America’s Classics honors “locally owned restaurants that have timeless appeal” — and mark the real start of Beards season
With semifinalists already announced last month, the James Beard Foundation has revealed via press release the winners of its annual America’s Classics award. Per the foundation, the award is meant to honor “locally owned restaurants that have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community.” Restaurants become eligible for the award once they’ve been open for 10 years.
As per foundation policy, “six of the 12 Restaurant and Chef regions are included within each Awards cycle, and rotated the next cycle, so that each region is represented every other year,” says the release. Effectively, that means regions represented on the list this year (winners in 2023 Texas, South, Pacific and Northwest, Northeast, Mountain, and Great Lakes) will not be on next year’s America’s Classics list. Another thing to note: Even as the regional categories for Best Chef awards shifted in recent years, America’s Classics still remains a key way for the foundation to honor restaurants outside of larger cities. Finalists for the other restaurant awards categories will be announced on Wednesday, March 29, and the winners gala will be Monday, June 5 in Chicago.
The 2023 America’s Classics winners include an iconic Austin spot known for its Mexican pastries, gigantic breakfast combos, and homemade tortillas; a family-run San Juan institution serving Puerto Rican staples; Hawai‘i’s oldest continually operating restaurant; and a Butte, Montana restaurant the foundation credits as the oldest continually operating Chinese restaurant in the entire country. Here’s the full list:
Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop, Austin, Texas: “A melting pot of new and old Austin, it is not unusual to find old-timers reminiscing about Austin and sharing their stories and recommendations at the breakfast counter with Joe’s Bakery newcomers.”
La Casita Blanca, San Juan, Puerto Rico: “The restaurant represents the traditional Puerto Rican fonda, a casual and affordable family-run locale that serves delicious comfort food. For locals, it’s like stepping into your tía’s or abuela’s house with vintage furniture and colorful tablecloths, evoking feelings of nostalgia and fond memories of family gatherings.”
Manago Hotel, Captain Cook, Hawai‘i: “Manago Hotel is a place that reminds locals of childhood and old Hawai‘i… The udon and bread are gone, but the menu is still spare, with less than a dozen items, including liver and onions and small local fish such as ‘ōpelu. All entrees come with a large bowl heaped with rice and side dishes on little melamine plates, like Hawai‘i’s banchan, and usually includes potato macaroni salad.”
Nezinscot Farm, Turner, Maine: “The Café has something beautiful and exciting on every shelf — cases of homemade cheeses and meats, bagels, freshly baked pies, and perfect breads rolling out the kitchen, topped with farm eggs and homemade sausage and cheeses. The energy behind it all feels directed at building community, with delicious homemade everything (even the teas, even the crackers) serving as the vital instrument of creating and sustaining that gathering.”
Pekin Noodle Parlor, Butte, Montana: “The menu is a time capsule, encapsulating Chinese American dishes created in a time when authentic ingredients were not available. These dishes were a close approximation of home for the hardworking Chinese immigrants. The lengthy menu of mostly Americanized versions of Chinese food spotlights 16 chop suey varieties. There’s also barbecue pork, egg rolls, sweet-and-sour pork, pineapple fried rice, chow mein, and noodles in broth and ‘gravy’ — a thickened, soy-based sauce.”
Wagner’s Village Inn, Oldenburg, Indiana: “Some of the best fried chicken in the Midwest sizzles in cast-iron skillets at Wagner’s Village Inn in Oldenburg, population 674, otherwise known for its German American history and its historic churches. The elements of the fried chicken at Wagner’s are as unpretentious as the wood-paneled dining room: chicken, salt, pepper, flour, lard. There is no recipe.”
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.