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Here Are LA’s 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalists

Is this the year Los Angeles rakes in the wins?

James Beard
A coveted James Beard award
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

The James Beard Foundation released its annual shortlist of semifinalists across all restaurant categories today, offering up nominations for everything from outstanding service to best new restaurant to the best chef in the west. As in years past, Los Angeles’s exploding culinary scene is well-represented at this stage of the game, but that hasn’t always translated into finalist nominations (announced next month), or, even less so, actual wins. Let’s take a look at who’s in the running at least.

First and foremost is the Best New Restaurant category, aimed squarely at the hottest, tastiest, most well-run eateries anywhere in America. Los Angeles actually has three names on the 28-point list: Kismet (run by Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer, Eater LA’s chefs of the year), Jordan Kahn’s Vespertine in Culver City (Eater LA’s sensation of the year), and Evan Funke’s pasta paradise Felix in Venice (Eater LA’s restaurant of the year).

Next up is Outstanding Restaurant, for a consistently-amazing place that has been operating at a high level for more than ten years. The only LA-based nomination this year is for La Casita Mexicana, the award-winning Mexican restaurant in Bell. On the Outstanding Service side, LA landed names like the proudly personal n/naka, Providence, and Park’s Barbeque.

For Outstanding Restaurateur, local names like Caroline Styne of The Lucques Group and Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb of Rustic Canyon Group take home semifinalist nods. Meanwhile on the drinks front, Downtown’s Bar Clacson is nominated for Outstanding Bar Program, and A.O.C. gets an Outstanding Wine Program look. Now on to the chef nominations, across all categories.

A small bite from a tasting menu restaurant, served on a bowl of rocks.
A dish from Kato in West LA
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The coveted Rising Star Chef of the Year is reserved for anyone aged 30 or under, with nominations going to Liz Johnson of the new Freedman’s in Silver Lake (she previously got a ton of recognition for French restaurant Mimi in New York City); Miles Thompson of Michael’s in Santa Monica; and Jonathan Yao of Kato restaurant in West LA.

The regionally-specific Best Chef: West category is similarly stuffed with local names. There’s Josef Centeno for Orsa & Winston, Jeremy Fox for Rustic Canyon, Jessica Koslow of Sqirl, Tony Xu for his Chengdu Taste empire, Carlos Salgado of Orange County’s Taco Maria, Travis Lett of Gjelina, Michael Cimarusti of Providence, and Niki Nakayama for n/naka.

Other chef nominations include Or Amsalam and Alex Phaneuf of Lodge Bread for Outstanding Baker, and Margarita Manzke of Republique for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Los Angeles did not land a nomination this year for Outstanding Chef, though A.O.C.’s Suzanne Goin won the award back in 2016.

One last note: Per the NY Times today, this is the first year that the James Beard Foundation nominating committee is undertaking a new set of guidelines that involve new cultural standards for “respect, transparency, diversity, sustainability, and equality.” That means a lot of names like Hollywood’s Hearth & Hound are not represented on the best new restaurant list (nor is Houston’s Paul Qui, Mario Batali, John Besh, or Ken Friedman’s other project in New York City), owing to public allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse. The annual list of semifinalists is also among the most diverse in the history of the James Beard Foundation, with women making up 40% of the nominations (up from 27% last year). The full list of awards semifinalists can be seen here.