elizondo, Cochinita & Co., Houston; Geoff Ellis, Mum Foods Smokehouse & Delicatessen, Austin; Alexandra Gates, Cochineal, Marfa; Joseph Gomez, Con Todo, Austin; Andrew Ho, Andrew Samia, and Sean Wen, Curry Boys BBQ, San Antonio; Jennifer Hwa Dobbertin, Best Quality Daughter, San Antonio; Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel, Birdie’s, Austin; Emiliano Marentes, Elemi, El Paso; Misti Norris, Petra and the Beast, Dallas; Fermín Núñez, Suerte, Austin; Ana Liz Pulido, Ana Liz Taqueria, Mission; Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman, José, Dallas; Regino Rojas, Purépecha, Dallas; Arnulfo Sánchez III, Vaqueros Texas Bar-B-Q, Grapevine; and Rich Vana, the Heritage Table, Frisco.