Today, the James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists for its annual top honors of the restaurant industry. The list continues the paradigm-shifting nominations and winners of the 2022 awards with a diverse group. Texas restaurants and chefs racked up 41 long-list nominations. Together, they show the dynamism of the state’s dining scene, but there are surprises aplenty.

Notably absent is San Antonio–based chef Steven McHugh, a perennial finalist, and the restaurants he co-owns with his wife, Sylvia McHugh. Cured, in the Historic Pearl District, the McHughs’ first restaurant, was a finalist six times between 2016 and 2022. Also missing is Mixtli, the San Antonio restaurant fronted by co-owners and chefs Diego Galicia and Rico Torres. The restaurant has garnered myriad accolades for its forward-thinking Mexican food and community service. Torres led the organization and promotion of Family Meal, a fundraising dinner that brings home El Paso–raised chefs for an all-star meal. Mixtli previously has been a semifinalist in the Outstanding Restaurant and Best Pastry Chef or Baker categories.

El Paso’s Elemi, which last year was the sole Texas semifinalist in the Outstanding Chef category, is represented this year by its co-owner and executive chef Emiliano Marentes, who is competing for the Best Chef: Texas award. Marentes is joined by another far West Texas chef, Enrique Lozano of El Charlatan in Socorro. Other West Texas nominees include Jon Walter of Chez Sami in Wolfforth, and the Local in Abilene, which is nominated for Outstanding Hospitality. The Rio Grande Valley makes an impressive showing with two new semifinalists: Ana Liz Taqueria (Best Chef: Texas) in Mission and Las Ramblas in Brownsville (Outstanding Bar).

Other newcomers include the Jerk Shack in San Antonio and Don Artemio in Fort Worth. The latter, a Mexican restaurant co-owned by Adrian Burciaga and Jorge Ramón Cárdenas Cantú, is the first stateside location for the Saltillo, Mexico–based concept and is nominated for Best New Restaurant. The other Fort Worth eatery listed is Texas Monthly’s No. 1 barbecue joint, Goldee’s Barbecue, whose three owners made the Best Chef: Texas semifinalist lineup. Goldee’s isn’t alone in the acknowledged smoked-meat slingers. Other barbecue joints receiving recognition include KG BBQ and Distant Relatives, both in Austin; Curry Boys BBQ in San Antonio; and Burnt Bean Co. in Seguin. 

Also long-listed is Tatsu, which is described as the hardest reservation to get in Dallas. The Japanese omakase restaurant is as renowned for its food as it is its hospitality. Last year, the small staff learned enough American sign language to host a deaf couple. Junior Borges of Meridian, also in Dallas, who was conspicuously overlooked in 2022, is a semifinalist for the national category of Outstanding Chef.

Not surprising is the metropolitan distribution of semifinalists. Houston has racked up ten nominees, followed by Dallas with nine, San Antonio with six (seven, if you include Burnt Bean Co.), and Austin with six.

While the list is to be commended for recognizing farther-flung restaurants and chefs, restaurants like Elemi and watering holes such as Las Ramblas are long shots as finalists or winners. The awards have long favored large cities over geographically remote or rural communities. As someone whose job it is to travel to said locations and who relishes their food cultures, I hope these places make it to the short list. We’ll have to wait until March 29, when the finalists will be announced, to see. Winners will be awarded on June 5 in Chicago. 

The list of Texas semifinalists is below. The complete list of nominees can be read on the James Beard Foundation website.

Outstanding Restaurant

La Condesa, Austin

Lucia, Dallas

Outstanding Restaurateur

Chris Williams (Lucille’s Hospitality Group, Houston)

Emerging Chef

Victoria Elizondo (Cochinita & Co., Houston)

Jennifer Hwa Dobbertin (Best Quality Daughter, San Antonio)

Best New Restaurant

Don Artemio, Fort Worth

Restaurant Beatrice, Dallas

Tatemó, Houston

Tatsu, Dallas

Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker

Mariela Camacho (Comadre Panadería, Austin)

Anne Ng (Bakery Lorraine, San Antonio)

Outstanding Bakery

La Casita Bakeshop, Richardson

Kuluntu Bakery, Dallas

Outstanding Wine & Beverage Program

Nancy’s Hustle, Houston

Suerte, Austin

Outstanding Bar

Las Ramblas, Brownsville

Weathered Souls Brewing Co., San Antonio

Outstanding Hospitality

The Local, Abilene

Theodore Rex, Houston

Outstanding Chef

Christine Ha and Tony J. Nguyen (Xin Chào, Houston)

Junior Borges (Meridian, Dallas)

Best Chef: Texas

Nicola Blaque (The Jerk Shack, San Antonio)

Tavel Bristol-Joseph (Canje, Austin)

Damien Brockway (Distant Relatives, Austin)

Reyna Duong (Sandwich Hag, Dallas)

Kareem El-Ghayesh (KG BBQ, Austin)

Greg Gatlin (Gatlin’s BBQ, Houston)

Jalen Heard, Lane Milne, and Jonny White (Goldee’s Barbecue, Fort Worth) 

Andrew Ho, Andrew Samia, and Sean Wen (Curry Boys BBQ, San Antonio)

Benchawan Jabthong Painter (Street to Kitchen, Houston) 

Ai Le (Nam Giao, Houston)

Olivia López and Jonathan Percival (Molino Olōyō, Dallas)

Enrique Lozano (El Charlatan, Socorro)

Emiliano Marentes (Elemi, El Paso)

Ana Liz Pulido (Ana Liz Taqueria, Misson)

Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman (José, Dallas)

Regino Rojas (Revolver Taco Lounge, Dallas)

John Russ (Clementine, San Antonio)

Ernest Servantes and David Kirkland (Burnt Bean Co., Seguin)

Kiran Verma (Kiran’s, Houston)

Jon Walter (Chez Sami, Wolfforth)

Disclosure: The author is a member of the James Beard restaurant and chef awards committee.