Texas restaurants captured twenty slots on the initial ballot of the 2018 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards, often described as the Oscars of the dining industry. On the semifinalists list, announced this morning, Texas showed up in seven national categories. The state also dominated the Southwest regional award category, nabbing twelve out of twenty spots. Following two rounds of voting, winners will be announced May 7 at the group’s awards gala in Chicago.
The Texas highlight of the year is that two of the state’s restaurants are contenders for the prestigious, national Best New Restaurant award: Kemuri Tatsu-Ya of Austin and Xochi of Houston. But the biggest surprise is that three positions have gone to chefs at decidedly unfancy restaurants: Norma Frances “Tootsie” Tomanetz, the long-time pitmaster of Snow’s BBQ in Lexington; Trong Nguyen of Crawfish & Noodles in Houston; and Regino Rojas of Revolver Taco in Dallas. All are vying for Best Chef: Southwest. (Update: This morning, Barbecue Editor Daniel Vaughn broke the good news to Tootsie. Read her reaction here).
The appearance of a barbecue pitmaster on the list is not unheard of. In 2015, Austin’s Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue won Best Chef: Southwest. But in general, more-conventional and fancier eating establishments have dominated the Beard awards. The more-inclusive attitude is an obvious effort to increase the type and diversity of recognized restaurants.
Here’s the Texas semifinalist breakdown by city:
Austin: Jeffrey Stuffings of Jester King Brewery for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional; Kemuri Tatsu-Ya for Best New Restaurant; Laura Sawicki of Launderette for Outstanding Pastry Chef; and Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye, Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie, and Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine for Best Chef: Southwest.
Dallas: Regino Rojas of Revolver Taco for Best Chef: Southwest.
Houston: Xochi for Best New Restaurant; Anvil Bar & Refuge for Outstanding Bar Program; Jillian Bartolome of Aqui for Outstanding Pastry Chef; Martha De Leon of Pax Americana for Rising Star Chef of the Year (she moved to Seattle at the beginning of 2018 but is still eligible); Hugo’s for Outstanding Service; Tracy Vaught of Hugo’s and other restaurants for Outstanding Restaurateur; and Ross Coleman and James Haywood of Kitchen 713, Anita Jaisinghani of Pondicheri, Trong Nguyen of Crawfish & Noodles, and Ryan Pera of Coltivare for Best Chef: Southwest.
Lexington: Norma Frances “Tootsie” Tomanetz of Snow’s BBQ for Best Chef: Southwest.
Pearland: Ronnie Killen of Killen’s Steakhouse for Best Chef: Southwest.
San Antonio: Steve McHugh of Cured, and Diego Galicia and Rico Torres of Mixtli for Best Chef: Southwest..
Texas’s showing this year is the same as 2016, one fewer than 2017, but down from 2013, when the state captured 25 slots.
Here are all the semifinalists nationwide. And coming Monday, Texas Monthly will reveal its annual Top Ten Best New Restaurants list.