The James Beard Foundation recently announced it would not be awarding its 2020 awards.
The organization trimmed down all of the nominees down to finalists in several categories. However, that took place in March, and then when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the restaurant industry went into a nosedive.
The organization thought it best to not hand out the award in such a time of hardship. Additionally, the organization has announced it will not, at least currently, provide 2021 awards either. Instead, the organization is looking at ways to make its awards more inclusive and retool the nomination process.
What does this mean for greater Tucson and its restaurant industry? It means everyone will need to wait another year to see if Tucson can finally win another James Beard Award. It’s been several years since any restaurant has received the honor. However, there were a few nominees that made it to the semi-finals in 2020.
And yet, on the flip side, one of the previous award-winning restaurants has closed this year due to the pandemic.
Here are the 2020 semi-finalist James Beard nominees from Tucson, as well as the past winners. All of these restaurant owners can use your help and patronage, so if you’re interested in visiting the best of the best, here are some spots you need to check out.
Don Guerra has been nominated previously for his bakery Barrio Bread. While he has not yet won the award, the two-time nominated baker has become one of the most respected bakers not only in the Southwest but in the United States. If you haven’t tried out the bread you owe it to yourself. But you better arrive early in the day, as the bread does sell fast (if you wanted bread for Christmas this past year you had to stand in line for well over an hour).
Do you like whiskey? If so, you’ve probably sampled some of the Hamilton Distillers Whiskey Del Bac (our one gripe is it’s based on a Scottish model of distillation, and yet it’s spelled the Irish way with the second “e”...but we’re nit-picking here). Turns out the James Beard Foundation likes the whiskey though, as it was a semi-finalist for best wine, bar, and spirits producer.
The atmosphere here is second to none. That’s probably why it was a semi-finalist for outstanding hospitality. While it didn’t make it into the finalist category, it’s well worth the visit. We’ve lost count of how many Mexican restaurants there are in Tucson, but this one absolutely stands out with its atmosphere.
The name might be all about tacos and tequila, but it’s so much more than this. It is Mexican food meets imagination meets Tucson, which gives it a truly unique take on the finger-food staple. Mario Mazon was nominated for Best Chef Southwest with this restaurant.
Now, here is one of the winning Tucson restaurants. People outside of Tucson don’t even know about Sonoran hot dogs. It’s a well-kept secret. At least until you move to Tucson and someone introduces you to it. If you’re going to grab a dog, head out to El Guero Canelo, as it won the 2018 James Beard America’s Classic award.
We’re going to use Janos’ name here because, sadly, one of his two restaurants has now closed. He was the owner of Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails. The restaurant has permanently closed up shop due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The landlord wouldn’t work with Janos, which left him without any real options. It’s a sad day when one of the few James Beard Award-winning restaurants closes.
With that said, Janos Wilder still runs The Carriage House, which is still up and running in Tucson. So, you can at least take advantage of this events and catering business.
These will continue to be the nominated and award-winning restaurants and chefs running through the end of the year. Hopefully, Tucson is able to garnish a few additional nominations and even a few wins when the James Beard Foundation begins to announce the updated guidelines.
But for now, if you want to enjoy the best Tucson has to offer, you owe it to yourself to check these destinations out.