It’s shaping up as a red-letter year for Texas restaurants. Back in May, Food & Wine put two Texans on its list of the best new chefs in the country. Last week, Bon Appétit included four Texas spots among its selection of the top fifty new restaurants, and it named Dallas its “restaurant city of the year.” But, wait, that’s not all. Today, Bon Appétit released its Hot Ten list (i.e., the best of the top fifty), and a Dallas restaurant, tiny Cambodian-oriented Khao Noodle Shop, took the number two spot.
Clearly the Texas culinary scene has arrived, so much so that the James Beard Foundation has been forced to admit what we at Texas Monthly have long known—that Texas isn’t part of the South, the Southwest, or (heaven forbid) the Midwest. Texas is a place unlike any other, with a unique culture that extends into our restaurant kitchens. The foundation announced today that Texas will now figure as a stand-alone region in its prestigious annual restaurant awards.
That means we’re guaranteed to see a Texas chef make an acceptance speech at the Beard gala next May, which should soothe the sting of being excluded from the winner’s circle for the Southwest regional chef award the last two years—losing out to Colorado in 2018 and Arizona this year. (The new Southwest region is Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.)
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Mitchell Davis, the Beard Foundation’s chief strategy director, said that turning Texas and two other states—California and New York—into their own regions is part of a larger plan that includes increasing the number of regions from ten to twelve and reshuffling states within those regions. If it works as planned, restaurants in out-of-the-way spots that previously had only a remote chance of winning will no longer be quite as overshadowed by competitors in the biggest cities. They could end up being overshadowed by different big cities, of course, but that remains to be seen.
The reconfigured regions follow other recent changes at the James Beard Foundation, including additional criteria for many awards to include not only recognition of excellent food and service but also internal values such as respect, diversity, transparency, and equality. These revisions were motivated by the #MeToo movement and revelations that some prominent chefs and restaurateurs had sexually harassed employees.
The revised criteria go into effect next year, but their spirit was already evident in May, when a large number of female chefs were honored at the awards gala. There were also more casual restaurants winning, those without a white-tablecloth atmosphere, including barbecue restaurants and, yes, noodle shops.
If there’s a downside for Texas, it’s that the internal competition for the 2020 Beard awards will be feistier. Previously we could all be happy if anyone from the state won the Southwest title. Now the goodwill and camaraderie could prove in shorter supply.