2024 Beard Awards a Near-Shutout for Houston — But One Chef is a Nominee

Emmanuel Chavez and his team during dinner service at Tatemó

The 2024 James Beard Chef & Restaurant Nominees were announced the morning of Wednesday, April 3. Despite many Houston chefs and restaurants that made it to the semifinals, only one is a finalist: Emmanuel Chavez of Tatemó. He’s a nominee in the Best Chef Texas category. Tatemó was a 2023 Best New Restaurant nominee in 2023. That’s a national category, while Texas is a state-level category, in which Chavez may have a good chance. Benchawan Painter, the chef and co-owner of Street To Kitchen in Houston, won the Best Chef award last year, and was the first woman chef from Houston to do so. 

Chavez’s work at Tatemó is considered groundbreaking as a chef who brings traditional nixtamalization of heirloom corn to the forefront of his cuisine. The small restaurant, located in a humble strip center at 4740 Dacoma, is BYOB and offers a seven-course tasting menu for dinner Wednesday through Saturday. The cost is $125 per person plus tax and gratuity. The dishes are always subject to change, but the sample menu online includes ceviche with jicama, yuzu aioli, pico and corn milk; gordita with hibiscus machaca and charred avocado crema;  tamal de calabaza with acorn squash, poblano, butternut squash chile atole, epazote salsa and chanterelle mushrooms; and bunuelo with chocolate and chicatanas (prized ants traditionally used for mole). 

Every Houston-area chef and restaurant that was named as a semifinalist this year represents incredible talent. Here are just a few that we thought had better chances of becoming James Beard Award nominees. 

Sean Jensen of Nancy's Hustle
Sean Jensen of Nancy’s Hustle. Photo by Phaedra Cook.
  • Nancy’s Hustle, which has appeared as a semifinalist or nominee three times in various categories. Executive chef and co-owner Jason Vaughan was a Best Chef: Texas semifinalist in 2020. Last year, it was a nominee in the Outstanding Wine & Other Beverages category. Beverage pro Sean Jensen co-owns the business, and the beverage director is Justin Vann, who was part of Oxheart when its chef-owner Justin Yu won the 2016 Best Chef Southwest. (This was before the Beard Awards split Texas into its own region.) 
  • Mark Clayton of Squable was a semifinalist in the Best Chef Texas category who didn’t make it to the finals — but he has more than paid his dues. Clayton earned his cred at Stella in New Orleans and Oxheart (where current boss and chef Justin Yu collected his own Best Chef Southwest James Beard Award) before becoming the executive chef at Squable, which was a Best New Restaurant semifinalist in 2020. 
  • Thanks to the national attention she received during reality competition show Top Chef: Houston, which she nearly won, we thought that Evelyn Garcia’s Jūn — which she co-owns with fellow chef Henry Lu — had a good chance of becoming a James Beard Award finalist in the Best New Restaurant category. It also would have been an appreciated nod for a woman chef in Houston. 
  • Itai Ben Eli and Itamar Levy of Sof Hospitality Group were up for Outstanding Restaurateur — and the company is building an interesting, ambitious portfolio. They started with the original Doris Metropolitan in New Orleans before opening one in Houston. Their Israeli restaurant, Hamsa, also in Houston, as well as artisan bakery Badolina are both well-regarded. 

The full list of Houston-area semifinalists is available on our website.

Texas Nominees

Despite it being a mediocre year for Houston-area James Beard Award finalists, it wasn’t a bad year for Texas on the whole. Here are the nominees from across the state: 

National Categories

Other Best Chef Texas Nominees

Should you wish to see if Emmanuel Chavez wins Best Chef Texas with your own eyes, the winners’ announcements and award ceremony will be held at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago on June 10. Tickets go on sale on Tuesday, April 9. 

Comments (0)

Share Your Thoughts on This Article