Food & Drink

Meet the South’s 2024 James Beard Award–Winning Restaurants and Chefs

With big wins from D.C. to New Orleans to Texas, the region’s culinary talent ate up the competition

A group of people pose with a medal

Photo: Galdones Photography

The team of Dakar NOLA celebrates its win in the Best New Restaurant category.

The James Beard Foundation held its annual Restaurant and Chef Awards on Monday in Chicago, and Southern eateries and bars didn’t wait till closing time to clean up. Out of ten nationwide categories handed out at what’s often called the Oscars of the food world, the region fielded five winners, announced along with awards for the best chefs in four sub-regions that fit entirely or partly within the South. A look at those victors:

Outstanding Chef

Michael Rafidi, Albi, Washington, D.C.

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The crowd’s roar at the announcement of the night’s top honor was fitting, given that Rafidi’s hip, gorgeous restaurant is centered around an open-fire hearth that turns out much of its Middle Eastern fare. (Albi means “my heart” in Arabic.) Rafidi’s talent had already earned the restaurant coveted stars in 2022 and 2023 from the Michelin Guide, which commented that his menu is “full of surprises as he weaves in the flavors of the eastern Mediterranean with a myriad of local ingredients. Favorites like baba ghanoush and kefta are handled with precision, but the tastiest dishes come from the wood-fired hearth, imbued with smoke and char.” So yes, you do want to try the burnt eggplant with pita, or the barbecued lamb kebob with fermented chili and black lime labneh. That is, if you’re lucky enough to get a table now.

Best New Restaurant

Dakar NOLA, New Orleans

photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for James Beard Foundation
Serigne Mbaye and Effie Richardson accept the Best New Restaurant award.

“I don’t really call us a restaurant. I think of it as my mom’s throwing a dinner party and I’ve invited you over,” chef Serigne Mbaye told Garden & Gun last year. That dinner party may be the most interesting one in town, with guests experiencing modern, aromatic Senegalese cuisine served in a tasting-menu format. Dishes such as crawfish soup with African locust bean and black-eyed-pea fritters arrive with descriptions of the connections between the forced journey of West African enslaved peoples and the city’s culinary development. “I want to thank the people of New Orleans, who truly embrace me as one of their own,” Mbaye concluded in his acceptance remarks.

Emerging Chef

Masako Morishita, Perry’s, Washington, D.C.

photo: Galdones Photography
Chef Masako Morishita.

Perry’s, a staple of D.C.’s Japanese dining scene for forty years, rose to new acclaim in 2022 after bringing aboard Morishita, who emigrated from Japan and previously worked in the D.C. bureau of a Japanese TV network. “This is my wildest American dream come true!” she said in her acceptance speech. “I cook Japanese comfort food, which is overshadowed. Everybody knows sushi, everybody knows ramen, nobody knows about Japanese comfort food. This is the cuisine the Japanese mom has been cooking with love for centuries for her family. I really hope I’m making all the Japanese moms proud.” With a menu that includes a miso-spiked mac and cheese, a shrimp katsu burger, and a bowl of udon with crispy prosciutto, she’s making moms everywhere proud.

Outstanding Bar

Jewel of the South, New Orleans

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The team at Jewel of the South takes home the Outstanding Bar medal.

You could feel it coming. A year after winning a 2017 James Beard Award for heading the beverage program at New Orleans institution Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, Chris Hannah opened his own cocktail-centric spot just a bead’s toss away in the French Quarter. Stylish but never stuffy, Jewel of the South was instantly beloved and obviously special, but hey, you can’t give the same mixologist the same award so soon. The wait is over—and the award entirely deserved. From the podium in Chicago, Hannah revealed the location of bottles of celebratory cognac to the staff still manning the bar back in New Orleans.

Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program

Lula Drake Wine Parlour, Columbia, South Carolina

photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for James Beard Foundation
Tim Gardner’s Lula Drake Wine Parlour brings in the win for Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program.

Proprietor and head sommelier Tim Gardner once told his wife he’d shut down this speakeasy-vibe spot before surrendering his mission to focus on natural, sustainable wines “made by people who care what they put in.” Fortunately, that has proven unnecessary. Grinning and flanked by his beaming staff, Gardner confessed to having had some “bonkers” ideas on his journey. “But one of them was a great idea, and that was opening a wine bar in my hometown,” he said. “Ya’ll come see us in Columbia, South Carolina!”

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic

Harley Peet, Bas Rouge, Easton, Maryland

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A love for competitive sailing brought Culinary Institute of America grad Peet to the Eastern Shore two decades ago, and an ongoing love for the bounty of the Chesapeake brings him to incorporate the freshest local seafood into his menus. Bas Rouge is proudly elegant in the tradition of grand European dining, so the area’s famous crabs might find their way into a gourmet appetizer with spicy potatoes, preserved lemon, and crispy quinoa—an excellent stop on your way to an entrée of Peet’s double-cut rack of lamb.

Best Chef: South

Valerie Chang, Maty’s, Miami

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Chang’s award felt especially bittersweet, coming as it did just five days after the death of her grandmother, the restaurant’s namesake. Chang’s family first opened Miami eateries after emigrating from Peru, and no doubt she’ll continue to honor her grandmother by serving vibrant, citrus-forward favorites such as lomo saltado, chicken milanese, and a crudo mixto of surf clams, shrimp, and octopus.

Best Chef: Southeast

Paul Smith, 1010 Bridge, Charleston, West Virginia

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Last year, Smith was the first West Virginia chef ever nominated in the category. Now he’s the first to bring the coveted winner’s medallion back home to his popular, eclectic Charleston eatery. (As he plainly put it at the podium: “Two words that have never been mentioned here before—West Virginia.”) His menu’s starting point is traditional Appalachian practicality, nudged into territory that includes risotto carbonara with bacon lardons and fried chicken with pan jus and hot honey.

Best Chef: Texas

Ana Liz Pulido, Ana Liz Taqueria, Mission, Texas

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How does a shopping-mall taqueria in a small town near the U.S.-Mexico border become a culinary hotspot? With the talent and will of Pulido, who, between running her own snack shop as a teenager and returning to the Rio Grande Valley in 2019, attended the Culinary Institute of America. When her supplier of nixtamalized corn tortillas moved away, she learned to make them herself. Those tortillas now enfold gotta-try-that creations like a chile relleno taco and a mixed-meat discada taco loaded with polish sausage and pimiento verde. A secret weapon? Her dad, Armando, who grills all the meat.