Casual restaurants and a wider variety of ethnic cuisines are featured more prominently on this year’s list of James Beard Foundation Awards semifinalists, although the long list of 420 chefs, restaurateurs, restaurants and beverage professionals contains fewer newcomers than in previous years.

Among the 208 new names on the list of 420 nominees — including 30 semifinalists for Best New Restaurant, all of which are new — are such casual restaurants as Uncle Boons and Pearl Oyster Bar, both located in the highly competitive New York City market. Uncle Boons features Thai food, albeit by two alumni of Thomas Keller’s New York City fine-dining restaurant Per Se.


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Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, which has won Beard Awards in the past, is up for Outstanding Restaurant this year, an honor normally given to landmark fine-dining restaurants.

St. Louis — often regarded as a second- or third-tier city when it comes to restaurants — fared better than usual, with five chefs on the list. The only one of those chefs returning from last year’s list, Gerard Craft of Niche, observed on Twitter that he moved to the city nine years ago to be part of an emerging culinary scene.

The Beard Foundation has released the list of semifinalists for the chef and restaurant awards for the past six years, after the previously internal document intended for judges was leaked by a blogger. This year there are just 178 new names on the list, excluding the 30 Best New Restaurant semifinalists, compared with 194 last year.

The Beard Foundation reported that it received 38,000 entries when it held its open call for nominations in October. Its Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee then determined their eligibility and produced the list of 420 names in 20 categories. An independent volunteer panel of more than 600 judges across the country — including restaurant critics, food and wine writers, culinary educators, and previous winners — will vote on the list.

The final five nominees in each category will be announced on March 18. The same judges will vote on the final nominees, and the winners will be announced at a gala celebration in New York City on May 5.

See all of the semifinalists >>

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary