The semifinalists for the James Beard Awards, one of the largest recognitions of the food industry in the United States, have been announced. Chicago has eleven nominees between them, four fewer than last year. Only one finalist from Chicago, Virtue’s Erick Williams, won last year. Interestingly, only four of last year’s semifinalists were nominated again this year, only two of them in the same category.
Here are the Chicago semifinalists. Finalists will be announced on March 29, while the awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Chicago Lyric Opera on June 5.
smith – Karen and John B. Shields were nominated for Best Chef: Great Lakes at last year’s James Beard Awards and moved up to a national category this year. Smyth’s won Restaurant of the Year at Chicago’s Homegrown Jean Banchet Awards in 2020, and is one of four Chicago restaurants with two Michelin stars.
Damarr Brown, Virtue – Damarr Brown could add another James Beard Award to Virtue in Hyde Park, helmed by Erick Williams, who won Best Chef: Great Lakes last year. Brown is Williams’ chef de cuisine at Virtue, but he also gained fame as a near-winner of The best chef last year. She shared her story and a jambalaya recipe with us.
best new restaurant
Fine Khmai food – This restaurant in Rogers Park is one of only two Cambodian restaurants in Chicago, and grew out of Mona Sang’s culinary training at Lettuce Entertain You and her mother’s recipes, one of which Sang shared with us. Cooking and eating gave Sang’s mother “a new life” after she fled Cambodia during the genocide and later raised a family as a single mother in Chicago, Sang told us.
Obelix – This French-style restaurant from the family behind Bucktown favorite Le Bouchon seems to have won everyone over with its creative dishes, such as a foie gras taco, and has apparently been on every list of Chicago’s best new restaurants. .
Sepia – Sepia has been a perennial contender for James Beard Awards in various categories. The Michelin-starred West Loop restaurant has received nominations for everything from Outstanding Service to Outstanding Wine to Best Chef: Great Lakes for current chef Andrew Zimmerman, though it hasn’t made the list since 2018. Maybe this is it. his year to finally win one, beyond a 2008 win in the now-defunct Outstanding Restaurant Graphics category.
Exceptional wine and other drinks program
all together now – This casual West Loop wine bar/shop/cheese shop/cafe focuses on unusual natural wines and is a first-time (and comparatively low-key) nominee.
Best Chef: Great Lakes
Diana Dávila Boldin, My Namesake Antojería – Dávila Boldin has been nominated for Best Chef: Great Lakes numerous times, including last year. His Logan Square Mexican restaurant has been a local and national favorite for several years, and was featured on PBS’s no passport required Show with Marcus Samuelsson. He has also gotten involved in charity work, running a free meal program called Todos Ponen (“Everyone Contributes”) during the pandemic. You can try their recipes for enchiladas potosinas, guacamole and salad.
Thai Dang, HaiSous – Dang and his Pilsen Vietnamese restaurant, HaiSous, have been nominated or semi-finalists multiple times.
Paul Fehribach, Big Jones – Fehribach has been in the running for Best Chef: Great Lakes seven times, so the chef at Andersonville’s traditional southern restaurant probably doesn’t have high hopes. But this could finally be his year.
Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, Kasama – This Filipino restaurant and bakery has received a lot of accolades since it opened in West Town, including a nod to The New York Times‘ 2021 Restaurant List, a Michelin star and a chance to be Best New Restaurant at the James Beard Awards. Genie Kwon’s pastries and her husband Tim Flores’ dishes have drawn people to her breakfasts and a tasting menu that explores classic Filipino dishes.
Zubair Mohajir, Wazwan – One part of this South Asian restaurant offers casual dishes like a tandoori honey chicken sandwich and Tibetan dumplings, while the carport at the rear offers an inventive tasting menu in an intimate space.