James Beard Award semifinalists include Michael Cimarusti, Josef Centeno, Niki Nakayama and more Los Angeles chefs

From left, Michael Cimarusti, Niki Nakayama and Josef Centeno are all semifinalists for James Beard Foundation awards.
(Mariah Tauger | Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The James Beard Foundation has announced its restaurant and chef award semifinalists, and among them, chefs who have been instrumental in elevating the Los Angeles dining scene. They were chosen from a list of more than 20,000, by a group of culinary professionals and media from around the country.

Josef Centeno (Orsa & Winston), Michael Cimarusti (Providence), Jeremy Fox (Rustic Canyon), Jessica Koslow (Sqirl), Travis Lett (Gjelina), Niki Nakayama (n/naka), Carlos Salgado (Taco Maria) and Tony Xu (Chengdu Taste) are all semifinalists for the Best Chef West award that includes nominees from California, Nevada and Hawaii.

Last year, the foundation snubbed Cimarusti, Fox, Ludo Lefebvre (Trois Mec, Petit Trois, Trois Familia) and Lett, who were all nominated for the award, which went to Corey Lee of Benu in San Francisco.


This year’s list reflects a new set of criteria for those who vote and submit chefs and restaurants for the awards. A page on the James Beard Foundation’s website titled “our values” cites “respect, transparency, diversity, sustainability and equality” as guiding factors in the awards submissions and asks that “everyone who works in and with the foundation shares similar values and operates with integrity.”

In light of the sexual misconduct allegations plaguing the entertainment and restaurant industries, as well as others, some might argue the new wording was both necessary and long overdue. This year’s list of semifinalists is noticeably more diverse than years prior in terms of the types of restaurants recognized (La Casita Mexicana, a casual Mexican restaurant in Bell, is a semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurant) and the chefs behind them.

Alongside Nakayama’s n/naka, and Cimarusti’s Providence, the Koreantown restaurant Park’s Barbeque was named a semifinalist for the Outstanding Service award.

Also on the list are Evan Funke’s Felix Trattoria in Venice, Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson’s Kismet in Los Feliz and Jordan Kahn’s Vespertine in Culver City, all semifinalists for the Best New Restaurant award.

Liz Johnson of the new Freedman’s deli in Echo Park, Miles Thompson of Michael’s in Santa Monica and Jonathan Yao of Kato in Sawtelle are all semifinalists for the Rising Star Chef of the Year award.

Margarita Manzke of Republique is a semifinalist for the Outstanding Pastry Chef award (last year, she lost to Ghaya Oliveria of Daniel in New York City).


Downtown newcomer Bar Clacson, run by Cedd Moses and Eric Needleman of 213 Hospitality, along with Eric Alperin of the Varnish and Richard Boccato of Dutch Kills in Queens, N.Y., is a semifinalist for the Outstanding Bar Program award.

Caroline Styne of the Lucques Group (Lucques, A.O.C., Tavern, etc.) is once again a semifinalist for the Outstanding Restaurateur award (last year, she was edged out by Stephen Starr of the Philadelphia-based Starr Restaurants.). Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan of the Rustic Canyon Group are also semifinalists for the award. And Styne’s wine program at a.o.c. was named a semifinalist for the Outstanding Wine Program award.

A full list of the semifinalists can be found at

This year’s winners will be announced at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on May 7.