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The 2018 James Beard Awards, Featuring Numerous Candidates from the Houston Area

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The Semifinalists for this year's James Beard awards are out, and there are a lot of good Houston chefs and establishments listed...and one noteworthy exclusion.

Xochi is up for Best New Restaurant.  I've written here about Chef Hugo Ortega's flagship upscale Mexican, Hugo's, and @will_5198 shared his take on Ortega's new Oaxacan gem here.  Tracy Vaught is nominated for Outstanding Restaurateur, for running H Town Restaurant Group (Hugo's, Backstreet Cafe, Xochi, Caracol).  Finally, Hugo's is up for Outstanding Service

Anvil Bar & Refuge is up for Outstanding Bar Program, and with good reason. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to cocktail bars, but that wasn't always the case. Bobby Heugel opened Anvil in 2009, and it remains the benchmark in Houston.

I'm psyched to see Chef Martha De Leon from Pax Americana up for Rising Star Chef.  She took the helm after Adam Dorris decamped to the Heights gastropub-ish Presidio, and has kept Pax rolling along as an upper echelon Houston restaurant.

The Best Chef Southwest category is packed with a diverse group of Houston talent, as is appropriate for our city.

Chefs Coleman and Haywood from Kitchen 713 put out an impossibly diverse menu of fusion dishes that are good enough to win me over despite my strong initial aversion to "fusion" as a concept.  Their fried okra with bacon, tomato jam and picked chilies is one of my favorite Houston dishes, and I will also go to the wall for their Black Vinegar Braised Oxtails (with black-eyed pea fried rice?!?).  Their brunch is way better than it needs to be as well (think: Thai omelette with nam prik ong, hoe cakes with cured salmon, labne, & preserved lemon, grilled oysters with red curry, etc.).  

Chef Anita Jaisinghani's Pondicherri has expanded to NYC, but her Houston original is still chugging along full steam as far as I can tell.  We've been several times, and the quality hasn't suffered from the expansion.  Her Gulf Shrimp and tomato dosa is another top Houston dish for me.

Chef Ryan Pera, from Coltivare.  Colitvare in the Heights is one of the 1st places we went to when we decided to move back to Houston, and helped convince us the Heights was the neighborhood for us.

Ronnie Killen is probably best known for his Killen's BBQ, or maybe even his latest inner-loop Killen's STQ.  He's listed as up for Best Chef SW for his work at Killen's Steakhouse, though.  I've only been to the BBQ joint, and I try to go back whenever I have the time. The pork rib there is either the best in TX, or at least in the top 5.  Tough to decide between the ribs I've had there and City Market in Luling, and more recently, Truth BBQ in Brenham.  I'm getting off topic...

Trong Nguyen from Crawfish & Noodles. WHAT. IS. UP.  The season is back upon us, and you better believe we'll be over there ASAP.  You're not going to find a restaurant like this anywhere else. Period. If you come to Houston, you have to go. It's so great Chef Nguyen is getting recognized. David Chang is obsessed with this place, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some versions of Chef Nguyen's dishes show up at a Momofuku near you.

Pappas Bros Steakhouse is in the Outstanding Wine Program category. I haven't been, so not much to add there.

And last but not least, Jillian Bartolome is up for Outstanding Pastry Chef, for her work at the controversial Aqui.  Chef Paul Qui's widely-publicised domestic violence case has led to some intense discussions in Houston about the ethics of dining at the restaurant of a chef accused of beating his girlfriend in front of her child.  I haven't eaten there (and very likely never will), but there are many valid ways to look at this (Alison Cook wrote thoughtfully about her decision to visit in the Houston Chronicle).

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Houston got a lot of love and attention for sure this year. Good to see, with national awards being so Austin-biased in years past. 

Dallas was almost completely shut out, by comparison.

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