Award Season

Theodore Rex Chefs, The Blind Goat Among Houston's 14 James Beard Semifinalists

The road to redemption begins as Bayou City sets out to win some gold in the Oscars of Food.

By Timothy Malcolm February 26, 2020

Will Houston have more luck in 2020?

Image: Clay Williams

Last year, officials with the James Beard Foundation announced the finalists for its 2019 awards ceremony right here in Houston, at Hugo's. But in a shocking twist, the Oscars of Food left out Houston completely. 

Today is the first step on the road to redemption, as 14 Houston restaurants, chefs, and food and drink personalities have been named semifinalists for the Beard Foundation's 2020 awards ceremony.

The big news this year is that Texas has its own region for the Best Chef category, meaning Houston chefs are only battling it out with those from Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and other locations in the Lone Star State. This year Houston has five entries in the Best Chef Texas category: Dawn Burrell of Kulture, Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata, Anita Jaisinghani of Pondicheri, Trong Nguyen of Crawfish & Noodles, and Jason Vaughan of Nancy's Hustle.

For those keeping track, Dallas got four nods in the Best Chef Texas category (and nine overall), while Austin scored three entries in this category (and six overall). San Antonio also scored three semifinalists in Best Chef Texas (and three overall). Yes, Virginia, Houston still dominates in Beard nominations.

Meanwhile, The Original Ninfa's on Navigation is fighting once again for the right to be called most Outstanding Restaurant in America, while Justin Yu (Theodore Rex) gets a chance to win Outstanding Chef in America. In even-more-awesome Rex news, the restaurant's chef de cuisine Kaitlin Steets was nominated for Rising Star Chef of the Year.

Best New Restaurant nominees include Squable (of which Yu is a partner) and, in a huge victory for food halls, Bravery Chef Hall darling The Blind Goat. Good news for chef Christine Hà, who will be opening a standalone Vietnamese restaurant with Tony Nguyen this year.

Here's the full list of 2020 James Beard Award semifinalists from Houston:

  • Best New Restaurant: The Blind Goat
  • Best New Restaurant: Squable
  • Outstanding Bar Program: Anvil Bar & Refuge
  • Outstanding Chef: Justin Yu, Theodore Rex
  • Outstanding Hospitality: Hugo's
  • Outstanding Restaurant: The Original Ninfa's on Navigation
  • Outstanding Restaurateur: Tracy Vaught, H-Town Restaurant Group (Xochi, Caracol, Hugo's)
  • Outstanding Wine Program: Rosie Cannonball
  • Rising Star Chef of the Year: Kaitlin Steets, Theodore Rex
  • Best Chef Texas: Dawn Burrell, Kulture
  • Best Chef Texas: Manabu Horiuchi, Kata Robata
  • Best Chef Texas: Anita Jaisinghani, Pondicheri
  • Best Chef Texas: Trong Nguyen, Crawfish & Noodles
  • Best Chef Texas: Jason Vaughan, Nancy's Hustle

The finalists will be announced March 25 in Philadelphia. Hopefully the Beard Foundation is kinder to H-Town this year in the City of Brotherly Love. The actual awards ceremony is May 3 in Chicago. 

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