Chicago’s Semifinalists for the ‘Oscars of Food’


The semifinalists for the James Beard Awards, one of the largest food industry honors in America, were announced. Chicago has eleven candidates among them, four fewer than last year. Only one finalist from Chicago, Erick Williams of Virtue, won last year. Interestingly, only four of last year’s semi-finalists were nominated again this year, just two in the same category.

Here are the Chicago semifinalists. The finalists will be revealed on March 29, while the awards themselves will be presented in a ceremony at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on June 5.

Exceptional restaurant

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 won Restaurant of the Year at the 2020 Jean Banchet Awards in Chicago and is one of four restaurants in Chicago with two Michelin stars.

Emerging chef

Damar Brown, Virtue – Damarr Brown could add another James Beard Award to Virtue in Hyde Park, run by Erick Williams, who won Best Chef: Great Lakes last year. Brown is Williams’ chef de cuisine at Virtue, but he’s also gained fame as a near-winner of Top chefs last year. He shared his story and a recipe for jambalaya with us.

Best new restaurant

Fine Khmai cuisine – This restaurant in Rogers Park is one of only two Cambodian restaurants in Chicago, and was born 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 food gave Sang’s mother “a new life” after she fled Cambodia during the genocide and then she raised a family as a single mother in Chicago, Sang He told us.

Obelix – This French restaurant from the family behind Bucktown favorite Le Bouchon seems to have won everyone over with its inventive dishes like the foie gras taco, and has apparently been on the list of all of Chicago’s best new restaurants.

Exceptional hospitality

Seppia – Sepia has been a perennial contender for the James Beard Awards in several categories. The Michelin-starred West Loop restaurant has earned accolades for everything from outstanding service to outstanding wine to Best Chef: Great Lakes for current chef Andrew Zimmerman, though he hasn’t been on the list since 2018. Perhaps this is his year to finally win one, as well as a 2008 win in the now-defunct Outstanding Restaurant Graphics category.

Exceptional wine and other beverage program

All together now – This casual West Loop wine bar/shop/cheese shop/cafe focuses on offbeat natural wines and is a first-time (and relatively low-key) candidate.

Best Chef: Great Lakes

Diana Dávila Boldin, Mi Tocaya Antojería – Dávila Boldin has been nominated for Best Chef: Great Lakes numerous times, including last year. Her Logan Square Mexican restaurant has been a local and national favorite of hers for several years it has been described at PBS No passport required exhibition with Marcus Samuelsson. He has also done charity work, running a free meal plan called Todos Ponen (“Everyone Contributes”) during the pandemic. You can try it recipes for enchiladas potosinas, guacamole and ensalada.

Thai Dang, HaiSous – Dang and his Pilsen Vietnamese restaurant HaiSous have repeatedly been nominated or semi-finalists.

Paul Fehribach, Big Jones – Fehribach has been in the running for Best Chef: Great Lakes seven times, so the chef at Andersonville’s traditional restaurant Southern probably doesn’t have much hope. But this could finally be his year.

Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, Kasama – This Filipino restaurant and bakery has received a ton of acclaim since it opened in West Town, including a nod The New York Times‘Restaurant list 2021, a Michelin star and an opportunity for Best New Restaurant at the James Beard Awards. Genie Kwon’s pastries and her husband Tim Flores’s dishes drew people to their breakfasts and tasting menu that explores classic Filipino dishes.

Zubair Mohajir, Wazwan – Part of this South Asian restaurant offers casual fare like a tandoori honey chicken sandwich and Tibetan dumplings, while the back coach house offers a creative tasting menu in an intimate space.


What do you think?

Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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