James Beard Foundation Awards season is now underway. James Beard Foundation

Highlights include significant nods to Kasama, Wazwan, and Khmai Fine Dining

The James Beard Foundation released its list of 2023 semifinalists, known to many as the “long list,” Wednesday morning, announcing 12 Chicago restaurants, bars, chefs, and beverage professionals in the running for nominations. That number is three fewer than the 15 semifinalists named in 2022 when the awards gala met in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Despite the moderate number of overall semifinalists, Chicago came out swinging in several categories. Khmai Fine Dining, a traditional Cambodian restaurant from chef Mona Sang and her mother Sarom Sieng — both survivors of the nation’s genocide — and contemporary French bistro Obélix from brothers Nicolas and Oliver Poilevey, secured nods in the ever-competitive Best New Restaurant category. Khmai Fine Dining was named one of Eater’s 15 Best New Restaurants in America in 2022.

There are more notable newcomers from the city and region this year, including all-day restaurant and natural wine shop All Together Now for outstanding wine and other beverages program category and Scratch Brewing Company, a farmhouse microbrewery located more than five hours southwest of Chicago in Ava, Illinois. Fine dining heavyweights Smyth and Sepia were selected for outstanding restaurant and outstanding hospitality, respectively.

Damarr Brown, chef de cuisine at lauded Southern restaurant Virtue in Hyde Park, has earned a nomination for emerging chef (previously known as rising star chef). Brown became a familiar face to TV audiences across the U.S. last year with an impressive run on Season 19 of Top Chef and was dubbed “fan favorite.” If Brown is named the winner, he’ll be carrying on a legacy at Virtue — chef and owner Erick Williams became the first Black chef to win the coveted best chef, Great Lakes award in 2022.

Speaking of best chef, Great Lakes, Chicago again looms large in the category with five contenders: Diana Dávila of modern Mexican restaurant Mi Tocaya Antojería, Thai Dang of Vietnamese hit HaiSous, Paul Fehribach of Southern hot spot Big Jones, Tim Flores and Genie Kwon of Filipino juggernaut Kasama, and Zubair Mohajir of contemporary South Asian restaurant Wazwan. Both Dávila and Fehribach were semifinalists for the same award last year.

Though Chicago has long enjoyed a more prominent culinary reputation than other Midwestern regions, chefs and restaurateurs in neighboring Wisconsin have made their mark on 2023’s long list. Noteworthy entries include Milwaukee’s Lupi & Iris a Best New Restaurant semifinalist from chef Adam Siegel, who began his culinary career at now-shuttered Chicago icon Spiaggia and won Best Chef: Midwest in 2008.

The awards ceremony for some of the highest honors in the food world will return on June 5 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Finalists will be revealed on Wednesday, March 29.

Head over to Eater for the long list from around the country. This year’s Chicago semifinalist nominations are below.

(* denotes a repeated nominee from past years)

Outstanding Restaurant


Emerging Chef

Damarr Brown, Virtue

Best New Restaurant

Khmai Cambodian Fine Dining


Outstanding Hospitality


Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program

All Together Now

Outstanding Bar

Scratch Brewing Company

Best Chef: Great Lakes

*Diana Dávila Boldin, Mi Tocaya Antojería

Thai Dang, HaiSous

*Paul Fehribach, Big Jones

Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, Kasama

Zubair Mohajir, Wazwan

Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.

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