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The Academy of motion picture arts and Sciencesonly announces nominees, then presents awards. The James Beard Foundation Awards, known to industry folk as the culinary Oscars, is a little more baroque. Today, the foundation announced semi-finalists for its culinary prizes. This is only the first step toward a potential win — finalists will be announced March 15, before awards are presented in New York City on April 25. But Houston has an unusually high number of chefs and restaurateurs this morning who can say, "It's an honor just to be nominated."

Hugo's is unsurprisingly the runaway success.  This is chef Hugo Ortega's sixth nod for Best Chef: Southwest. His wife, Tracy Vaught, is nominated for Outstanding Restaurateur for the couple's collection of restaurants that includes Hugo's, but also Caracol, Backstreet Café, Prego and brand-new Xochi. The service at Hugo's also got a nomination.

Another perpetual bridesmaid, Anvil Bar & Refuge, is nominated for Outstanding Bar Program once again. William Wright, who was recognized last year for his work at best new restaurant semi-finalist Helen Greek Food & Wine, is this year among the under-30-year-old Rising Star Chef of the Year nominees.

But Houston stands out most with a record five nominations for Best Chef: Southwest. Beside Ortega, Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan of the Pass have returned to the list, as has Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata. Anita Jaisinghani of Pondicheri earned her first nod this year since a 2012 nomination for more formal Indika.

New to the list? Jianyun Ye, of Mala Sichuan Bistro. It's a refreshing inclusion for the restaurant's less formal vibe, but also because with a Mexican, Japanese, Indian and Chinese nominee, the Beard Foundation seems to appreciate Houston's diversity just as much as we do.

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Editor’s Pick

Anvil Bar & Refuge

Cocktails 1424 Westheimer Rd

The bar that started the cocktail boom in Houston, Anvil is still the standard by which all other Houston cocktail joints are judged, slinging expertly made ...

Editor’s Pick

Mala Sichuan Bistro

$$ Chinese Multiple Locations

Born in China and educated at the University of Texas at Austin, Cori Xiong, the young co-owner of Mala Sichuan, played it safe when the restaurant first ope...

Editor’s Pick


$ Indian 516 Westheimer Rd.

Chef Anita Jaisinghani’s flagship restaurant, Indika in Montrose, is open and airy, with a chic, modern vibe and plenty of room for the many fans of her fier...

Editor’s Pick


$ Indian 2800 Kirby Dr.

The little sister to Indika, Pondicheri expands on a chaat house concept to include a bakeshop, which turns out everything from chili-chocolate oatmeal cooki...

Editor’s Pick

Kata Robata

$$$ Japanese, Sushi 3600 Kirby Dr.

Kata Robata is, quite simply, the best sushi restaurant in Houston. Sitting at chef Manabu Horiuchi’s counter and ordering the omakase—Japanese for “I’ll lea...

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The Pass

$$$$ American/New American 807 Taft St.

The Pass is the high-end, contemporary dining room where chefs Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner demonstrate what can be done with delicate ingredien...

Editor’s Pick

Helen Greek Food & Wine

$$$ Greek 2429 Rice Blvd.

Helen is fascinated by the shared passions of Greek and Texan cuisine—and there are many, it turns out, including a love for such ingredients as quail and ok...


$$$ Italian 2520 Amherst St.

At Prego, modern dishes like duck ravioli and old-fashioned classics like lasagna appear side by side on the menu, with plenty of antipasti, pizzas, risottos...

Editor’s Pick

Backstreet Café

$$$ American/New American 1103 S. Shepherd

One of the main attractions at Backstreet Café on Shepherd near West Gray— helmed by chef Ortega of Hugo’s, along with his wife, Tracy Vaught—is the patio se...

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$$$ Mexican/Tex-Mex 2200 Post Oak Blvd., Ste. 160

The cool crudos at Caracol, chef Hugo Ortega’s beguiling Galleria-area restaurant, may be the perfect antidote to the summer heat. Among the offerings: lime-...

Editor’s Pick


$$$ Mexican/Tex-Mex 1600 Westheimer Rd.

Hugo’s chef/owner Hugo Ortega has been a finalist for the James Beard Award three times; no surprise, as his Montrose restaurant has been the city’s top choi...

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