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Tucson restaurants come up short in quest for prestigious James Beard Award
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Tucson restaurants come up short in quest for prestigious James Beard Award

Artisan baker Don Guerra of Barrio Bread was a semifinalist in the outstanding baker category in this year’s James Beard Awards. Photo taken in 2017.

Tucson just can’t seem to get a break when it comes to the prestigious James Beard Award — the Academy Award for foodies.

Once again, none of Tucson’s semifinalists made the cut when the finalists were announced during a Twitter presentation Monday afternoon. The closest we came was former Tucson chef Kevin Fink, who was named a finalist for Best Chef Texas for his Austin restaurant Emmer & Rye. It is his second James Beard nomination.

But the biggest news from Monday’s presentation was the nomination of Phoenix restaurant Pizzeria Bianco as a finalist for the prestigious Outstanding Restaurant Award. Think of it as the equivalent of the Academy Awards’ Best Picture honor.

If it wins, this would be the second James Beard Award attached to the pizzeria; chef-owner Chris Bianco won a regional James Beard Award in 2000.

"I'm just honored to be recognized," Bianco said Monday afternoon. 

Pizzeria Bianco had a location in downtown Tucson for two years before it closed in fall 2016. Bianco has said he wants to return to Tucson, but not with the pizzeria. He has two other concepts — the traditional Italian restaurant Tratto and the focaccia sandwich restaurant Pane Bianco — all located in the Phoenix area.

Tucson semifinalists this year were Don Guerra of Barrio Bread for outstanding baker — his second nomination for the award; Mi Nidito Restaurant for outstanding hospitality; Stephen Paul of Hamilton Distillers for outstanding wine, bar and spirits producer; and Maria Mazon of Boca Tacos y Tequila for Best Chef Southwest.

Three Arizona restaurants and two from Las Vegas dominated the Southwest category, edging out Mazon, who was nominated for her first ever James Beard Award.

Past Tucson winners

Tucson is home to a couple of James Beard winners, most notably Chef Janos Wilder, who has Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails and The Carriage House, both in downtown Tucson.

Sonoran hot dog restaurant El Guero Canelo joined Wilder in the winner’s circle in 2018 when it won a James Beard America’s Classics Award.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch


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