Each spring, the James Beard Foundation recognizes the best of American food and beverage with the annual James Beard Awards. Often referred to as “the Oscars of the food world,” the awards honor chefs, restaurants, restaurateurs, bars, beverage producers and more – and Greater Phoenix is the proud home to more than a handful of nominees, semifinalists and winners.
Best Chef: Southwest
In 2019, chef Charleen Badman of FnB restaurant in Scottsdale took home one of the night’s biggest prizes, the Best Chef: Southwest award. Badmans’ vegetable-centric restaurant and menu of local, seasonal produce helped her earn the title over chefs from Texas and Colorado, a feat an Arizona chef hadn’t accomplished in more than a decade.
Other Best Chef: Southwest winners include Chris Bianco, who won the award in 2003 for his world-famous restaurant Pizzeria Bianco and Roaring Fork chef Robert McGrath in 2001.
Rewind a little farther back to when some of metro Phoenix’s most time-honored chefs took home this award. The list includes chef Vincent Guerithault who, in 1993, earned the recognition for his namesake Southwest-influenced French restaurant Vincent’s on Camelback, which remains open today. Christopher Gross also received the award in 1995 for his now-closed French dining restaurant Christopher’s. The fine dining destination left its location at the Biltmore Fashion Park, but will reopen at the Wrigley Mansion later this year in a glass-enclosed space with sweeping views of Camelback Mountain.
Phoenix chef RoxSand Scocos also won the Best Chef: Southwest award in 1999 for her now-closed restaurant RoxSand, along with chef Alessandro Stratta, who was cooking at Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician resort in 1998. Stratta returned to the Valley in 2016 and hopes to open a new fast-casual restaurant in Scottsdale focused on “health-conscious” Mediterranean cuisine.
Top Phoenix chefs Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe and Kevin Binkley of Binkley’s have both earned their place on the semifinalist list numerous times, and Phoenix-based restaurateur Sam Fox has been named a semifinalist for the Outstanding Restaurateur award more than 10 times for his work on such concepts as North Italia, Flower Child, Zinburger, Culinary Dropout, and True Food Kitchen.
Best New Restaurant of the Year
In addition to chef awards, the James Beard Foundation names one American restaurant the Best New Restaurant of the Year, a recognition for which at least four Greater Phoenix restaurants have been considered. This year, modern Latin restaurant Vecina made the list of semifinalists after wowing diners with dishes including white bean puree with crispy short rib and hiramasa ceviche, featuring grilled pineapple and coconut leche de tigre.
The foundation named chef Gio Osso’s Mediterranean-influenced Virtu Honest Craft a semifinalist for the award in 2014, as well as chef Shinji Kurita’s ShinBay, now open in Old Town Scottsdale, in 2012, and chef Aaron Chamberlin’s St. Francis in 2010. Chamberlin no longer owns the uptown Phoenix restaurant, though diners can find his wood-fired and seasonal cooking at his downtown restaurant Phoenix Public Market Café.
The foundation also names restaurants as America’s Classics every year, an award which recognizes restaurants for being timeless and beloved regional eateries. Phoenix’s America’s Classics winners include The Fry Bread House, a family-owned restaurant serving sweet and savory Native American fry bread; and El Chorro Lodge, the Paradise Valley restaurant with a sprawling patio and stunning views of the Valley.
And although not an award, The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in downtown Phoenix earns some Beard Foundation cred: Chef Danielle Leoni’s Jamaican restaurant serves sustainable seafood as a part of the foundation’s Smart Catch program. (Read more about The Breadfruit & Rum Bar here.) And this year, Leoni caught her first spot on the awards' list of semifinalists.
Meet Greater Phoenix's 2020 James Beard Award Semifinalists
This year's list of semifinalists includes 18 Greater Phoenix establishments and 13 chefs who call this city home:
Best Chef — Southwest (AZ, NM, NV, OK)
Stephen Jones of The Larder + The Delta in Phoenix
Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House in Scottsdale
Shinji Kurita of ShinBay Omakase Room in Scottsdale
Danielle Leoni of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix
Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot in Scottsdale
Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Café Gran Reserva in Phoenix
Samantha Sanz of Talavera in Scottsdale
Ryan Swanson of Kai Restaurant, Phoenix
Best New Restaurant
Outstanding Bar Program
Little Rituals, Phoenix
Kai Restaurant, Phoenix
Outstanding Pastry Chef
Country Velador, Super Chunk Sweets & Treats, Scottsdale
Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix
Outstanding Wine Program
Rising Star Chef of the Year
Cassie Shortino, Tratto, Phoenix