Wednesday morning, the James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists in its prestigious Chef and Restaurant Awards, and Texas has come out swinging.

The state landed 27 entries in five cities. That’s the largest number ever for Texas, which claimed twenty semifinalists in 2018. (Another good year was 2013, when the state got 25 nods.) The awards have been given since 1991 and are widely regarded as the Oscars of the restaurant industry.
What’s to account for the increase? In general, it was a matter of incremental growth overall rather than a big jump in one or two areas. It also tracks with Texas’s growing presence on the national culinary scene generally.

For Outstanding Wine Program, Houston has a well-known entrant: Pappas Bros. Steakhouse at the Galleria.

This is all indicative of Texas’s growing national presence as a culinary powerhouse. In addition to the Beards, the state frequently appears on notable best restaurant and chef lists compiled by Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, and Esquire. Since 2000, six Texas chefs have been named winners in the Beard Awards’ Southwest regional chef category. (If you’re curious, the six aforementioned Southwest regional winners are Shepherd of Underbelly, Justin Yu of Oxheart, and Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s—all from Houston—and Tyson Cole of Uchi, Paul Qui of Qui, and Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue, all from Austin. Dallas had significant semifinalists and nominees, but no winners, in that time period.)

Beard Awards nominees will be announced at a press conference in Houston (another notch in Texas’s belt) on March 27 and winners in Chicago at the foundation’s annual gala on May 6.