Rodeo Crowns Houston Restaurant Winners at Best Bites Competition

2024 Rodeo Uncorked! Roundup and Best Bites Competition. Photo by Mario-Sebastian Berry.

Each year, the Houston Rodeo season kicks off with the Rodeo Uncorked! Roundup & Best Bites Competition at NRG Center. The huge event brings together food and wine enthusiasts, hospitality professionals, food writers and dozens of judges to celebrate 450 award-winning wines and to taste over 100 signature dishes from restaurants competing for ornate belt-buckle trophies and top honors in categories such as the Trailblazing Appetizer Grand Champion, Lone Star Entrée Champion, Rookie Award and more. 

Over 5,000 guests attended the Rodeo Uncorked! Roundup and Best Bites Competition. Photo by Mario-Sebastian Berry.
Over 5,000 guests attended the Rodeo Uncorked! Roundup and Best Bites Competition. Photo by Mario-Sebastian Berry.

Houston Food Finder was invited to send a judge to the Best Bites competition, which took place on Sunday, February 18 (and I was the lucky pick). It’s anybody’s game, as top awards are given out each year to seasoned vets and newcomers alike, and the 6,000 guests in attendance decide who takes home the coveted People’s Choice Award.

Restaurants, catering companies and bars gathered from all over Greater Houston, including previous winners such as Cotton Culinary, eculent, Joyce’s Seafood & Steaks, Whiskey Cake, Patagonia Grill and many others.

The Palm restaurant prepares to serve the masses. Photo by Mario-Sebastian Berry.
The Palm restaurant prepares to serve the masses. Photo by Mario-Sebastian Berry.

The event also features the award-winning wines from the 21st annual Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition, which took place in November, including the Grand Champion Best of Show, Beau Joie Brut Champagne AOC, NV. The wine competition featured 2,985 entries from 22 countries including Chile, France, Italy, Argentina, Bulgaria and more. There were also 539 entries from Texas. A full list of winners can be found here. These wines will be available to purchase at the upcoming Rodeo Uncorked! Champion Wine Auction & Dinner on February 25.

2024 Outstanding Showmanship winner Eculent. Photo by Mario-Sebastian Berry.
2024 Outstanding Showmanship winner Eculent. Photo by Mario-Sebastian Berry.

Without further ado, here are this year’s Houston Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites award winners: 

Outstanding Showmanship Award

This award is for the amount of effort put into the restaurant booth presentation and the end result. 

  • 1st Place: eculent This Kemah tasting menu restaurant also won first place for this category in 2022 and 2023. This year’s booth featured an ornate (and very tall) Alice in Wonderland theme.
  • 2nd Place: SheShe Treats – A first-time Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites winner, owner Shelley Pieri of this independent dessert purveyor in Spring described her booth theme as “Rodeo Chic”. 

People’s Choice Award

  • 1st Place: Grazia Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria — The restaurant took home the same honor in 2019 and 2020. This was one of two awards the Pearland-based Italian restaurant scored for its R-C Ranch Smoked Wagyu Chuck Eye Pancetta Risotto.
  • 2nd Place: Cotton Culinary: This catering company won the same award in 2020, and first place in People’s Choice in 2022 and 2023.  

Tasty Tradition Award

Trailblazer Appetizer Award

  • 1st Place: Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House – It’s not the first time executive chef Joe Cervantez’ restaurant made an impression at Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites, but it is the first time it took home an award. (However, this is Cervantez’ third buckle from Best Bites. He won two Trailblazer Appetizer awards before while executive chef at Brennan’s of Houston: once in 2018 and again in 2020.) The team served Wood-Grilled Coconut Shrimp.
  • 2nd Place: Goode Company – It’s hard to believe that Houston’s most acclaimed campechana from one of the most recognized names in local food has never won an award from Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites before, but that does indeed seem to be the case. 
  • 3rd Place: LoroCurried Brisket Rrice brought some nice recognition at Best Bites for the first time to the Houston outpost of this Austin-based restaurant from chef Tyson Cole and pitmaster Aaron Franklin
  • Chris Boleman, president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, prepares to announce the Rodeo Uncorked Best Bites! winners. Photo by Mario-Sebastian Berry.
    Chris Boleman, president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, prepares to announce the Rodeo Uncorked Best Bites! winners. Photo by Mario-Sebastian Berry.

Lone Star Entrée Award

  • 1st Place: Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers – The popular chain surprisingly won first place in this judged category with its chicken fingers on garlic-butter Texas toast with Cane’s Sauce. At least you can go try this dish for yourself anytime you’d like. 
  • 2nd Place: The Capital GrilleKona Coffee-Crusted Dry-Aged Sirloin finished with shallot butter sauce and au gratin potatoes
  • 3rd Place: Grazia Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria – As noted above, the Pearland-based Italian restaurant won not only this award, but also 1st Place in the People’s Choice Awards for its R-C Ranch Smoked Wagyu Chuck Eye Pancetta Risotto topped with blueberry, rosemary, garlic and port reduction

Two-Steppin’ Dessert Award

  • 1st Place: EggHaus Gourmet – This Oak Forest eatery won the same prize in 2022 for its Texas Pecan Croissant. This year, it was for a Strawberry Tres Leches Croissant.
  • 2nd Place: Patra Lee’s 1848 Handcrafted Heritage Ice Cream – The dessert purveyor was a 2023 People’s Choice 2nd place pick. This year, its Raspberry White Chocolate and Vanilla Verrine earned a different buckle for its growing collection. 
  • 3rd Place: Güzel Cakes – This West-side dessert shop’s Perfect Love Strawberry Cheesecake enabled it to place for the first time in the Best Bites competition.

Rookie Award

  • Money Cat: This modern Japanese restaurant is a newcomer to Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites and received a warm welcome — and a prize — for its Bistec Bao, a Filipino-inspired bao with braised beef chuck, calamansi aioli, pickled red onions, cilantro and chicharrónes.

The event is followed by the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, which runs from February 22 through February 24, and sees more than 250 barbecue teams compete for champion titles in the following categories: Brisket, Ribs, Chicken, Go Texan and Dutch Oven Dessert, and Open Contest.

The 2024 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and carnival runs from February 27 through March 17.

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